Piano reductions of choral music

Piano reductions are an important facet of our unaccompanied choral music at the Chichester Music Press, just as they are in other places. Almost all of the unaccompanied pieces in our catalogue have a piano reduction, and a lot of thought has gone into them over the years.

Our approach to them is to bear in mind that piano reductions are to be played by pianists. They are there to make the business of playing the choral parts on a piano easier. Some people can read happily off four or more staves, but piano reductions are there for the benefit of people who find it easier to play from two staves. And there’s no point in going to the trouble of producing a piano reduction for such people, only to sabotage it by setting it out in a way that’s not helpful for a pianist.

Impossible stretch

Who can play this? A giant or some kind of clever dick.

It’s very easy, especially in this day and age of using computers to prepare music, to copy from the choral staves onto the piano staves, have the soprano & alto in the right hand, the tenor & bass in the left, and leave it at that, as if you’re preparing a short score for a choir, rather than a piano reduction for a pianist. It requires no effort and no thought from the typesetter, but the result is rarely the most helpful solution for the pianist who’s going to have to play it. You’re likely to get impossible stretches in one hand (see right), which could easily be played by swapping a note into the other. That’s what the pianist is going to end up doing anyway, so just cut straight to the end result. It is much more helpful to try to gather the notes together for the hands that will play them.

There’s also no need to put stems up and stems down unless the rhythms are different, and as the most practical thing to do in general is to present the notes in the simplest way, notes should share stems where they can. The music in our piano reductions is presented pianistically, rather than vocally, because it’s for a pianist rather than a singer.

Piano reductions are often printed on smaller staves than the singers are singing from. That’s not something we do at the Chichester Music Press. The one person who stands to benefit from the piano reduction – the pianist – will not be grateful for it, especially as the stave size in our choral music is already towards the lower end of the normal range for choral music across the industry.

Dynamics are normally not shown in choral reductions except for very skeletal ones, and we don’t normally don’t put them in at all. We produce our piano reductions from the assumption that the pianist will play as quietly as he can get away with to support the choir. He’s not necessarily being required to play loud bits loudly and quiet bits quietly. The piano reduction is not, in normal circumstances, intended for performance.

In setting out these thoughts, I went once again to Elaine Gould’s wonderful Behind Bars book, and will now selectively pick out a few quotations that back up our position. (Anything she says that doesn’t back us up you can go and read for yourself. It begins on page 473.)

…notate the reduction in a pianistic way…

…distribute the vocal pitches conveniently for the hands…

…reduce the notation to its simplest form…

…join as many parts as have the same note-value onto a single stem…

…reduction requires minimal dynamics…

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About Neil Sands

Director of the Chichester Music Press. Astronomer.
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