Posts tagged ‘Practice Notes’

November 26, 2015

Amahl and the Night Visitors by Menotti

No? Me neither.

Apparently, this short opera was written for a TV company, and is appropriate for the season of, erm, next month. So we (Northern Opera Group) are rehearsing it now for production in Leeds Corn Exchange next Friday / Saturday (4th / 5th December). Something like that. There’s a Facebook page and everything.

I’m told that this is supposed to be a chamber work, and that the orchestration was for a few string players – including just one contrabass. Which leads me to wonder why there are a few bits marked “divisi” (playable by one person easily enough), and, indeed, “2 soli” (not so easy to do on your own!).

From a double bass player’s perspective, it’s not that difficult, as long as you remember rule 1 of playing opera (“Watch”), and don’t have problems with counting alternate bars of 5 and 6 quavers (don’t panic – that passage is quite short).

There is just one bit that’s worth of some attention. Figure 65, bars 368 & following – a relatively rapid pizzicato passage that’s got just enough accents and accidentals and irregularities of rhythm to be not quite readable. This picture shows the bulk of the passage – there are a couple more lines, but they’re significantly easier.

Amahl - excerpt

That’s the extent of the musical problems. There are other issues with this work, though. I would like to point out a vocal cue at figure 128 (mercifully near the end of the opera), where the young boy Amahl says in a recit passage:

Well, I don’t know if I’m going to let you touch me… Oh… all right… but just once

And once you’ve seen that, it’s difficult to read some of the other cues without sniggering…

April 13, 2014

Bach – St John Passion

Having played this using the new Barenreiter / Urtext edition, but not owning my own part, I’m using as reference the continuo part from IMSLP; this part differs in certain respects from the new Barenreiter edition, the most annoying of which is the change in numbering of the individual movements. Also, Barenreiter has no rehearsal letters.  In the notes below, I’ll put the IMSLP part numbers first, then the Barenreiter number, and then the first line or so of libretto (in German).

 

17 / 12A / Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer?

This is fast. Very fast. Much faster than it looks from the score. It felt like we were running at about 110-120 minims a minute.
12A 17 Bist du nicht seiner Jünger einer

 

23 / 16B / Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter

25 / 16D / Wir dürfen niemand töten

Nothing looking too nasty in the old edition; but in the Barenreiter – what’s this? A treble clef with a subscript 8? And no instruction for the bass/bassoon to ignore it? Aaargh! But the same notes in the old edition are in normal bass clef, and say “Basso e fag tacet”. Not that I knew that when I was playing, oh no… Perhaps the clef was picked to scare us off those few notes? In which case, IN YOUR FACE. It didn’t work. I played ’em all – eventually. Here I’m showing the first section in both styles; the second section is no higher, but does have (gasp!) semiquavers.

23 16B Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter - old style

 

23 16B Wäre dieser nicht ein Übeltäter - new style

 

36 / 21D / Kreuzige!

Ah yes, the ol’ “Crucify” number. (Sounds much better in German – easier to sing, and easier to sing nastily… Most choirs just sound too nice!) Again, some fiddly notes, but with the occasional bar or so of relief.  The first few bars are shown here:

36 21D Kreuzige

 

44 / 23D / Weg, weg

Similar problems to the Kreuzige / Crucify number, above.

 

48 / 24 / Eilt, ihr angefochtnen Seelen (Wohin!)

Depending on the edition, and the conductor, you might want to take a look at all the semiquaver runs in this little number.  Last night’s conductor asked me to play throughout, not just the bits marked “col”…  Saves having to look out for when you’re supposed to join back in again, I suppose…

 

67 / 39 / Ruht wohl

Got a low C? You’ll need it!

September 8, 2012

Acorn Antiques

This is a bit different to the normal stuff I do.  I don’t know if you’re familiar with Ms Victoria Wood’s work?  If not, she’s a stand-up comedian who’s also done a few good songs (“Barry & Freda / Let’s Do It” being the one that springs to my mind).  Aaanyway, one of the regular sketches in her TV show was “Acorn Antiques”, a mickey-take of cheap soap operas, and that ballooned into a full-on three hour musical in 2005. Thankfully, we didn’t do the original full version of the musical, but an extended version of the second half – this is going on what I’m reading on the Wikipedia article (dangerous, I know, to use Wiki as a source…), and what I have found on YouTube. It seems that the original version wasn’t well received, so Wood rewrote it around the second half, which was the sort of thing that the audiences associate with “Acorn Antiques”.

Note to the unwary classical-type double bassist: this isn’t an ordinary double bass part.  As well as standard double bass, there are numbers that are scored for electric bass (fretless, for preference, as there are opportunities for slides).  You can get by with doing it all on stand-up (as I did), but it’ll shred your plucking fingers (and I have to be careful how I say that). My advice: surgical spirit before-hand, and a supply of Germolene New Skin for during the run. You’ll take it off during each half, but it’ll help, believe me.

Things you’ll need to know:

  1. Vamp.  Also known as “Vamp ’til ready”.  Usually a short (one or two bar) phrase to be repeated while there’s some business on stage.  Use this as an opportunity to practise watching the MD like a hawk.  Chances are that the MD will be busily vamping as well, as the MD is also responsible for keyboard 1.
  2. How to dump your bow and pick it up again very quickly.  I use a bow holster – very handy.  Some of the pizzicato passages are virtually impossible if you’re holding the bow at the same time.
  3. We didn’t do the opening Manchesterford scene-setting number.
  4. This show is not for kids, as it involves “adult themes”. And swearing about biscuits and cakes. There is a very real possibility I’ll never be able to think again of custard creams without smirking. See the “Macaroons” number – NSFW.

