Saturday, 20 June 2009

The art of sight reading

Sight-reading is a skill that can be mastered at any age. I've taught it to people of all ages who previously thought that is was a black art only to be mastered by extremely fine musicians and not to be understood by mere mortals.

The key to successful sight reading is learning not to panic. If you start to panic over the notes, so much of your brain is taken up with the panic that there is nothing left for actually doing the reading and playing. Therefore sight reading exercises and techniques should be directed towards avoiding and eliminating panic.

The techniques are fairly simple.
  1. For the early stages of sight-reading practice, choose exercises substantially easier than the ones you are using to develop technique & endurance.
  2. When doing a sight reading exercise, choose a speed slow enough that you can be confident that you won't panic over the most difficult part. That means that the easier parts go more slowly than the fastest you can manage.
  3. Before you start, check out time signatures, key signatures, and have a special look at any awkward notes, intervals or rhythms. The idea is to avoid being surprised by difficult bits when they arrive.
  4. Count a bar's rest before you start to set the speed, and keep counting so you can stick to that speed throughout the exercise. On no account speed up in the easy bits, it will simply mean you either panic (and stop) at the difficult bits, or you slow down. In an orchestra or ensemble, you won't be given the option to slow down!
  5. Look a bar or so ahead of the note that you are playing. You don't need to look at the note you are playing now - it is already either right or wrong, and if it is wrong there is nothing more you can do for it. You need to be looking at notes you will be playing soon, so that when they finally arrive, you aren't surprised by them. Remembering to do this is the hardest part of sight-reading (until you get the trick of it, when it is natural!). It may help if you can get a friend to hold a pencil pointed to the bar ahead of where you are playing, in order to draw your eyes forward. If you do this, take extra special care to keep counting at a steady speed, so you don't try to catch up with where the pencil is.
  6. If despite these techniques, you get an attack of panic when doing a sight-reading exercise, repeat the exercise at least 30% slower. The whole idea is to practice not panicking, and to get used to the idea that sight-reading without panic is achievable. If you still break down 30% slower, go 30% slower still and keep getting slower until you find a speed at which you don't panic.
Once you find a speed at which you are able regularly to sight-read successfully, keep practising at that speed to get used to the thought-patterns involved, and to gain confidence that you really can do it! Then, gradually, notch the speed up a bit - 5% or 10% at a time, and see if you can still manage it.

Sight-reading in an orchestra or ensemble is a different matter. Different techniques are required simply because you don't get to choose the speed at which the piece is rehearsed. The same general anti-panic principle applies, but now, instead of dropping the speed to get the notes, you drop notes in order to maintain the speed.

The key thing is that you must not fall behind and you must not get lost. If that means in the early rehearsals before you have had a chance to practice the part, all you manage to do is count the bars and play the first note of each bar of difficult passages, then so be it. Better that than getting lost and causing the conductor to stop the rehearsal and tell you where he has got to.

Once you have mastered the basic techniques in the easy exercises, then you use the same technique reading through every piece of music you can lay your hands on, in order to keep and extend the skill.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Eroica last movement

We're nearly at the end! I hope that some people have been reading this and have hopefully both learned from it and enjoyed it. I will try to be a bit briefer for this movement, as much of it is continuing the principles of the previous movements.

The first exposed passage is for horns 1 & 2 at bar 76 for 8 bars (horn 3 joining in at bar 80), where for four bars you are playing the tune in octaves while the first oboe, clarinet and bassoon all share the countermelody, and then horns 2 and 3 go into harmony. Piano solo is the order of the day here.

In the pause at 96, it is essential that you watch the conductor carefully and finish the note precisely when he wants you to. The oboe continues the tune (back in tempo) slurring into the final quaver of the bar from the pause note, and is the only instrument playing for that quaver. If you hold on too long, you ruin the effect. The same applies at 103, except the violins continue this time.

Horn 1 is piano solo for 4 bars at 270. Listen carefully to the oboe who has the same passage 4 bars earlier, and ensure that you match in terms of style - particularly in terms of whether the minims are separated at all, and if so, by how much. Don't forget that you are in F for a few bars!

