Archive for August, 2012

August 26, 2012

Bizet – Symphony in C

This seems to be a work written when Bizet was a student, which he then put aside and forgot about. It was first performed in 1935, at which point Bizet was (a) 97 years old, and (b) very dead…

It’s good and jolly, but there are some very long repeats – even us basses had to turn pages to get back to the top! Apart from that, there’s not much to worry us. The movements look tame, but the time signatures and tempi are brisker than you might expect from looking at it.

The really interesting bit is in the second (slow) movement. We’re in 9/8, it feels like a big slow 3, and it’s all going nice and easily until figure [5] when we’re suddenly exposed (fortunately doubling the cello section, but even so)… This excerpt starts from figure [5], and runs to the bar of figure [6], and is just a little uncomfortable:

The last two movements go at a cracking pace, but there’s nothing much else to worry us.

August 26, 2012

Martinu Nonet

The Spohr Grand Nonet is a popular piece of music. It involves one of each stringed instrument (violin, viola, cello, double bass), and one of each woodwind (flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon) and horn. The piece is one of those “standards” that can quite happily fill a large chunk of a concert; however, there’s often perceived to be the problem of what to play with it. Someone once collated a list of 99 pieces to go with the Spohr. This then generated a correspondence along the lines of “you missed out “, which generated another list of 99 works…

This Nonet by Martinu is one of those works for the “Grand Nonet” combination. It’s a more recent work (1959), and can be quite tricky in places but approachable in others. It needs to be studied and worked carefully, particularly if being tackled by a group containing more than a couple of people who are new to the work. It took me about eight years (of, admittedly, irregular attempts) to get the hang of it!

First movement – think of this as being in 2 rather than 4, even though the time says 4/4. It helps to keep things moving. Generally, this isn’t tricky, but there is a slightly hairy bit at around bar 170 (figure [17]):

The second movement, although it’s marked as being slow, shouldn’t be *too* slow, otherwise it will drag, you’ll lose all sense of pulse, and the thing grinds to a halt. Apart from that, nothing much to worry the bass department.

The final movement, however, is a different kettle of fish. The time signature changes every few bars:

Keep the quaver beat going in your head – this is always the same – but don’t try to count them individually!

Good luck.

August 25, 2012

What I Did On My Holidays – 2012

Band Camp Report – 2012

It’s good to see old friends, and make some new ones. And see some very old friends for the first time in, oh, 15-20 years…

Aaaanyway. On with the music.


Arrive, unload, drink coffee, natter, eat, and then start the musical week off with a big orchestral session:

  • Mendelssohn’s overture “Fair Melusine”
  • Beethoven’s 4th Symphony


String orchestra:

  • Purcell – Trumpet overture
  • Pachelbel – Kanon & Gigue
  • Mozart – Divertimento K138
  • Mendelssohn – String Symphony 1
  • Latann – Herz & Herz

Big massed cello session, including the (in)famous Bachananas Brasilieras and various other lollipops.

Round the day off with a string quintet session – Dvorak & Onslow op 38. The latter is definitely a double-cello (or double-viola) quintet, rather than a bass quintet. It is named “the bullet”, and the later movements are called things like “fever” and “recuperation”. Apparently, Georges Onslow wrote the quintet when he was recovering from a shooting accident…


Another day, another string orchestra:

  • Purcell – “The Married Beau”
  • C Forster – Suite in G. This is reckoned to be one of the earliest string quartets, Forster having been a contemporary of JSB.
  • Purcell – trumpet sonata
  • Mendelssohn – String Symphony 2
  • Bratton – The Teddy Bears’ Picnic (quartet arrangement)

Then a mixed group:

  • Stanford Serenade in G op 95 – string quartet + bass, flute, clarinet, horn, bassoon.
  • Martinu Nonet – same personnel as the Spohr Grand Nonet (one of each string, one of each wind)

Finally (for me) some big orchestral stuff again:

