This is the third part in a series of articles about the Vanhal Manuscript. More articles will follow, always with the sole concern of transmitting practical, useful information that i have gathered over many years. In the next episodes i will tackle the Left Hand issues, which are fascinating because of the interaction between fingering options, bowings, and expression.
Having performed the concerto many times, on modern basses tuned in fourths as well as on ancient instruments in Viennese Tuning with gut strings and frets, and with results ranging from downright embarrassing to relaxed and joyful, i can't say i have reached anything like a "definitive" version. The search continues. Therefore any opinions or preferences expressed in these articles are those of the moment and are apt to change somewhere along the line. In this kind of Artistic Research, as opposed to "real" Science, the questions are always more interesting than the answers.
THIRD MOVEMENT: FINALE. ALLEGRO.
After the first two movements, we're ready to encounter more of those exciting different shades in the articulations. The fact that these are so manifold is an indication of their importance. If there were only a few, here and there, we might feel justified in "correcting" them. As it stands however, their omnipresence should be an encouragement for players to respect them and to find out what their emotional implications are.
The tempo indication says "Allegro", unlike the "Allegro Moderato" of the first movement. This is one of the rare real Allegros in Viennese double bass literature. I have found that establishing the right speed for this Finale isn't all that simple. The beginning being rather easy, technically speaking, one is easily lured into a very optimistic tempo that later turns out to be too fast for the more difficult bits. I'll come back to this problem in the chapters on Fingering, because there are a few tricks (at least in Viennese Tuning) that can make the hurdles a lot easier to take.
Here is the Tutti-introduction from the Solo Bass part (Ex. 1). The Soloist, as we have seen, is expected to play along with his or her colleagues in the Ensemble. Playing along is a great idea because you're in it from the start, sharing in the common joy of making music together and helping to determine the whole "feel" of the movement. As a bass player, your Tutti-role is of great importance in shaping the Concerto. I would even suggest that you take the role of a conductor (together with your Konzertmeister) in the Introductions and in the orchestral Interludes, clearly indicating where you want to go with this music.
|Ex. 1 Tutti Introduction. The Solo Bass in its Orchestral role.|
In the introduction everything seems rather straightforward, nothing much to remark about the articulations. But when we look at the Violino Primo (Ex. 3), we notice the absence of a little slur in the syncopations, that's there in the Solo Bass part (Ex. 2). At first sight one might think that this may have been an oversight...
Ex. 2 Bass Solo: tied syncopations
|Ex. 3 Violino Primo: tie missing|
... but is it? Strangely, the ties are missing in both Violino Primo parts but not in either of the Violino Secundo parts, nor in the Oboe 1° and 2°: these four parts do have the slur. When we look further, the exact same thing happens in the re-exposition: no slurs at all in both Violin parts, while the 2nd Violins and the Oboes do have the slurs.
In the Development however, the slur miraculously turns up in the Violino Primo, and here it's accompanied by another mysterious little slur that doesn't seem to make much sense (first bar in the orange circle), unless we take away the slur over the barline (Ex. 4):
|Ex. 4 Mysterious slurs in the Violino Primo...|
Something similar can be found in the Violino Secundo, but with the last slur missing (Ex. 5):
|Ex. 5 ...and in the Violino Secundo.|
I'll leave it up to you to decide what to do with this information...
TO RISE OR NOT TO RISE
I'm more concerned about the 8va-sign here (Ex. 6):
|Ex. 6: 8va and Loco signs. |
(The arrows indicate notes that belong
to the 4-note slurs,
and that should not be separated).
Frankly, i don't like it. It's one of those octave jumps that seem devoid of any musical or narrative justification. It sounds very artificial to my ears. When the bass comes down again from this sudden trip to outer space, it kind of makes me think: "What the #!°% was that all about?!?" (expletive deleted. As you can see, music is emotion...)
When i try to rationalize my aversion, i can find at least one reason why i consider this 8va to be in poor taste: it breaks the line. When the bass jumps down again from the high e to the low g#, there is no musical connection at all: the ascending arpeggio e-g#-b-d now has an "amputated" beginning, since the e is an octave too high and doesn't feel like it's part of the chord. The arpeggio is "unanchored" as it were, which partly accounts for the weird feeling it provokes.
