VANHAL FINGERINGS PART 1


In these Chapters i will make some fingering suggestions for Vanhal in Viennese Tuning. It's good to realize that Viennese Tuning allows many fingering options, and that the most obvious options are not always the best - although they often are. Indicating two or three sets of fingerings would clutter the scores, so for most of the excerpts i have limited myself to just one possibility. I will describe other choices in the accompanying text.

Bowing options are quite numerous as well. In this music it's often the seemingly "wrong" bowings that work best. The articulations in the manuscript give us many hints as to appropriate bowing directions, but as always much depends on musical phrasing and expression, and a bowing that works will with one fingering may not be so practical with alternative left-hand solutions.

Remember that what works fine on one instrument won't necessarily work equally well on another bass, with different strings or with another bow. I often change fingerings when changing basses, not because i want to, but because the way the instrument reacts will both limit certain possibilities while opening up new and challenging options. 

Furthermore, the double bass being such a big instrument, the physical build of the player will dictate or preclude certain playing solutions. I have never trusted teachers who came with their "definitive" bow hold, stance, fingerings or bowings that are the exact same for every student, especially when no explanation is offered as to the reasons for these choices.

That doesn't mean there are no principles which it would be advisable to adhere to. In Viennese Tuning, there are a few things we know or that we can deduct from the music and from the instrument itself:

- position playing (across the strings rather than up-and-down on one string) is so "natural" to Viennese Tuning, it would be a pity not to try it. Even in the highest thumb positions you can play across three or even four strings for long passages without the need to come down. 

- extensions are greatly facilitated by the frets and by the softer, less tense gut strings. Playing over three or four strings with a "barrĂ©" grip is very common and can even be done with the 4th finger. 

- using chord grips, as on a guitar, is very easy and practical in Viennese Tuning. The third finger comes in handy in such cases.

- the fact that the f# string is tuned slightly lower than in equal temperament (otherwise the D-major triad would sound very much out of tune) also means that all the notes on that string - at lest the fretted ones and the harmonics - will be low. In some chords this is a problem, but very often you can find a chord position that will sound better. (It's good to always be aware of what functions the notes have within the harmony. A perfect third will sound OK on the 2nd string. If it's a fundamental it may be better to choose the 3rd string, etc). 

Some people use double frets for a few notes, i.e. two frets next to each other. In that case you can choose the fret that is more in tune in a given tonality or chord. In some music styles, playing without frets is preferable for a number of reasons. A fretless fingerboard gives you more freedom for a singing playing style: vibrato is different, subtle intonation and colour nuances become easier to realize, and you no longer have the physical obstacle of the fret wire that sometimes hampers your freedom of movement in complex passages. For Viennese Classical music, frets are undeniably the better option because they will "teach" you how to articulate and how to find fingerings that match the esthetic of that particular style. Here, the limitations of the frets become a source of inspiration.

- in general, bowings will be a little more complex than in regular tuning. The smaller intervals between open strings will necessitate more string crossings. I find playing in Viennese Tuning very beneficial for my general bowing technique. As we don't really know very much about the actual playing tricks of the Viennese players, there is a lot of guesswork involved. Are we sure all players used the underhand bowgrip? I know from experience that the overhand grip works really well with VT, and even the gamba bow style is perfectly possible.

- intonation, when going from the fretted into the fretless region can be tricky because of the different feel: in the fretted part of the neck the frets do the work of defining the pitch, beyond that, in the unfretted part, it's the finger itself. Depending on how you "roll" the finger, it can be the middle of the finger's fleshy part that makes the pitch, if you roll the finger towards the bridge, it will be the finger's edge. 
    Whereas in the fretted area you will usually play "normally", i.e. with the fleshy part of the finger flat on the fingerboard and close to the fret, in the "open" part of the fingerboard the finger will have more responsibility for pitch precision. The first half-step right after the last fret will be the most problematic: on the "a" string this will be the "f" natural.
    It's a good idea to have a thinner gauge fretwire for the last one or two frets. This will facilitate moving out of and into the fretted part. As a daily exercise to overcome the "last-fret obstacle" i play the Paganini-Variations for one string on each of the top 3 strings in turn.

As for the articulations, i have completed the slurs (in red) that were written too short in the manuscript and that often cause a lot of confusion and misreadings. For more information about the notation of articulations in this music, please consult the dedicated Chapters in this blog.

The 8va indications in the manuscript are not Vanhal's work, in my opinion. Therefore i disregard almost all of them. The concerto is much more beautiful if we refrain from flying high all the time. The music doesn't need that.

There we go...
I hope this will be as enriching for you as it was, and indeed continues to be, for me. Good luck and have fun!





As the Solo begins (bar 21) (the preceding Tutti introduction doesn't present any particular problems), i have added the two-note slur that the violins play before. (There is no slur written in the original Bass part).