Technically, the music isn’t difficult.  Watch out for the not-so-subtle keychanges that cause you to suddenly look at the music and think “*how* many sharps?”.  There are a couple of trickier moments, however:

08 – Have You Met Miss Babs

Babs, dancing with a standard lamp. Raunchy music, needs a lot of power to get through. Some trickyish switches between quavers and triplets, as well as an unfriendly 12/8 bar. Here – have a look.

11 – The Old Small Print

This seems to have been… borrowed… from “The Old Landmark” – you know, the number in The Blues Brothers with James Brown. At least, that’s what I was thinking of at the time I was playing it… This is one of the Electric Bass parts rather than normal upright string bass, and therefore requires more oomph. Pizzicato all the way, some longer notes that need to riiiing out. And a ton of octave work, which I could only play by using the thumb on the bottom string and a finger (or two) on the upper…

It starts in F (nice and easy), but slips up a semitone into F# for the second verse, and ends in G. Here’s some of the middle bit. Remember – all pizz. I hope your fingers are tougher than mine were at the start of the week!

Those are the only bits I can remember being particularly difficult. There’s a number that goes sailing up to an E – the one in the treble clef, above A440, but it’s long sustained notes, so isn’t a problem. Have fun!

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.

March 3, 2012

Gilbert & Sullivan – Iolanthe

This week, I’m playing in Leeds Gilbert & Sullivan Society‘s production of G&S’s Iolanthe, at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds.

As with most G&S operettas, there’s not a lot to worry the bassists, apart from a few little bits. These excerpts are all from Act 1 (but one of them is repeated in Act 2, Sullivan being an eco-friendly composer, recycling material throughout…)

06a – Entrance of the Chancellor

The cello/bass department kicks off the fugue here – it’s brisk-ish, but the notes just don’t quite lie under the fingers.

This figure is repeated in Act 2 at the start of Number 7 (Recit & Song)

10 – Song

This next little riff occurs twice in each verse…:

11 – Recit

How are your scales?


Did you play a G at the end? Look again.

13 – Finale

The finale to Act 1 contains this passage to delight – it’s a long first half, and this is near the end of a long Finale. ’nuff said.

(While preparing this, I noticed that the last note of the first bar of the second line may be a C – it’s difficult to tell from the part – and I can’t remember what the Truth actually is…)

February 5, 2012

Vaughan Williams – The Poisoned Kiss

This is an opera that isn’t performed very often – I understand that the number of productions it has had since its composition is still in single figures, and the first non-UK production happened this month in New York. I’m not going to discuss the story here, because it’s utterly ludicrous, involving a girl brought up on poisons, and a boy brought up on antidotes… No, it’s making me cross just thinking about it. If you want to know more, then you could always check this version of the synopsis. As a reviewer of a recent production put it, “You have to wonder what Vaughan Williams was on when he composed [it]”.

Anyway, on to the music – mostly playable, but just a few little “moments”.

Overture

Here’s the first trickier bit, the main nastiness being due to a gratuitous tenor clef. I suspect that it used more ink to go into the tenor clef than it saved…

Me? Grumpy? Surely not!

And so into

Act 1

Number 5 – Ensemble

Moderato alla marcia? Hmm. Seems a bit brisk, but think of the Durham Light Infantry – their normal march step is quicker than most units’ quickstep, sorry, double time. The basic four-in-a-bar pulse stays the same between the 4/4 and 12/8.

Number 6 – Duet

Another brisk number… and, near the end, accidentals everywhere.

Number 8 – Ensemble

Starts out as a nice gentle Andantino, but then kicks into an Allegro, with a lot of semiquavers:

Number 13 – Finale

A couple of more interesting moments here. First off, a 3/4 section from Figure 57:

and the final chunk of the “Dance” starting just after figure 62:

Act 2

I’ve not highlighted anything of note in Act 2.

Act 3

Only one particularly tricky moment here.

Number 27 – Trio

There’s a sort of tango feel to this movement (see the tempo mark – “Tempo di Tango (molto moderato)”). However, just as you settle into it, there’s an unpleasant rhythmic kick in bars 6-8.

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!

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.

June 14, 2010

Beethoven Septet – Tricky bit

I love this piece of music – so many memories tied up with it.  However, there’s just one bit that gives me a slight “urk” feeling when I see it hove into view – that’s this bit in the middle of the third variation.

Yes, it’s nice and slow, but it’s still a little bit fiddly.  And it’s such a good theme – Harmonious Blacksmith.  Still, it’s something else for me to think about for next weekend…

I wonder if the non-aggression pact between the horn and violin is going to hold?  For those who don’t know the piece, the Trio (of the Minuet) has a tricky horn bit, and the violinist has the potential to have set a cracking pace…  but if the violinist does do this, then the horn-player gets the option for revenge by setting his own blistering pace with a pseudo-hunting call at the start of the Scherzo.

It’s too complicated to describe.  Just go and get a copy, or find it on Spotify…