Readability for playability: piano duets by Mark Francis


There are two ways to lay out staves for a multi-hand piano duet.

Parallel staves where the primo is on top of the secundo works well if one player has to see and keep track of the other player. If the systems are not spaced out far enough, it can be confusing. In the following passage from Mark Francis‘ “Lights from Across the Lake” a wider space between the secundo bars 29 to 31 and primo bars 32 onwards is all it takes to make it more readable. I’m guessing that the octava extends from bar 31 until it reads loco in bar 38 and the high C in the left hand in bar 31 is not sharped as written. A courtesy natural sign would help those sightreading this piece.

Lights from Across the Lake piano duet by Mark Francis

Lights from Across the Lake piano duet by Mark Francis

The second way to lay out the notes is to put the primo on one page and the secundo on the other. In the case of 3 players, each one has his/her own page. Page turns could be come a problem.

In “Lights from Across the Lake,” which is marked at quarter note = 60, we see that each player has 3 pages if the music is laid out in this way. Below are the last measures for the primo.

Lights from Across the Lake - primo part - piano duet by Mark Francis

Lights from Across the Lake - primo part - piano duet by Mark Francis

Because the music is straightforward, i.e. no irregular meter or rapid changes of time signature or the need to wait and count empty bars, it’s not necessary that one player sees or anticipates what the other is doing. The secundo part is below.

Lights from Across the Lake - secundo part - piano duet by Mark Francis

Lights from Across the Lake - secundo part - piano duet by Mark Francis

On Monday 4th July 2011 at the Monument House in Utrecht, Brendan Kinsella and I sight read and recorded this piece. Brendan thought it was colourful and preferred it to the other duet that the composer had submitted to my Call for Scores. Click below to listen to our recording on my 1909 New York Steinway.

Lights from Across the Lake piano duet by Mark Francis

The other piece “A Winter Rhapsody” was sightread at the Piano Soiree in San Francisco in mid-May 2011. We decided against recording this second piece because of the tricky alignment of the triplets in bars 28 to 31 (below).

A Winter Rhapsody - piano due by Mark Francis

A Winter Rhapsody - piano duet by Mark Francis

From the composer’s programme notes, Mark Francis writes

The Two Pieces for piano, 4 hands were written in 1985 and revised in 2008.  They were written at the request of pianist Robert Jordan for his students.  Each piece is a musical description of things I would see around the area where I grew up near Buffalo, NY.  Lights From Across the Lake describes seeing the lights that mark the entrance of the Welland Canal, just above the horizon at night, from the American shore on Lake Erie.  A Winter Rhapsody is a description of the wind and snow of a winter in Western New York.  There is something beautiful, powerful and forbidding about it. 

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1 Comment

Filed under composer, composition, mp3, piano, recording, review, sheet music, sight reading

One response to “Readability for playability: piano duets by Mark Francis

  1. Pingback: Piano duets from Hawaii to Holland | Concert Blog

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