Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Tchaikovsky 5th -- Second Movement

After the soft ending of the first movement I needed to be sure to remove the mute from the bell, unlock the whisper key, remove any condensation from the bocal and change reeds if I had been using a soft/low reed for that last line of low notes.

This must be done quietly and diplomatically so as not to disturb the mood or concentration of anyone else on stage. The horn player is about to play one of the most beautiful melodies written for that instrument and no one wants to hear or see you cleaning and fidgeting in your chair during it!

The second movement part begins with an awkward little five-note solo:

It is a variant of the oboe countermelody in the beginning of the movement.  The bassoon follows the clarinet down an octave. This is typical Russian orchestration.  Unlike Beethoven or Brahms, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and others favored color variations through changes in orchestration over theme development. Solos pass verbatim from one instrument to another. The varieties of color available in the woodwind section provided the interest for them.

In such passages it's important that each soloist strive to match the style and intensity of the one who plays the motive first.  After the flute, oboe and clarinet play the bassoon can often sound foggy or distant to the listener. To match the intensity and presence of the other instruments, it's helpful to play the motive at a higher dynamic level than indicated in these situations.

While it's not necessary to do so in this particular solo, in most cases it is. 

In the solo above you should strive to have no gap between the clarinet exit and your entrance.  The tone color and phrasing should be as similar as possible.  The little motive shapes toward the "Blue Note" D on the bar line and falls away to the C#.  Use little finger F# for a smooth transition down to the A#. Tongue the A# lightly to give the impression of a portamento/slur without actually doing so.

Next is one of the great solos of the repertoire.

Rhapsodic and expressive, it demands a beautiful, even, singing tone in the tenor range.  Instruments, reeds and bocals are prized for the quality they show in solos like these!

The bassoonist starts the solo at a distinct disadvantage.
  • The clarinet plays it first. It's in a better range for the clarinet and has lighter scoring, so the clarinetist can play this with more freedom and ease.
  • The bassoon solo contains some of the worst notes on the instrument and an awkward set of 9 notes alternating between mode II and mode III acoustically.
  • The heavier scoring gives you less leeway with dynamics - mostly "mp" to "f"
Here are some ways to make the solo shine:

Use "Long" C# to start:  xxx/oxGF

Other usual fingerings such as the"Short"


or the "Claw"

   c# Bb

don't work as well.  The "Short" is too muted and stuffy, the "Claw" cracks frequently when articulated (it cracks when slurred, too -- what good is this fingering, anyway?) 

The "Long":  xxx/oxGF
gives the first note the presence needed for the first note of the solo. Modification of the C# tone hole on the wing joint can temper the inherent brightness and sharpness of this fingering.

The next issue to deal with is pitch.  The C# has a sharp tendency and the G# can be flat. The distance between the two needs to be large enough. 

Then there's the B!

High B tends to be so flexible on the bassoon that you can put it just about anywhere within a major second!  You really need to HEAR the high B before you play it.  To get the pitch of the B in your ear, try playing this part down an octave where it's easier to nail the pitches. Then sing the first several notes. Then try up an octave using the lower octave as your model. In addition, embouchure position and breath support need to be memorized for approaching this note from G#. 

The 9 notes should be just that -- 9 notes, no more, no less and not just a trill.  They need to be measured and subdivided.  Either a grouping of 4+5 or three triplets should work.  In execution they should not sound like they're part of a math problem, however.  It's most effective to give a little stress to the first D to show it's part of a line from E on the first beat through C# to B  in the next bar.

Play the measure leaving out the nines by just playing the notes on the beat.  It's Three Blind Mice again!!

Two fingerings work well for the E's in the 9's.

D = xxo/
E=   xoo/


D = xxo/

E = xoo/

The last bar of the solo is often played as an echo and with rubato. Again here the bassoonist is at a disadvantage compared with the clarinet.  Playing too softly or using a lot of rubato can complicate matters for the second bassoonist who answers in both bars. The echo -- if played too softly -- can get lost in the thick string background.  So moderation is advised here.

Here's a great clip of this solo played by J. Walter Guetter in 1934 with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Listen to the whole movement or start about 5'50" in for the clarinet and bassoon solos.

Next the solo returns in a different key.  The traffic is very heavy, so the bassoonist really needs to pump out the resonance for this one.  You can judge the I.Q. of your conductor here.  If the conductor quiets the strings for your entrance  -- GENIUS!!  If no adjustment is made -- IDIOT!!

Sometimes this solo is doubled. Not a bad idea!

Later in the movement the bassoons join the woodwinds in this melody.

Here we see an example of written-out rubato.  All the tenuti, and the frequent changes of mood and tempo show that this kind of mercurial flow to the line was standard in this kind of music. In the late nineteenth century composers started writing out where rubato would be traditional.  Perhaps the need to write it down indicated that the oral tradition was starting to pass away.  Anyway this is where the over-edited, hovering compositional style of many 20th century composers got its start. (See Willson Osborne's Rhapsody for Bassoon).

The last section of the movement has its challenges.

After an extremely loud outburst by the brass, the clarinets and bassoons play a tender passages leading back into the main tempo.  This can be very painful because there is no time to remove earplugs after the outburst. The next section is too delicate to play with them still in my ears so I had to endure the extreme decibels without protection.

In Honeck's parts the third entrance on the "pp" D had an extra "p" added to it and the hairpin crescendo/diminuendo was crossed out.  This required mute fingerings for the D, E and F#.  For the D and E I partially depressed the low E Key.  For the F# I used:

F# = 1/2xx/xxGFF# th and F#lf
               w   E

Going into the 12/8  it's important to start subdividing eighth triplets on the Bb's so everyone can play the 16th together.

For the rest of the movement the object is to hide on the A's and low D's with each note speaking on time and sustaining full value.

There is no time to stick a mute in the bell so here are the fingerings I used:

A = xxx/xx (whisper lock on)
      low C#

D = xxx/xxGF (whisper lock on)
 low BbD  E

For those of you trying these fingering:  If my symbols are confusing, let me know and I'll post them using a more visual layout.

Next, I'll examine the solos in the third movement.

1 comment:

  1. what a lovely helpful resource! Thank you for taking the time to put this up.