Sunday, 10 July 2011

Eugene Onegin

Blimey.  It's been a while...  I've been busy with "real life", rather than music.  However, I've just come off a run of Eugene Onegin (from a reduced orchestral version, "Pocket Opera"?  something like that), and have a couple of bits to highlight.

Note that this is a combined cello & bass part.

Shall we begin at the beginning?

See that first note? Doesn't look like much, just a piano pizzicato D that you could do on an open string, but that's the only thing starting this opera off. You have been warned. We're quite fortunate with this score in that the bass part is independent from the cellos in some quite critical areas; nor are we always doubling the bassoons, or filling in non-existent brass parts (though at one point, someone has inked in a 4th horn part to play!)

Not a particularly taxing moment, there. Let us move forward to the beginning of the second number, the "Chor und Tanz der Schnitter", the bit where the strings come in after an unaccompanied chorus:

That's a fairly brisk "Adagio" - about as quick as you can comfortably pizz.  (Ignore the double bar there - that's me being lazy...)

That's pretty much it for unpleasantness, at least in the version we did - there were a couple of small cuts, including one bit that looked horrendous for the cellists!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Tristan & Isolde - Act 3

There's a fair few notes here...  and the passages I've picked out here are in because they really fly by!  The first few pages are there to lull you into a false sense of security.  Let's just look at some of the more interesting tempo markings, in German & Italian:

  • Sehr allmahlich belebend - Animando molto poco a poco - OK...
  • Belebt, doch nicht schnell - Animato ma non troppo - getting a bit quicker.
  • Immer mehr belebend - Sempre piu animando
  • Bewegt - Con moto - things are really picking up now
  • Etwas gedehnt - Poco steso - OK, now you've lost me.
  • Sehr bewegt - Molto mosso.  erk
  • Sehr allmahlich langsamer werdend - Poco a poco ritard.  Just as well, 'cos it'll take you the ten bars at this tempo just to read the speed.
  • Massig beginnend, und schnell bewegter - Moderato cominicando e poi stringendo subito.
That little lot is just in the space of under 150 bars.  And I've missed a few out.

So.  The moral of this story is "watch.  No, I mean it.  Watch.  Watch until your eyes feel like they're popping out, like Arnie's were at the end of Total Recall."

And, based on my experience of the last rehearsal, it's all too easy to lose count in the few bars rest that you actually get...

And so, on with the notes...  nothing too bad early on in the scene.  However, over the page from the directions shown above, we get to bar 516:
A tricky little rhythm, but it only lasts for a couple of lines.

And a couple of pages later, we get this bit of out-and-out unpleasantness:

I like the tempo marking - "Etwas schleppend".  Apparently that means "poco strascinante", but I have no idea what that means either, beyond "watch!"

And then, at the bottom of that page, we have a few really quick bars, with a change of time signature every bar just so you can't settle down:

A couple of pages later (nearly there!), we get this:  "Noch schneller"?  what?  You want more speed?  With another cockeyed rhythm?  Gah.

As for the remains of the piece...  well.

Act 3 - Scene 2 - the whole of the first page (60-odd bars) needs a look.

Act 3 - Scene 3 - most of the first 100 bars here.

You'll just have to use the link I provided earlier to download the part and have a look for yourself, if you don't believe me!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Tristan & Isolde - Act 2

And now, after a decent interval (and not too much beer - it's a long night!), Act 2.

I've just gone through the part again, and I can't see a single marking indicating that this caused problems.  Hurrah!

There are a few naughty bits in Act 3, however, and I'll get to those shortly.

Tristan & Isolde - Act 1

We had a run-through of Tristan & Isolde on Sunday last...  A nice surprise - for a couple of hours there were four double bassists!  Unfortunately, one of 'em had to go at lunchtime, but it bodes well for the main event weekend when we should have up to five...

It's a far cry from the bad old days when I was all alone, boo, sniffle...

Right.  On to the notes.  I think I may have been slightly hampered by the rehearsal room - instead of our normal large hall, we were rehearsing in a nightclub, and the lighting was not all that it might have been.  Wagner with a glitter-ball...

I think my friend was a bit optimistic when he described the notes as being straightforward...  generally, yes.  There are, however, a few bits that would benefit from some study.

Starting with Act 1, Scene 1, half way down the first page, we get a few unpleasant bars of heavily-accidentalled quavers:

The good news is that that should more-or-less fall under the fingers, if you've got the right starting point, and a big-ish left hand.

Nothing to worry about in Scene 2, which is good.

And on to Scene 3. Just a couple of oddments:

It's a combination of speed, dynamics and accidentals that put paid to being able to read that on the fly in the dark...  but the next bit from just over the page was more fun:
"Sehr Schnell" is about right.  "Goes like stink" is another way of putting it.

Just before the end of Scene 4, we have the following:

"More of the same", I hear you think.  And that's what some of us thought, as we went at it at full tilt, failing to realise that it's rather slower than it looks...  Oops!

The rest of the first act is straightforward.  Apart from about half of the last page of it.  You have been warned!

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Tristan & Isolde - the preview

It's Northern Wagner Orchestra time again!  This time, we're working on Tristan & Isolde, a 5.5 hour monster of an opera.

By way of initial preparation, I asked a friendly ex-pro double-bassist I know if he had any advice.  He came up with the following musical points (as well as a couple of physiological issues that I don't think we'll go into here...):

  • The notes themselves aren't difficult
  • It's the changes of tempo that are likely to trip us up.  (Reminds me of the old saying - if you don't know what it means, it means "watch!")
  • Watch carefully for the pizzicato - these need to be together.
Having had a quick look at the part that's available at IMSLP, all 85 pages of it!, he was mostly right.

However, I'm not quite at his standard, or at his match-fitness (as it were), and I've already spotted a few quaver runs that could be interesting.  I'll make some notes during rehearsal, and if there is anything untoward I'll put it up here.

(Note: the reason that the PDF of the bass part is 85 pages is that whoever put it up in IMSLP helpfully included part of the 2nd bassoon and the 3rd bassoon part!  It looks like the bass part is really only(!) 45 pages...)

Friday, 18 June 2010

Aida - Acts 1 & 2

Just got in from the band call for tomorrow's Northern Wagner Orchestra's rendition of Aida.  I'm not going to be able to practise this myself, but I need to keep an eye on the following bits, 'cos they're nasty...

Act 1.
click to see all

This bit is awkward, fast, and generally unpleasant.  And, to make matters worse, you turn the page, and the whole passage is repeated with a minor change - the penultimate note is the high E rather than the low one.  Gah.

(We've got a big cut missing the semiquaver runs in the Danza Sacra delle Sacerdotesse... indeed, we're cutting that whole number.  But, looking at them, they don't look too bad.)

Act 2.
This is a cut-down version in orchestral terms, so I was slightly surprised to find myself playing a solo with one of the big tunes:
click to see all

A double bass tune? Yeah!

Then we cut the ballet, and, before you know it, we're looking at this frankly gratuitous arpeggio:
click to see all

I'll write up some bits from Acts 3 & 4, including some double-stopping (hey - I am, after all, the Lone Double Bass!), in the morning.