The fingering i chose here, with the f# as the octave harmonic on the 2nd string, accentuates the slightly "sighing" character of the theme: playing the f# as a harmonic will make it softer and will make a nice difference in colour from the first note, and in this way it will also help to emphasize the second bar. If we play the f# too loud, with an affirmative sound colour, it gets in the way of the phrasing. In some modern editions, the first note "d" is set apart and followed by the "a" and "f#" slurred together. This uncalled for "re-composition" completely changes the feel that is inherent in the original. To be avoided...

In bar 22 i go back to the 1st string, and i use an extension to play all four notes in one position. Easy with frets. Basically, bars 22, 23, and the beginning of bar 24 are all in the same position. In bar 23, just at the beginning of the second line in the above excerpt, i like to use a parallel fingering on the "b" and the "d", 2nd and 1st strings (i have put the 3rd finger between brackets. Traditional fingering would be to use the 2nd finger for both notes). In VT i often use "guitar"-like fingerings with lots of parallel fingerings and chord shapes.

The upbeat to bar 25 is all in octave harmonics on the 3rd, 2nd and 1st strings, and the whole bar 25 goes down the 1st string.



In bar 27 we have another extension, this time using the 3rd finger. In Viennese Tuning extensions are used a lot. In spite of the often impressive string length of Viennese basses (mine have 44" string stops - 110 cms), extensions are not all that hard. The frets and the softer gut strings enable stretches that would be harder on a smaller modern bass. Another possibility here, that i like a lot, is to stay on the 2nd string until the "e", and to go to the 1st string on the f#.

If you follow "logical" bowing direction, with bar 27 starting down-bow, bar 29 will start up-bow. That's nice, since it starts with two tied notes. Bar 30 has the same tie in the first two notes. Nobody ever plays these ties, which is a pity. If you "correct" the bowings in bar 30 by playing two consecutive up-bows on the g#-a (the two 16th-notes following the tie between the two a's), then all is well.

I don't go up an octave in bar 30. I used to, but it doesn't make much sense, musically. The octave skip in bar 31 takes the bass to the open low A-string.

Bar 32 (with two consecutive down-bows in the beginning, or even up-down) is usually taken up an octave as well (see elsewhere in this blog for explanations on the many 8va-signs). This will of course change the fingerings. The articulations here are very interesting and will necessitate good coordination between left and right hand: if we want to respect the articulations, we'll have to be creative with the fingerings. If you choose the higher octave, play the whole passage in high thumb position (thumb on "e" on the 1st string). In VT the 3rd (and even the 4th string) is perfectly usable in high positions. For this reason i have very low string action on all strings. It's a myth that gut strings have to be high above the fingerboard.



The whole passage from bar 32 onwards, and the similar passage later on, are good occasions to try out bowing directions. Starting up- or down-bow (or with two down-bows, as i've been doing for a while) will change subsequent bowings. Also, there are a few spots where you can choose: in bar 34, middle of the bar after the tied "e", you can either change bowing direction or play the "a" in the same bow. In bar 35 the same, again after the tied "e". It's very interesting to try and find what works best. All possibilities have their own flavor and their own "feel". The interaction between bowing and fingering can be experienced very clearly with such passages. Studying all the possible combinations of fingerings and bowing directions takes a lot of time, and develops the sensitivity you need to distinguish the many emotional nuances that this music is capable of.




On this second page, compare bar 36 (asterisk-ed) with bar 39: different articulations. When the same material comes back later on, it will be articulated as in bar 39: the 16th-notes are grouped 3+1. Therefore, i guess the first time (bar 36) is a copying mistake, and it should be 3+1 as well.

It's important to experiment with bowing direction here. The figure 3+1 will sound a lot clearer if we play the 16th-note figures starting up-bow. This will make the last, detached 16th top note "a" down-bow. 

I play the whole passage in its original octave, so the suggested fingerings are for this lower octave which sounds so much better to my ears.



We have an interesting dilemma here: if we play the upbeat to bar 44 up-bow (which would be logical), and we follow the articulations, we end with an up-bow on the b# in bar 47...
That seems strange. But if we continue, it all works nicely in the next few bars. I have played it in different ways. The solution i'm using now is to play the upbeat down-bow, which makes for a slightly awkward up-bow on the first "d" of bar 44, but the b# of bar 47 is now down, which is nice for expression. I then have another down-bow (in the same bow) on the following "a" and all is well.
In bar 49 we have a very interesting articulation in the second half of the bar, with the 3+1 figure. 

It's a pity that these very expressive articulations are always smoothed over in modern editions. They add spice, they "talk" to us. I'm not very interested in smooth. Smooth is for muzak, not music.

Bar 51 is obviously an error: it should be 2 slurred and 2 detached notes, not the opposite.