I also feel that this foray into the highest tessitura doesn't fit the narrative of the piece. If we want to play high, this is not the time to do it. It's too disruptive within the emotional line we're building.
Immediately after that, just a couple of bars further, the same figure reappears, this time in the right octave (Ex. 7, second red rectangle):
|Ex. 7 Here the octaves are "right"|
Elsewhere in the Finale, more than once the same chordal figure comes back again, and there it does always have its proper anchoring (Ex. 8):
When the thematic passage makes its final appearence at the end of the movement, there is no longer an 8va-indication (Ex. 9, compare to Ex. 6 with its 8va and "Loco" indications). I can't help wondering what is the rationale behind these seemingly haphazard octave leaps that seem to be all over the place with very often no visible or audible necessity.
|Ex. 9 No more 8va and Loco signs|
The following passage is interesting because of its fingering problems, but i will dedicate separate chapters to the left hand problems. For now, let's concentrate on construction, articulations and emotional content. There's another 8va-sign here:
|Ex. 10 If we follow the 8va-indication, |
the interval e-a goes upwards...
This one seems to make more sense. When the same figure comes back, in the Finale's last page, it goes like this:
|Ex. 11 ... just like the second time, with the interval a-d.|
As you can see, if we follow the 8va-indication the leap a-d (first bar in the orange circle) is upwards, just like the e-a in the preceding excerpt (orange circle). If we don't, this leap is downwards. For the structural balance of the Finale, it's reasonable to go up an octave here.
Also note that there is a slur the second time (Ex. 11), but not the first time (Ex. 10), and that in the following bar the 16th-note groups are notated differently: once in plain 16ths (Ex. 10), and once with an appoggiatura (Ex. 11). The execution however is the same. The absence or presence of the slur results in opposite bowings in the respective16th-note bars. You can add the "missing" slur if you want, but i like the difference in bowing because it gives a nice character change. In that case, as always, exaggerate the difference between both times by giving the detached version more "silence" between the two notes and by making the eight-note "a" into a real up-beat for the next bar (Ex. 10 yellow circle), and making the tied version really legato (Ex. 11 yellow circle).
(Like i mentioned, in the preceding bars with the 2+2 slurred groups of 16th-notes, we find interesting challenges for the left hand. Let me just say that the whole passage can be played with just one (1) position change, contrary to what Joseph Focht writes in his wonderful book about the Viennese Bass. The upcoming chapters on fingering problems and solutions will explain how to do it).
LIKE A RAINBOW
I had some fun with colours here. Just compare the same-coloured bars in these two similar passages from the Bass Solo part: very different articulations. It's great fun to explore these and to make them as different as possible within the phrase. Halfhearted attempts are not enough to make these things "speak". That means playing the 4-note slurs with a warm legato, the 2+2 figures with our beloved sighing effect, the 2+1+1 bars short (with subtle gradations of shortness, bien sûr). Don't forget that the "incomplete" slurs over 4 notes really include all four notes, as we've seen before.
|Ex. 12 Same colours...|
|Ex. 13 ... different articulations|
The general tendency is for longer slurs in the first version, especially before the triplet-passage, and for shorter slurs the second time. Again we see that these differences may carry an emotional "message": it's up to the player to fill in the emotions that he or she can feel are contained in the figures. For me there is clearly a sense of urgency near the end of the concerto (shorter, more "breathless" slurs).
To some people, this may all seem exaggerated. Isn't this whole "emotion" business a sort of self-delusion? Why can't we just play the notes and let the piece speak for itself? Who can prove that Vanhal (or Sperger, or whoever) really intended the articulations and the phrases to carry some "meaning"? Maybe all those differences in articulation are coincidences, maybe they don't "mean" anything at all. Who says that all the things i'm writing aren't figments of my imagination?
I must say i rarely hear those questions uttered aloud. Maybe people are too polite to contradict me. I can be very persuasive.
But i guess most musicians really are sensitive to these "narrative suggestions" within the music that are hard to describe. The problem is that only very rarely this side of musicianship is taught or even discussed in music education. Even the historically well documented theories (and practice) of emotional "Affekt" in Ancient Music are never mentioned in "regular" music classes.