  • Haydn – Symphony 88
  • Mozart – Aria – “Per Questa Bella Mano”, K612 (orchestra, bass voice, double bass obligato)
  • Schubert – Symphony 5


The traditional “day of rest” – give the wind players a chance to get their lips back in shape. However, there was a big orchestral session in the evening, two pieces of which I’ve never heard:

  • Schumann – Overture, Scherzo, Finale, op 52
  • Bizet – Symphony in C


Lots of string orchestra work:

  • Ireland – A Downland Suite
  • R*tter – A Suite for Strings (apparently just a re-arrangement of the suite for brass…)
  • Mozart – Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  • J S Bach – Four Pieces from Suite 3
  • Grainger – Molly On The Shore (another expanded quartet thing)
  • Marsh – a couple of things written by one of our number…

And some other stuff:

  • Dubois – Dixtuor – A new one for me. Can’t remember anything particularly challenging for the bass-player.
  • Beethoven – Septet – five of the seven players are from my family.

A free evening. How did that happen? How was that allowed to happen? I’ll have words with Da Management!


Lots more string orchestra stuff:

  • Albinoni – Concerto a cinque in D
  • Ireland – Concertino Pastorale
  • Elgar – Serenade op 20
  • Mozart Divertimento K136
  • Finzi – Prelude and Romance

Some big(ish) ensemble pieces involving piano:

  • Glinka – Piano Sextet (piano, string quartet, bass)
  • Saint-Saens – Septet (as Glinka + trumpet)

Both of these appear to be fairly heavy going for the poor pianist, but very approachable for the rest of us!

Full(ish) Orchestra in the evening:

  • Haydn Symphony 22 – “The Philosopher”. Unusual, in that it’s full strings, two horns, and two cors anglais
  • Mozart – Horn Concerto #2 in Eflat. Directed by the soloist…
  • Mozart – Symphony 29. There was a problem with the parts, so the first horn (whose part was missing, but who had a part for Haydn 45) had to stand and read over the conductor’s shoulder.

Friday – the final reckoning

And so here we are, the end of the week. Just a few things before we go home on Saturday, starting with a Baroque & roll session:

  • JS Bach – Suite in B minor
  • Telemann – Viola Concerto
  • JSB – Brandenburg 4

The Schubert Octet rounded off the morning very nicely.

The afternoon started off with Strauss’s Metamorphosen – the full 23-parter, rather than the septet reduction (or is the septet the original, and the 23 part job an expansion?) Glad I was first bass – the second part is nowhere near as busy, and the third bass has a *huge* amount of counting to do.

More orchestral stuff followed:

  • Mozart – overture “Marriage of Figaro” (insert viola joke here)
  • Bruch – Concerto for Clarinet & Viola – a new one to me. Very enjoyable.
  • Arriaga – Symphony in D. We’re beginning to get tired…

Finally ending the day with a brace of nonets:

  • Spohr – Grand Nonet – the daddy of ’em all
  • Farrenc – Nonet – very easy-going and light-hearted. A good end to the week.


And home…


I’m going to have to get the cello overhauled soon, and start working on that, as I enjoyed the hour or two I spent playing it this year.

I’ve also identified some potential “Practice Notes” posts to write about a few of the works I’ve looked at this week. Don’t rush me, because I’ve also got to play Rosenkavalier over the next couple of weekends, and I need to have a look at the part and get the cuts in first… I may be some time.

August 19, 2012

Those dreaded notes…

…the ones no bass-player wants to see…

Twenty-seveneight times. I lose count every time…


I should really link to this

For those of you lucky enough to not know what this is, it’s the first two bars of the (in)famous Pachelbel Kanon in D, which should be followed by a Gigue, but most people don’t bother… The bassline is that two bar phrase, repeated over and over again, just with occasionally shifting dynamics. After you’ve played that thing 28 times, go back to the first note (D) and stop.