Now we get to the Poco Andante passage starting with the upbeat to bar 349. This is another passage where tradition often gets in the way of musicality. We start off with 3rd horn playing piano with the clarinets and bassoons, quietly harmonising the first oboe's tune. The strings take over, still piano in the upbeat to 357, and the horns are just supporting with their double-dotted passages. The sf notes at 359 and 362 are not loud, just the slightest of extra emphasis.

At 373, there are all sorts of things going on - it is extremely clever music! First oboe and first clarinet have the tune. Second clarinet and violas have triplet semiquaver arpeggios. And the bassoons in 373 have semiquavers, which the horns take over a bar later. You need to be heard, but only as one of these several strands interweaving. You must be subito piano at 373 with only a fairly small crescendo starting at 377.

Then we get to the loud bit!

It is traditionally thought by many horn players that the tune taken by the horn at the end of bar 380 is a solo and the horn is intended to blast out and pretty much drown everything else, and perhaps be doubled by 2nd and/or 3rd for greater effect. On the Yahoo horn mailing list, when somebody enquired about this passage, several players responded saying something along these lines (I shan't mention names, in order to protect the guilty). But it isn't so, and the first horn part should not under any circumstances be doubled by second and third. these are the reasons why.
  1. 2nd & 3rd are already busy with their own off-beat passage, and are needed for that as they provide the bass octave of the instruments sharing that rhythm. In particular, 2nd horn should play up, as it is the only instrument playing the rhythm in that bottom octave and it is low in the range for the horn.

  2. First horn is not solo. You are doubled by both clarinets, both bassoons, the cellos and basses. With the power of horns in Beethoven's day, he would not have expected a single horn to sail out over the top of everything else at that point,and if he wanted it to be a primarily horn sound, he would have orchestrated it differently. You are one element in a complex mix of instruments which make up a composite tone colour.

  3. As I mentioned before, Beethoven almost never writes mf as a dynamic. So you treat the ff as f, and the repeated sf markings on individual notes within the piece as accents within the forte dynamic.
Therefore, far from doubling the part, you can in fact ease off a bit during the passage to make sure that you have lip and breath enough left to cleanly hit the start of the descending arpeggio passages in bars 397 and 401, the first of which especially is an exposed and solo entry on a high G for the first horn, even though it is marked piano.

If the conductor tries to suggest that "tradition" demands the whole section blast out the tune, then if you feel able to, tactfully point out the above and suggest that tradition should not be allowed to overrule the composer's clearly stated intention.

The next bit you can enjoy yourselves, starting at 435. The horns only have the bassoons with them an octave below here, you are essentially solo ff, and within the context of the piece, you can let rip a bit, at least until others join in. Third horn has an independent passage at 441, though joined by the cellos and basses at 443. But this whole passage is definitely to be enjoyed!

At 453 for a few bars, all the horns have what looks like quite a tricky rapid semiquaver arpeggio passage. If you play it on the Bb side, it definitely is tricky, but it doesn't need to be. If you just press down 1st valve and play the whole passage on the F side, it is much easier, even though the upper parts are in a range where you are most likely normally to use the Bb side.

One last thing. When you play this piece, make sure that you enjoy it. It is simply wonderful music. Enjoy listening to the other players as the tunes weave in and out of each other. Enjoy and appreciate the tunes the woodwind and strings have, all the better to blend in. Yes, you must have a mind to the technical challenges, and you must keep thinking about how to achieve your part in all of this. But allow some of your mind to just take it all in as well. There's no point in playing it if you aren't going to appreciate it in the widest possible way. If you're enjoying it, the audience will notice, and they will enjoy it more as well.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Eroica third movement

(Different prints of the score have differing opinions as to how the bars should be numbered, particularly in this movement. I'm going by the Eulenberg edition miniature score, which you can view online here.)

When performing this symphony the horns will be judged by how they play this movement, particularly the Trio section.

Apart from a few quiet notes, the horns' first entry is at bar 93. Although it is a sudden ff entry (after a steep 1-bar crescendo by the rest of the orchestra) you are part of the texture. A solid sound, but you don't need to try and drown everyone. The same goes for the other loud passages at 123 and at 159.

Now for the Trio. The choice of dynamic for the opening is very confusing, because you have just finished the Scherzo section with accented notes within an ff dynamic. And the start of the Trio doesn't include a dynamic marking for the horns, except for the sf on the second note, and yet there is a gradual crescendo only to f at the end of the passage. That implies that the start ought to be relatively soft - something which is reinforced by the fact that the rest of the orchestra is marked p at 173 and similar places.