Developing a sensitivity to all those things in music that are near impossible to notate (and that constitute its most important part) is a life's work. Doubt is inherent in this kind of activity. The questions i mentioned above are mainly my own. In the end they are not very important, and the answers to them may be factual but rather irrelevant.
What matters is the search for ways to share with an audience the intense emotions and the pure pleasure that playing music can generate. The sole aim of research such as this is to find food for the soul. Our own, and that of our listeners.
UNITED COLORS OF VANHAL
No surprise anymore when we see these two excerpts, again in chronological order, with their "trademark" differences:
There seems to be much method to Vanhal's madness. The way i see it, in this Finale he always opts for more "dynamic" articulations when the same material comes back the second time:
here he goes from 2+2 slurs to 2+1+1 groups, which again produces more "drive". And at the end of the second excerpt, he gives up on the slurs and he hammers the 16th-notes into our souls, strengthened even more by the double-stops. Yes!
But we're not there yet. Still a long way to go.
Look at this:
|Ex. 16 Octaves a gogo...|
The 8va in the yellow circle is understandable from a technical viewpoint. It's easier to stay in the same register for those few notes than to go down. Still, if you manage to do it, it gives an impression of playing with two voices, which adds depth (in two senses) to the passage: it's like a question-and-answer moment between a tenor and a bass.
It's the other 8va-indications that i don't really like. Sure, it's easier to play these notes as harmonics, and there is something to be said for the fact that there are no breaks in the line when you stay in the high register. (Before, i objected to breaks in the line, now i kind of object to keeping the line intact. I guess i'm just being difficult).
My point is, this passage in its original form works very well as a kind of "grumbling", in stark contrast with the three trills (before, between, and after the grumbling). I find the effect irresistible. If we stay in the harmonics' territory, the notes are all nice and limpid, but nothing much happens. If we play all of the transposed passages (also the one in the yellow circle) in their "original" octaves, we get something that is almost like a private musical joke when the "loco" part and the trill suddenly appear like a jack-in-the-box. And this happens three times. "Loco" indeed...
It's up to you then to make a choice. There is no law against trying things out or against playing the concerto in as many different versions as you have opportunities to play it, as long as you give the original indications the priority treatment they deserve and as long as you stay within the narrative framework that is so important in this music.
The sudden drastic switch back from being the Soloist, to the Tutti interlude in the last bar of the excerpt, is one of the most exhilarating moments in the concerto for the player. It's one of the pleasures you miss when you only play the solo passages.
In what follows there are not so many articulation problems. There's only the question of bowing direction, and a few remarks concerning fingerings that i will deal with in the next chapters.
MUSIC FROM AN ISLAND
After the second Interlude then, we come to the re-exposition that we partly discussed already. There is an exquisite, very touching change of emotion here when the Bass Solo has a brief but intense flirt with the Minor tonality (red rectangle, Ex. 17). How are we going to bring out the melancholic flavor of this beautiful eight-bar phrase?
|Ex. 17 The eight-bar phrase (in fact, two times four bars): |
a romantic island.
I like to consider the last quarter-note "a" before the half-note "d" (first blue circle, Ex. 17 above) as an upbeat, i.e. as a beginning and not as an end. Since i'm not really playing the "dashed" 8th-notes short, but only slightly separated, i make this "a" even longer, so that the interval a-d has a very lyrical, "romantic" character.
This enables me to make a kind of emotional island or an oasis of these eight bars, very different in expression from the dynamic drive of the rest of the Finale. This also implies that here, for once, i give the 2+2 slurred 8th-notes a more legato character, still with a hint the sighing effect but without the "breathlessness".
The tied dotted rhythm connecting the two f#'s is a great occasion to change from the 1st string to the octave harmonic on the 2nd string, thereby creating a very subtle colour difference between the two four-bar halves of this phrase (3rd line, 3rd bar, Ex. 18):
| Ex. 18 The two f#'s, in one bow but on |
two different strings for a change in colour:
the first one on the 1st string,
the 2nd one on the 2nd string
as a harmonic with the thumb.
