Posts tagged ‘Wagner’

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 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…)

October 24, 2009

"Classical Spooktacular"

A cheesy title for this afternoon’s concert by the WYSO, which was a child-friendly early Halloween concert.

Programme included the obvious suspects for such a gig:
  • Grieg – Hall of the Mountain King
  • Mussorgsky – Night on a Bare Mountain
  • Monster Mash
  • Berlioz – Witches Sabbath (you know, the last movement of Symphonie Fantastique)
  • Wagner – Ride of the Valkyries (a somewhat dumbed-down arrangement)
  • Saint-Saëns – Danse Macabre
  • “Dem Bones” (with some words I don’t recall from my childhood)
  • John Williams – Harry Potter Suite (from the first movie)

There were prizes for fancy dress, audience participation, and other odds and ends to help keep the younger members of the audience involved, and create the occasional distraction for us in t’band – pseudo Mexican-waves, racing witches, skeletons, etc, but no helicopters during the Wagner.

Anything to worry about from the bassist point of view?  No, not really, thanks to the arrangement of the Valkyries

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.