Essentially there are two common approaches to this. One is to start at about the dynamic as you finished the Scherzo and crescendo from there. The other is to decide that Beethoven intended the Trio to start softly and crescendo only to f. I prefer this second approach, for what I think are a number of good reasons.
  1. The orchestra's intervention at 173 and similar places isn't drowned
  2. The first horn doesn't have to scream up to the top C, but can play it at a more comfortable dynamic
  3. The 2nd horn's low notes at the end of the crescendo have a chance of actually being heard.
  4. The sf held notes at 240, 248 & 256 can be permitted to just sing once the accent has been completed, and can have a beautiful tone without being forced.
  5. A forte climax will be quite loud enough and give a contrast the orchestra's piano entry at 181.
I suggest you start at a solo p, and have the sf within that context, crescendo to f (really mf) and drop back down to the same p level when the theme is repeated at 182, so that you can crescendo all over again. If you decide to play this way, get everyone to mark in p at all the appropriate places in their parts, otherwise somebody is absolutely bound to forget on the night, because of confusing parts and the "tradition" of playing it all pretty loud.

Use the same dynamics when the theme returns at 228. The audience is expecting the passage to be exactly the same before, but Beethoven puts in a surprise at bar 236. Instead of the first horn going on up to the top C as previously, all three horns hold the chord for a 2-bar diminuendo. The sf here doesn't need to be a particularly sharp one, just a bit of extra oomph to the front end of the note so you have plenty of space in which to diminuendo. When you repeat the chord 244, give it the same dynamic, and possibly a slightly softer stress as you slur onto the held note at 252.

The other thing that you have to decide on and work out is how you are going to set the balance between the three horns. Is this a solo for first horn with the others accompanying, or is it a joint solo for all three, or something a little bit in between?

My view is that this really is a trio solo for three horns, and 2nd and 3rd need to match the volume of the first. In some ways, the 2nd horn has the most interesting part, with the rapid downward arpeggio at the end of the first two passages. We want to hear that! But as it is low, the 2nd horn will need to push it out and the others not press too hard so that a balance is achieved. The first horn going up to the top C will be heard more or less whatever happens. third horn should slot in so that he is heard but so that the two higher parts don't drown the second. You have to listen to each other carefully in order to work out how to get the effect right.

For the variation on the theme and the held chord at 236, first horn can sing out a little bit more for that held note and the descending passage immediately after.

But the main thing is to enjoy it! If you play it even half-decently, the conductor will give the horns a bow at the end of the performance. Enjoy that as well!

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Producing a "projected" sound

In my articles on the Eroica, I've mentioned more than once that you should play solo passages with a "projected" sound.

What on earth does that mean?

I know how to make a projected sound, one that will carry over an orchestra for a solo passage, but I've done it for so long that it's been a while since I thought about how, and even what the characteristics of a projected tone are. I just do it. So I've given a fair bit of thought to it before attempting to write it down.

Generally speaking, when we play louder, two quite separate things happen. One is that we produce more volume, and the other is that there is an increasing preponderance of overtones in the sound, as the sound gets more "brassy".

Projecting your tone is getting more volume without the increased brassiness. In other words, getting increased volume so you carry over the top of the orchestra, while the tone colour remains as if you are playing quietly within the texture of the piece. Because there isn't the extra brassiness that the listener associates with a horn or other brass instrument playing loud, the ear is in a way fooled into thinking that it isn't actually loud, but that instead the sound is being sort of pumped straight into the listener's ear without having travelled across the intervening space. I have no idea who first called it "projecting" but it is a very apt word for describing the effect on the listener.

Some years ago, I was lucky enough to play 1st horn at a special Rehearsal Orchestra course. Instead of one of their usual conductors, we had Sir Simon Rattle for a day, coming to work with us on his day off from conducting Parsifal every night at Covent Garden. Even though Sir Simon is a former member of the orchestra (he played percussion at one of its residential courses in Edinburgh under Harry Legge, when he was about 14 or 15) I think it quite amazing that he was prepared to spend 6 hours rehearsing Bruckner 9 with a bunch of amateurs in the middle of such a strenuous series of engagements.

