Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Musical Back Burner

Pieces To Keep On The Musical Back Burner

The repertoire for this month's Cleveland Orchestra concerts contains a few pieces with some devilishly difficult technical passages. While the pieces I'm thinking of don't make it to the "Top 25" list of frequently asked audition material, I'd venture to say that most of us would need plenty of lead time to learn them for performance.

The first piece is Daphnis and Chloe, Suite #2. The Final Dance or Bacchanal contains some nearly unplayable passages for the principal bassoon.   

By using some harmonic fingerings the passage becomes easier to negotiate, but given the breakneck tempo usual in performance, it's still almost unplayable.  Certainly not something you could work up in a week's time never having played it before.

Likewise with this passage from the Russian Dance from the 1947 version of Stravinsky's Petrushka, which we're performing this week.

When taken at ♩=116, this is really challenging, too.  In fact, in the original 1911 version of the piece Stravinsky broke this part up, writing it for two bassoons alternating the triplet/eighth figure -- one plays one beat while the other rests -- to create a continuous line. He knew this was hard!


Petrushka gets involved in a lot of violent acts during his short ballet.  He's kicked by the Charlatan, he hurls himself into and breaks through a portrait of the Charlatan on canvas, and gets beat up by the Moor who finally slays him with a sabre.

It occurred to me this week that Petrushka the puppet reminds me a lot of another, more contemporary character. 

Back to the blog. . .

By the way, the Daphnis passage cited above can be simplified by giving the second bassoonist the second group of 16ths to play in each 16th passage.

Not wishing to encounter nasty surprises like these passages, I've compiled an informal list of passages that need regular technical maintenance work so that they can be ready when needed.  Warm and serve. . . 

These are passages that I'll try to work on during one or two practice sessions each month when I have time.

Here's a partial list:

  • Till Eulenspiegel tutti passages
  • Daphnis and Chloe Suite #2
  • Petroushka Russian Dance
  • Firebird Infernal Dance
  • Mozart Symphony 35 last movement
  • Stravinsky L'Histoire du Soldat Ragtime
  • tutti passages for other Strauss tone poems
  • Sorcerer's Apprentice tutti passages 

What's on your list?

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