Tuesday, January 24, 2012
The hard part
This is my hardest part in the concert coming up on Sunday. The piece is Beethoven's Egmont overture, and I've clipped out woodwind part (oboe, clarinets in Bb, and bassoons) from the score. In the fermata bar, the violins cut off the King's head, with a dramatic C-G! Then the woodwinds enter, with second clarinet and bassoon (that's me) on octave F's, then adding parts, in the shocked quiet after the decapitation. After this, there's a rousing finale, but I'm worried about the notes before.
That opening F is marked ppp, and it needs to be very quiet, mysterioso. There's no other sound in the hall. The clarinet I'm playing with can play with a subtone anywhere down to zero; the bassoon, not so much. The first rehearsals, he was playing really quiet, not only because it was ppp, and because the conductor wanted it quieter, less and less, but also because he felt insecure about the pitch, so he kindof wanted to sneak in and hear how it sounded. You'll bury me, I told him, and asked him to do what he could to help us match dynamic-wise. (Ie, play louder, please!) I'm doing what I can: tons of support from lips and diaphragm, slow air, muffled fingering (add low D and E). I think the conductor has gotten the idea after watching me struggle, and hearing the pops, cracks and dropouts when I get too soft: at the rehearsal last night he asked clarinet 1 to meet us on dynamic. It's sometimes described as a knife edge, playing a double reed as soft as possible, but a better metaphor is a cliff's edge. Things are fine a comfortable distance away from it, it's fine creeping up to it, it's even okay balanced right on it, but any jiggle, and down you fall, with no hope of recovery. I'm also slurring the whole thing. My part has each note rearticulated (even the Db, unlike the score here), but adding tongue is just too risky, and I don't think the articulation is needed.
Intonation is a struggle too. I've played this lots against a drone. The F I'm playing as low as I can, without it drooping, the Db needs to be up and supported, the Bb down, with open throat, and the C fully supported. If I'm reading the chords right, the harmonies are F, Db major, G half diminished, C major, making the key change to the final section. So I'm usually the root of the chord, except for the Bb, which is a third, and should therefore be a little extra low. I guess you could also call that G chord a Bbmin add 6, to emphasize the bass line and the descending thirds F-Db-Bb, but calling it G helps recognize it's relation to the C following.
Looking back, I see I've mentioned this passage twice before. Ah well. I guess it's a hard spot. But I'll say this: even though it's hard, and even though I still can't play it as perfectly as I can hear it in my head, I can say that practicing it has helped. It really works, practice. Imagine that.