Now, Bruckner uses the brass. Bruckner 9 uses a lot of brass; 8 horns (4 doubling Wagner Tuba), three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba. And in the first session, immediately after the first forte entry of the heavy brass, he stopped the orchestra and turned to them.

"Brass, that was a wonderful noise! Absolutely perfect for Shostakovich. And I don't want ever in my life to hear it again in a Bruckner symphony. The sound has to be rich and round without the slightest hint of a cuivré to it. Let's try it again."

I turned to the other horns and whispered down the line. "Horns, that means us as well!"

So, you now understand hopefully the sort of sound you should be aiming for. How do you train yourself to get it?

Actually, the practice technique is remarkably simple. You can even incorporate it into your warmup. It is simply practicing long notes - with a crescendo and decrescendo.

Start on a nice mid-range note. Take a deep breath and start the note playing piano. Do a slow gradual crescendo, listening carefully to your tone. Try really hard to avoid tightening the lips - this is what causes the brassiness. If anything, the embouchure should relax slightly as you push air through at a faster rate. See how loud you can get without adding a brassy edge. When you have reached your limit, do an equally gradual decrescendo back to piano. Don't try to play louder than the maximum you can achieve without a brassy edge.

Repeat this for each note of a one-octave ascending scale. As you practice, you should try each day to get the top end of the crescendo just a little bit louder than you could manage before. Over different days you should arrange for this kind of long note practice to be carried out over the full range of the instrument.

Doing this will help you not only gain a projected sound, but practicing a piano crescendo entry in the upper register will prepare you for if you ever have to perform the Britten Serenade, which includes a pianissimo crescendo entry on a top C in the Elegy movement.

Now in addition, there are occasions when you do want a brassy edge to the sound, while not overwhelming people with volume. So you can do a variation on this exercise. Long note practice again, but this time you do only a modest crescendo to about a single forte, but with a deliberate brassy edge to your tone.

There is a limit to what I can do in words to explain the differences in your embouchure that will achieve the two different effects. All I can suggest is that you try it, and listen carefully to the result.

The idea is that if you deliberately practice both of these, then you have a much wider range of tone colour and expressiveness available to you. You can control the volume and tone colour more or less independently of each other. It is then up to you to decide what combination to use on any specific occasion. That is where musicality comes in.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Eroica second movement

We come to the second movement of the Eroica, the Marcia Funebre. The movement is in C minor, horns 1 and 2 are in C, with Horn 3 in Eb, partly to be able to play the third of the C minor tonic chord, partly to be able to play when the piece briefly modulates into the relative major key.

At bar 9, the horns are part of the texture while the oboe has the tune. Except for bar 41 where the fp is briefly exposed, the horns remain in the background as part of the tutti texture until the third horn's ff passage at bar 135.

Most people think this is a solo. It isn't. You are doubled by both clarinets. In fact, the clarinets take over the tune with the violas in the second half of bar 139 when the tune goes into a new key where hand horns cannot easily follow.

In many recordings, this passage is blasted out with all the force the player can muster, and is sometimes doubled for added weight. This is a case of playing Beethoven as if he were Tchaikovsky. There is no need for it. If Beethoven had wanted this to be primarily a horn sound, there are other ways in which he could have orchestrated it to put more horns onto the passage. The intention is for the horn to be a significant part of the sound, but not to drown the rest of the orchestra. Therefore, in my opinion, it should sing out, so you play as loud as you can manage without adding a brassy edge to your sound.

At bar 173 the horns for several bars have a dotted rhythm on repeated notes make sure you accurately position the demisemiquaver. It isn't as short a note as you might initially think. the passage is piano and part of the texture, but you can make it a bit more noticeable without detracting from the tune in the oboe and clarinet by slightly detaching the notes. That will help the orchestra as a whole keep in tempo.

At bar 184, the 2nd horn has a pedal C for horn in C that is held for two and a half bars. It doesn't matter too much if the note is a bit slow to sound, the entry is covered by the strings playing a forte chord, but you want to me sure that the note and tuning is secure by the end of the bar when the chord ends and the oboes take over the tune with the rest of the woodwind in support.

The next exposed moment is for second horn at bar 230, there is more or less nothing else happening along with the held C slurred to a B.

After that, it is all within the texture to the end of the movement.