In bar 52, as soon as i have the "e" with the 4th finger, i stay in the same position till the first note of bar 54. The change in sound colour as i climb from string to string in bar 53 is very exciting. It gives more emphasis to the step-like figure. (Fingerings are not "just" fingerings. I don't only use fingerings because they're comfortable or easy, but also because they help to express emotion. In stepwise figures such as this one, it's nice to change sound colour from dark to brilliant, over the different strings).

The up-beat to bar 55 i play on the 4th string, and the 2-octave skip can be played in the exact same position, as a harmonic on the 1st string. You can actually play the three notes e-c#-a as harmonics in one position over the three top strings, and then play the trill in thumb position on the highest string. Or you just play the high "e" as a harmonic, and then jump to thumb position for the c#-a and the trill. If you want it to look more spectacular, you can go and get the "e" harmonic in thumb position.



Here in bar 63 we have the main motif again, this time starting on the "a" octave harmonic. I play the following "e" on the first string with the first finger, and the c# as a harmonic on the 2nd string, just next to the "e". This sounds much more interesting than the c# in thumb position on the 1st string, which would probably be most player's first choice. Doing this, however, will give too much emphasis to the note. Played as a harmonic it will sound just right. 

Also note that there is no slur over the first two notes here either. You can add the tie, like we did in the opening theme, or play the notes separately for variation. I play three detached notes, often starting up-bow - which looks weird but works very well since the second bar is then down-bow: more relaxing in feeling. In bar 65 (with upbeat) i stay in thumb position: the whole bar is on the 2nd string. This avoids awkward string crossings.



Bar 69 is all in one position. Note that the 3-note upbeat is different from the upbeat to bar 27, earlier: here it's three detached notes. In bar 26 it was 2+1:




Bars 72 and 73 are in one position, and even the appoggiatura in bar 74 can be played there. The rest of that bar goes down the 1st string. Bar 76 can be played in a single position as well.

Nothing special in bars 78 - 80, we alternate low position (g# on the second string and open "a") with the medium position in the second halves of the bar.




For bars 81 and 82 Josef Focht ("Der Wiener Kontrabass") suggests an extension fingering, so that everything stays in one position. This requires a trained 3rd finger: it goes 3-1-2-1-2-1-3-4. A more traditional fingering with a small shift works well too.




Bar 89 is interesting: no tie, and there are strokes on the two eight-notes. Here i play the theme in decidedly separate notes. The first note has an appoggiatura, which makes it more dramatic. The fingering here is 0-1-4 for the d-a-d "chord". Note the articulations in bar 91. 




The upbeat to bar 93, and the first note of that bar, are all in octave harmonics across the four strings. I stay in the lower octave from the "c" on. I find the 8va sounds horribly out of place in the context of the movement. 
Feel free to add trills, flattements etc. on the second half-notes "d" and "e" of bars 95 and 97.
If we follow the articulations as written, we arrive with a down-bow on bar 99, as we should. However, the tie in bar 97 tends to weaken the sound, even if we play softly. Separating the two half-notes is not a bad idea. In that case i split the upbeat to bar 99 in 1+2.




The fingering in bar 99 presents us with a bit of a challenge. Do we introduce the thumb to help us out? Do we play this across the top two strings, in thumb position? I prefer to have the whole bar on one string to avoid string crossings which will slow us down. One option is to use the 2nd string: 1-3-+-3. But then the skip from g to a in bar 100 will be a bit awkward. I play it all on the 1st string, but without the thumb: 1-3-1-3. I shift the 1st finger back and forth between the g and the f#. The 3rd finger hits the "a" harmonic. Looks strange but works well once you're used to it.






From bar 106 till the first note of bar 111, everything is in thumb position. In bar 106 i use two consecutive down-bows at the beginning. 
Staying in one (thumb-) position is challenging because of the articulations... 
Notice the last beat in bars 110 and 112, where the grouping is 3+1 just like we saw before in bars 36 and 39. Try playing it all starting the 16th-note figures up-bow.
Play the last note "d" and the following "b" in one position with the 3rd and 2nd fingers parallel over the two top strings. Much easier and more elegant than shifting back to the 1st finger.
From bar 114 on, all thumb position. It's great to play the cascading triplets there. The have more "oomph" than on the first string. Play the trill on the 3rd string too. You'll be ready for the next passage, which stays in thumb position too:






We stay in thumb position here. A very useful trick in VT is to play the "b" in thumb position with the 3rd finger instead of the 2nd. This often works extremely well. VT fingerings are sometimes a bit like guitar or gamba fingerings: thinking in chord shapes can be very helpful.
Bars 124 and 125 can be played with extension fingerings, using the 3rd finger. But a traditional solution works too. Here again, try to start such figures on a low string in medium position and climb your way up across the strings. This is an essential VT technique.




... to be continued ...

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