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.

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