THAT solo in the first movement of the Eroica

I've had some discussions with people on the Yahoo Horn mailing list concerning the solo at bar 412 of the first movement, and researching the matter I've discovered a few new things.

First of all there is a discrepancy between different editions. Some editions mark the final Ab piano, and others do not. Some editions include a crescendo marking 2 bars before the end of the passage, and some do not.

The first edition, which is available online at the digital archives of the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, has the Ab piano and no crescendo before it. But Beethoven was a notoriously poor proofreader, the original manuscript is no longer in existence, and Beethoven's first editions are not known for being particularly accurate. So I wouldn't want to take the first edition as being necessarily authoritative.

Therefore, you are probably going to have to work out for yourself and in co-operation with the conductor how you will approach the end of the solo. Personally, I would not drop the dynamic for the final note. The Ab is the same note as the starting note of the flute's version of the phrase, and so holding the note for a crotchet and then stopping allows for a change in tone colour of the note as the reverberation of the horn note dies and the flute takes over (with the violins doubling an octave lower for the first couple of bars). The flute is also marked dolce at the start of its solo, just as the horn was at the start of its solo 8 bars earlier.

Also, as a purely practical issue, you significantly increase the risk of of cracking the Ab if you suddenly drop the volume when slurring to it.

In discussing this passage with others, it has been suggested (by Kerry Thomson and Richard Chenoweth) that to get a piano Ab the note could be played handstopped, as it would have been in Beethoven's day. I can see where they are coming from, but I disagree for two reasons.

First, I doubt very much whether a subito piano is actually intended, though if it is requested by the conductor, you do it whatever Beethoven's intention was. Second, (as John Dutton has pointed out) hand-horn technique and hand-horn design in Beethoven's day would have allowed the handstopped note to be played with a tone that is quite close to that of an open note. It is far harder on modern wide-bore valve horns to bend the pitch using hand-horn technique without affecting the tone to a much greater extent than Beethoven would have expected to hear. But you don't need to do that, because you have valves! Therefore, when using modern instruments, I think you should use modern techniques and play the note using the valves.

The debate should of course remind you that there no single authoritatively right way to play the piece. What I've provided is how I play it and the reasons behind my choices. But you may disagree and have an alternative approach that works just as well or even better for you. If so, go for it!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Interpreting the Eroica Symphony

Playing Beethoven is a bit strange. Traditionally, we don’t think of Beethoven as requiring the delicacy of touch demanded by Mozart, and Beethoven’s music is often treated by horn players as if he were Tchaikovsky. It is all those sudden forte chords and accents. But in fact Beethoven is far closer to Mozart than to the classics of the late Romantic repertoire, and our playing of Beethoven horn parts needs to be conceived accordingly.

We now realise that the Eroica symphony was a revolutionary work, that launched Beethoven as a truly unique and different talent and provided a decisive break from the classicism of Mozart and Haydn. But Beethoven’s first two symphonies stuck very close to the general layout of the late Mozart symphonies, both in instrumentation and structure, the main innovation being the inclusion of a Scherzo in place of the conventional Minuet & Trio for the third movement of the Second Symphony. That isn’t to suggest that the first two symphonies are in any way unworthy, but they are clearly Beethoven growing into the distinctive sound that would come later. The Eroica is Beethoven’s first serious attempt at moving to something beyond Mozartian classicism in his orchestral writing.

But Beethoven has been so popular for so long that a great deal of tradition has accumulated as to how he should be played, and much of this tradition is quite frankly both historically dubious and musically awful.

So you have to approach this in context. This piece is late Classical, not late Romantic. The orchestra lacks the heavy brass and additional woodwind of later composers. The instrumentation is double woodwind, two trumpets, three horns, timpani and strings, i.e. your standard classical symphony orchestra with one extra horn. The role of the horns is still much the same as it is in other classical symphonies - mainly blending into the middle of the harmonies, and the occasional solo passage sailing out over the top.

The choice of three horns rather than the normal two is interesting. Of course, it is by far from being the first orchestral work to employ more than a single pair of horns, Haydn’s Symphony No. 31 (Hornsignal) and Mozart’s Divertimento No. 2 (K. 131) both use 4 horns, and both in fact have passages for the horns operating as a solo section that bear a significant resemblance to the famous passage in the Trio of the Scherzo of the Eroica. (I strongly recommend you get hold of a recording of both works and have a listen. It will be both enjoyable and instructive.) Adding the extra horn enabled Beethoven to overcome some of the limitations of the hand horn by occasionally crooking the third horn in a different key from the other two. The Marcia Funebre has first and second horns in C while the third remains in Eb.

