Posts tagged ‘Northern Wagner Orchestra’

October 8, 2011

Wagner – Tannhaüser

So let’s restart this blog with a few notes on Wagner’s epic opera Tannhaüser, which I had the pleasure of working through last month with the Northern Wagner Orchestra.

This is a relatively straightforward play when compared with other Wagner operas; it’s also a comparatively short double bass part, weighing in at under 50 pages!

To begin at the beginning.

Act 1 Scene 1

Bars 105 & 106 – just an awkward little fake arpeggio, then a few bars later an awkward pizzicato passage.  Not helped by the page turn during that two bar rest…

Act 1 Scene 2

The scene begins with a little riff that’s unison strings, and needs accuracy.

Over the page, and at the end of the page we see the following excerpt. It doesn’t look too intimidating, but, for some reason, I found it just didn’t want to lie under the fingers nicely.

A few pages later, we come across the following little bit of fun:

And then, a few bars later:

Moving on, Act 2 Scene 3 is borderline silent – lots of counting, though! A friend of mine said that it looks like a trombone part…

Act 2 Scene 4

This is the big march number. And we get the tune (albeit doubling with other heavies…):

Over the page, we come across a deeply deeply unpleasant quaver figure.

I hate five sharps plus accidentals.

Nearly there

Unfortunately, I’ve lost track of which Act/Scene we’re in at this point – however, I suspect these last bits are all towards the tail end of Act 2.  I don’t recall there being anything in Act 3 to worry about.  I’ve tagged these with page numbers from the part I was using…

Next page:

And the final excerpt for your attention:

There’s still an act to go, but I don’t recall anything in that final act being particularly unpleasant… …except for the stamina required. But that’s a standard problem for Wagner!

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September 9, 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!

September 7, 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.

September 7, 2010

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!

September 2, 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…)

June 18, 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.

September 12, 2009

It’s a lonely life…

One of the reasons behind the name of this blog is that last year, I was playing in Gotterdammerung, and I was the only double bass.  Which wasn’t really so bad, all things considered, except when the part said “nur 4” (only 4).  However, when the part said “nur 8”, I did wonder just how big was the bass section for which Wagner was writing?

Anyway, just for a change, this year I am not the only double bass in the Northern Wagner Orchestra.  The programme this year is a little lighter than it has been, after we completed the Ring in 2008.  The programme:

  • Wagner – Wesendonck Lieder (nothing to worry about here for the bass section.)
  • Berg – excerpts from Wozzeck (tricky and exposed solo in the second excerpt, the notes of which I shall attempt to post up here tomorrow.  The rest is straightforward.)
  • Stravinsky – Rite of Spring  (oh dear.  I’ve done this before, and forgotten just how fiendish it is in places.  The notes themselves aren’t so bad, but the rhythms, particularly at the end.  Why couldn’t he just pick a time signature and stick with it?)

I’m sorry – did I say “lighter” music?  Since when was that little lot “light”?

Where was I?  Oh yes.  I have been joined this year, swelling the section to two.  Luxury!  But still not enough, for the bass part in Rite divides into 6 at the top of page 2.  Ah well…  There’s a rumour that there’ll be a third player tomorrow, but, given her previous record, I’m not holding my breath.