Then, a sudden return to a deciso "the-dream-is-over" character in forte (not printed but a personal choice: red rectangle), culminating in the (in-)famous passage of slurred thirds in 16th notes (blue rectangle, Ex. 19):
|Ex. 19 The passage that is playable with a single position change - only in Viennese Tuning.|
Like i mentioned, this passage can be played very effectively with only one position change, a good illustration of the advantages of the original tuning in this type of music.
The two notes in the orange circle (Ex. 19 above) are separated by many bass players, but i like them slurred. Since the choice to slur or not will influence the bowing of the next measure, it's good to try out what suits you best and what is "right" for the feel you want to give to these ending bars.
THE END (ALMOST)
A few last remarks then. Bowing direction is important here if we want to respect the articulations in the red circles: again we have the 3+1 division, twice. No reason to doubt that this is intended. Playing this figure up-bow is very impractical and can be ruled out. So we have to arrive down-bow on the three 16th-notes. This means we have to start the 16th-note figures up-bow.
What we do with the preceding trill on the half-note depends on the bar before that: if we play the dotted figure d-e, right before the trill, with a hooked bowing (two notes up), then the trill arrives down-bow and everything is all right.
However, the second and third time the trills (two bars after the red circles) will arrive up-bow. The very last time, that's perfect because the final ascending scale will start down-bow, as it should. But the second time we want the 16th-notes to start up-bow, remember?
Two choices come to mind: play the trill in two bows (but since the tempo is really fast, this may be too audible), or play the 2+2 bar (g-f - e-d) in a single bow, with a short 2/2 separation.
All easier shown than explained, i agree...
The last 8va of the concerto is certainly defendable. Technically speaking, we know from Sperger's and Hoffmeister's works for Solo Bass that playing as high as the "d" was not exceptional. Musically and emotionally speaking, for the end of a concerto it's nice to have something flashy, a release of pent-up emotion. The effect will be a lot more impressive if we have shown some restraint before: let's try not to suffer from "octavitis" throughout the whole concerto. After all, Viennese composers generally chose the high passages in their violin concerti with great care and good taste, a habit in which they differed from their Italian colleagues.
Sperger's Cadenza for the Finale is part of the manuscript, as are those for the other two movements. They're interesting because they shed some light on Sperger's way of playing. We don't know if he only used these cadenzas or if he sometimes (partly) improvized. Do these cadenzas represent "the best" he could come up with? Judging from the hasty handwriting and the corrections i'm not sure if he considered this to be final versions.
|Ex. 21 The cadenza|
I'm in favour of personal cadenzas that the soloist makes up him- or herself (even in the case of prescribed romantic or modern cadenzas). Beethoven, Brahms e tutti quanti "imposed" their cadenzas on the soloist: it was a kind of "quality control" in a time where cadenzas could easily get out of hand. But from time to time one wishes for a healthy dose of disobedience from players.
Over the years i've changed my mind as to the length of a cadenza. Most of those i've heard, from all kinds of instruments, are just too bloody long and uninteresting. Quantz, speaking of wind instruments, preferred a cadenza that you can play in a single breath. I think that's great advice for all instruments. How about a cadenza you can play in a single bow?
If you're absolutely sure you're not going to put your audience to sleep, if you're confident that your cadenza is at least as exciting, touching, and surprising as the concerto itself, then go for it. The cadenza must bring something extra, something that delights the listener. But who wouldn't prefer to listen to something short and sweet, rather than ten minutes of scales, harmonics and double stops without any narrative or emotional coherence?
Ah, the joy of climaxing together!
After those last dramatic, ecstatic four notes comes a wonderful, heartfelt cadenza that says all that has (or has not) been said before, in a new and touching way. And then a trill that, like a microcosm, condenses the whole concerto in the space of two seconds, and that opens the floodgates for the very last Tutti of the whole Ensemble, soloist included. Many possibilities here for an amazing ending, everybody playing their hearts out, the fellow musicians full of joy and shared happiness as you grasp with both hands this last chance to include the audience, nay, the entire universe in this transcendence of emotion, this feeling of togetherness.