One other thing needs to be noticed about Beethoven’s habits of notation. Beethoven almost never writes mf as a dynamic. I don't think I have ever seen an mf in any Beethoven orchestral work, in any part except where it was inserted by an ignorant editor. Therefore you should (broadly speaking) treat f as mf and ff as f, and treat repeated f markings on individual notes within the piece as accents within the current dynamic. Therefore ff dynamics do not need to be blasted out as if you were announcing The Last Trump. Generally, they should be played at what in romantic works you would think of as a good solid single forte, without any brassy edge to the tone.

This all sets the context as to how you should approach the work. You need to think about this sort of thing for any work you play - the composer’s intentions, the musical style in which he was working at the time, and the musical forces he used and the capabilities of the instruments of the day. If you leave all this sort of thing to the conductor and just play the notes, something significant will be lost from the performance. The conductor produces no sound in the concert (at least, one devoutly hopes he doesn’t) and so you have responsibility of producing a sound that the audience will enjoy. It isn’t reasonable to expect the conductor to spoonfeed you as to how to produce it.

So with this, let’s look over the detail of the parts, and how you play them. I’ll look just at the first movement in this post and tackle the other movements later. If you want to understand fully what I am on about you need to have a copy of the full score (and not just the horn parts) handy.

The entry for horns 1 & 2 at bar 13 is part of the tutti texture, but the continuation for first horn at bar 15 is exposed (though not solo, you are doubled by the flute and clarinet). But it is still p, we are looking for a nice clear but not overwhelming tone that blends with the instruments you are doubling with. Listen out for them and make sure that you match with them in tuning and style.

The sf notes in the passage from bars 22 to 45 are within the context of a passage that is piano. The horns are not the most significant thing happening here. So the notes should be fairly sharp accents within a piano context, and immediately brought back to piano. There is a sharp 2 bar crescendo at 35 to an ff passage. Again, you aren’t solo here, you are doubled by the trumpets. They provide the edge, you don’t need to blast this.

From bar 57 to 80, the horns should be blending, you are part of the texture and have nothing that the audience should particularly notice.

At 92, the horns have a crescendo passage (horn three joins a bar later). This is part of an overall orchestral crescendo that Beethoven achieves by progressively adding new instruments over a few bars. The sf at the climax of the phrase is a light one, within a piano context. Just an extra bit of weight of the front end of the note, and then pull back immediately before continuing the decrescendo to the end of the bar.

The entry at 107 is part of another classic Beethoven crescendo, this time reaching a more substantial sort of sound. But even though you have a forte general dynamic with sf on individual notes, you don’t blast. Remember, in Beethoven, f means mf, so you play the sf notes as accents within an mf context, immediately dropping back to the background dynamic. The horns are still just part of the texture, even when the dymanic advances to ff at 143.

The entry of horns 1 & 2 at 170 is very much in the background - you are providing harmonic continuity and with the repeated crotchets, just a bit of background rhythm. Watch the conductor carefully and make sure you don’t succumb to the temptation to get ahead of the beat. To add a bit of definition to the crotchets without getting louder, separate them ever so slightly.

The ff entry at 190 is still not solo, you are part of the harmony and so don’t try to overwhelm the tune. The same applies to the entry at 218 (1st horn entering a bar later).

In the passage starting at G (bar 224) the third horn has the first of his independent moments. While 1 & 2 are doing the same held-note and crotchet combination as at 170, the third horn enters two bars later with a countermelody in the form of an ascending arpeggio. Notice that I said countermelody, not solo. Though it does need to be heard, it isn’t the tune, and should be perceived by the audience as an interesting additional thing going on within the music.

At bar 236, the first horn has its first truly solo moment with the ascending quaver passage for one bar. Almost all the orchestra stops to listen to it, so you don’t need to be loud, just clear, since there is almost nothing else going on that you have to compete with. The staccato doesn’t need to be too pronounced, just enough to ensure that the individual notes have definition. How much you need to separate them will depend on the acoustic you are playing in and will have to be judged on the night. You should aim to match the style of the first flute in the previous two bars. The sf at the top of the passage should still be played within a piano context.

