Robert Estrin - piano expert

How to Play Unmeasured Cadenzas

Learn how to play cadenzas from the Romantic repertoire

In this video, Robert talks about Cadenzas - specifically, about "Unmeasured Cadenzas." What are they exactly?

Released on November 19, 2014

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Video Transcription

Hi, welcome to and I'm Robert Estrin, your host with a great viewer question. "How would you play unmeasured cadenzas?" You've seen them in Chopin and Liszt where the composers will, instead of writing the notes, measure like sixteenths against quarters or something of that nature. They'll just spit out a whole mess of notes with little tiny notes, almost like grace notes. And then you sometimes have these ridiculous combinations like 11 notes against six, something that's totally non-divisible. So you might want to, "How the heck do you possibly play that?" Something that doesn't go at all, there's no math to it.

I mean, if you have 12 against three, boom! You just divide them up into groups of four. But sometimes it's not quite so simple. Yet the beauty of the expressiveness, it sounds almost like improvised playing when it's done right. I'm going to demonstrate with the beginning of the B-Flat Minor Nocturne of Chopin, and right at the very beginning, the second statement of the theme, it has an embellishment as I described with a whole bunch of notes that don't go in, or not divisible with the left hand. You have 11 against six. Here's how it sounds. You'll hear after the first melody, the repeat. It's got the faster notes that I'm describing. [music] Did you hear that? I'm going to play that last group again. [music]

You might wonder how is it possible to play 11 against six? Here's the way to practice it. You try to find the closest measured way you could play it. First, divide it out as close as it mathematically will work. In which case, you could do something like this. [music] So you notice I do two for every note through most of it [music] and then here three against two [music]. Now if I play it up to tempo that way, it would sound like this [music]. It's passable, but it's not really accurate, and it's not as fluid as you might like. So here's the key. Get used to playing it, measured as close as you could possibly figure out a way to measure the cadenza like notes first. Then just kind of loosen it up [music].

It doesn't have to be metronomically perfect. The left hand just needs to maintain its pulse. The right hand has to have a certain freedom and not suddenly have a bunch of notes together, group them tightly. So you can experiment. First, get comfortable measuring, then loosen it up, and you'll find that you can make it expressive which is the most important to think about these cadenzas. It's not about being mathematically perfect. It's about making it work musically. After you [inaudible 00:03:59] measured, you can loosen it up a little bit and find a myriad ways of negotiating these gorgeous cadenzas and Liszt Chopin and these other composers.

I hope this has been helpful for you. If you have a specific repertoire you want suggestions about how to divide them up, send them to me, and I'm happy to respond to you. Thanks for joining me here at I'm Robert Estrin. I'll see you next time.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Abraham * VSM MEMBER * on November 27, 2014 @2:50 am PST
Could you give some tips on the unmeasured cadenzas in the piece fragments by Rachmaninov
Robert - host, on November 28, 2014 @12:47 pm PST
If you provide a specific piece, I will do my best to address this for you.
John Raftopoulos * VSM MEMBER * on November 26, 2014 @4:38 pm PST
I would appreciate if you could explain how to play notes who are very far apart for the hand to achieve, e.g much more apart than one octave plus 2! I met them in Liszt and Debussy. thank you!
Robert - host, on November 28, 2014 @12:48 pm PST
Here is a video that touches on techniques for breaking large chords beyond your reach:
kendah on November 25, 2014 @3:36 pm PST
thanks a lot for that video but i found the cadenza in hungarian rhapsody no.2 in page 2 it's more Difficult than cadenza in that piece.
Robert - host, on November 26, 2014 @11:03 am PST
You are right - there are cadenzas in Liszt's 2nd Hungarian that have many more notes to deal with! I will share additional resources how to practice passages like these in a future video.
Anne O. on November 20, 2014 @2:38 pm PST
Thank you for your article on unmeasured cadenzas. This has been very helpful for me.
Fulvia Bowerman * VSM MEMBER * on November 19, 2014 @2:20 pm PST
When I run into these situations, rarely at my level, I draw pencil lines up from the left hand keys to the right ones. It helps to see which right hand keys are to be played between or with the left hand. And of course I start by practicing very slowly. Then I practice each hand at normal speed before I try it with both hands.
Robert - host, on November 21, 2014 @12:11 pm PST
Drawing lines to see where the hands play together is a great idea. In fact, I do this myself. Thank you for mentioning this!
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