Friday, June 14, 2013

Tchaikovsky 5th -- Third Movement

The third movement of this symphony is the most action-packed for the first bassoonist.  Every note in the part is important and mostly exposed.  There are several solos.

As the waltz starts the bassoons play off beats.  Then after letter A the first bassoon has a counter line. This line ends just before the solo in the middle line.

When playing this it's important to bring out the change of role in the second line of the part.  Many excerpt books print the last two eighth notes before the solo starting the excerpt there.  This gives the false impression that the solo starts there.  These are not pick up notes!

They should be played lightly with a lift at the end of the B. Start the solo with the oboe on the bar line at a higher dynamic to shift the tone from an accompanimental to a soloistic presence.

The echo in the fourth bar of the solo is customary and helps prepare for a really effective crescendo later on.  End the solo as if you were going to play the upward scale in the next bar. Practice it by adding the scale (just play the clarinet cues before letter B!) and you'll be less likely to drag the downward scale.  

At letter B you join the clarinets in the main melody.

There is no dynamic indication for the entrance, but it should be soft so you can blend with the clarinets.  Probably "p" or "mp". I like to use Short C# for this passage because it's more mellow and blends with the dark clarinet sound here.


Be sure to pace the dynamics in this carefully so you can really show the "f" after C.  The passage is very repetitive otherwise.

After this tutti passage comes a big solo for the bassoon.

This solo sounds like it could have come right out of one of Tchaikovsky's ballets and as such it needs to sound light and graceful.  Playing it can be anything but graceful, however. The awkward downward 7ths and off-beat rhythm make this one of the toughest solos in the literature.

I have several tips for success in this one.

First, don't play at letter D!  The second bassoon doubles your line here, so take a little break to catch your breath and get ready for the solo.

Acoustics play a role in this solo.  The first part of the solo can get lost in the reverberation from the end of the tutti passage if played softly and in time. So wait a split second before starting, play the pick up notes a bit louder and slightly out of time, then pull back to "p", play in time and start the crescendo.

Acoustics can also be distracting during the off beats.  The strings play pizzicato down beats so you alternate with them. It's very easy to end up on the beat with the strings if you're not steady. If you can hear them well, you can guide off them. If not, you're really on your own!

However, YOU have the solo, so ideally they should follow you. Since you're outnumbered this will never happen unless you get a little help from the conductor.  Again, the I.Q. test (see previous post on the Second Movement).  The conductor should accompany you with the beat, helping the strings play in the right groove.

If you play the solo with great authority in the first rehearsal, people (including conductors) will tend to follow you.  If you want a passage to go a certain way, you need to convince others with the conviction in your playing from the outset.

When I played this passage in the orchestra a few weeks ago, I played as steady as I could, taking care each slurred note spoke on time.  I didn't look up to watch the conductor. That can be confusing!

The tempo was fast - about ♩= 152 (normal is♩= 138) so I really plowed through this solo.  

I was successful except for one run-through in rehearsal in which I tried to play a bit more freely and I ended up with the strings on the beat.  The next time through I played it very straight. Every time after that I fit in just right.  Towards the later performances I could really feel the string part fitting in with me.

If you play on a stage where it's hard to get feedback it's helpful in this passage to just stick to your guns and have someone out in the hall listening for the timing of your off beats.

Here are some practice tips for this passage.

Play the off beats re-barred in 4/4 time, thinking of them as downbeats.

Remember to flick or half hole for the lower note in each downward 7th.

Tuning these intervals can be difficult.  Often the 7ths are too small -- upper notes flat, lower ones sharp.

Here's a trick for hearing the intervals better. We hear 2nds more easily than we do 7ths, so play the passage this way:

Then play as written and you will hear it differently.

Later in the movement comes a very tricky little technical flourish with the clarinet.  Alternate fingerings are in order here because this goes like the wind!

Here are my choices for this one:

Fx = 1/2xx/x

G# = 1/2xx/xox
A= xxx/xox
G# = xxx/xox

The rest of the notes are fingered normally. 

The fourth movement of the symphony requires no special attention except that you should have your double tongue revved up and a pair of earplugs at the ready!

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