The next 80 bars or so contain essentially similar material. The next new thing starts with the bassoon entry at 342. Horns 1 & 2 join in with a similar passage at 347, but you must listen very carefully not just to the bassoons but to all the woodwind, Variations of the tune are weaving in and out in canon, and the horns are in fact one bar behind the main tune, initially still held by the bassoons but later passed on to other instruments as the volume rises. You are part of the texture and still not playing the tune.

At 378 2nd & 3rd horns have held chords in a decrescendo to pianissimo. While this is pp, this needs to be clear as there is little else happening. You have to make sure that you get balance and articulation matched. If anything 2nd horn, being lower, needs to put very slightly more weight on the note in order to make it sound equal with 3rd.

Then we have a true solo moment - for second horn! At 398 you have two bars where there is nothing else moving at all. It is in a register where the horn doesn’t carry all that well, so as it is both solo and relatively low, I suggest that you put it out at a fairly solid mf, even though there is very little else happening that you need to carry over.

At 412, the first horn has its first substantial solo. This is trickier than it looks. It is in F rather than Eb, and that extra tone higher catches people. Also difficult is the slurred Ab at the end after the held G. I’ve heard that Ab cracked many times! So you have to plan how you are going to cope with it. The first decision is whether you are going to breathe at the start of 416, after the first held G. If you can take a big breath at the start of the solo and manage without a breath in the middle, it will sound better musically, but if you can’t, better to take some more air on board to make sure you can manage the crescendo to the Ab. The instruction is dolce, and there isn’t much else happening, so we need projection rather than simple volume. (I’ll write about how to produce a projected sound on another occasion.) As for fingerings, there are a variety of possible approaches. Most players use the Bb side in this sort of range, but the problem is the second-space G in bar 413. If played 1 on the Bb side, this is usually noticeably flat, but if you play just this note on the F side, there is likely to be a noticeable “blip” in the transition between the G and the Cs above before and after.

However, if you incorporate arpeggios in your warmup, cleanly slurring between a G and a C without hitting the intervening Bb harmonic is one of the things you do more often than almost anything else. Therefore you can play the first part of the solo on the F side. I suggest that you play the first 2 bars wholly open on the F side, and then switch to the Bb side. Alternatively, you can play the whole passage on the F side if there is too much difference in tone colour between the two sides of your horn. Do whatever works for you to get the slurs nice and clean. To ensure that you get the slurred Ab cleanly, make sure that you either breathe at 413 or have taken on ample supplies of air at the start of the passage. The crescendo doesn’t need to be huge, and the Ab should be achieved not by tightening the lips but mainly by providing a bit more support to the air column from your diaphragm. Don’t snatch at it, and don’t cut it off too quickly. It is a full crotchet with no staccato and is therefore a moderately long note. Let it sound.

At 520, the horns are playing the tune - not solo, half the orchestra is playing the same notes, but you can enjoy yourselves for four bars. The horns have a bar solo at 539 and again at 541, play piano but projected.

At 593, the 6-bar phrase in 3rd horn is part of the texture. It is doubled by first bassoon and has the same rhythm as all the other woodwind playing in harmony.

At 619, the horns play alternating bars. This is fairly exposed, and you should work to try and match tone volume and articulation between the different players as you each take your own bar. I suggest that the notes are very slightly detached for better definition.

The last exposed passage starts at bar 634. The first horn is solo for 8 bars with 2nd horn joining in with a countermelody. A projected piano is called for here. After 8 bars, other instruments join in, and the horns (with 3rd now joining in) are again part of the texture a bar behind the tune, just as at 347.

The remainder of the movement is contributing to tutti passages.

For the great majority of the movement, the horns are in the background. But this doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take care over what you play. You should take care over the tuning, style, articulation and dynamic of every note, so that the blend is as near perfect as possible. This means that you don’t just follow the conductor and play your part, you have to listen to what is going on around you so that you match what you play to what else is happening. (Of course, all the other players should be doing the same, but you have no control over that. Just do it right yourself.)

The audience will enjoy the performance better as a result, even though most of them will have little or no idea what has gone into achieving it.