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Notation Questions
Last post Sat, Sep 26 2009 by rino amato, 14 replies.
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Posted on Wed, Sep 23 2009 10:21
by PaulR
Joined on Mon, Dec 22 2003, England, Posts 2371

Bass is notated an octave higher than it's played. I'm not sure I understand the Bass and Cellos being notated on the same stave though?  Huh? Are you sure that's right? Maybe it's the score you're looking at.  I'm not familiar with much Beethoven.

The Basses and Cellos frequently played in octaves - but this not any rule. What if you want a lot of movement i.e. contrapuntal? The octave thing with the basses and cellos is almost akin to playing octaves on a keyboard with your left hand.

In real life, divis is usually decided by the players on each desk themselves. In other words - they discuss it amongst each other unless specifically requested otherwise - which is probably rare.

When you talk about notation, don't forget you can also write out instructions on the score apart from giving verbal instructions - and even abuse!  Whisper

Muted woodwinds? Rare I would think.

Corrections are made on stage. For example on one of my excursions into orchestral music, we changed to sordino for a passage of strings - simple little things like that - as opposed to mutes off. All things are possible depending on the level of expertise the players have I would guess. Tempo changes are common too. Parts can be altered by the players on stage i.e. small things - rewritten sounds a little more time consuming.

If you're worried about all this stuff I would suggest getting an orchestrator in. They make sure the stuff is playable for instance. Also, have you taken your Grade 1 theory examination yet? I would definitely start at Grade 1 and work up is my advice. Wink

Posted on Wed, Sep 23 2009 10:51
by mathis
Joined on Sat, Feb 07 2004, Munich, Germany, Posts 1137

In Beethovens time Double Basses were there to double the Celli with an octavo basso, so yes, they shared the same stave. That Doublr Basses became independent was a later development in music history.

When on this combined stave an octave is written then it probably means that they should play a double stop, which noone does anymore today, because intonation is more difficult. Nowadays all multiple notes in strings are interpreted as divisi. If you want double stops, you should really make it clear.

When it said Bassi then it should mean that the basses play without the Celli. When the Celli come back in might be a musically logical thing. Maybe simply with the proceeding phrase.

Posted on Wed, Sep 23 2009 15:28
by William
Joined on Sun, Nov 24 2002, USA, Posts 5730

The distinction between divisi and double stops is not interchangeable.  However, in early score notation it was often vague.  nowadays, ff you write div. in a score it means NO DOUBLE (OR TRIPLE) STOPS.  That is how you specify two or more different players. If you write sul it tells the players DO DOUBLE STOPS.  In other words each player in the section plays more than one note.   So it is very specific today.  (Though a lot of time it is obvious it is double or triple stops as it is just a few accented notes.)

There is a disturbingly huge error in the last response.  BEETHOVEN IS THE MAIN PERSON WHO CREATED THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN CELLI AND BASSES!!!!!!!   It was not a  "later development in music history."  He made music history!!!!  By doing just that (as well as many other innovations in orchestration).  Where's the font size adjustment on this damned thing?!    

Prior to him, in the Early Classical/Baroque and back - for example in the Brandenburg Concerti by Bach -  the basses are assumed but are simply playing the exact same line, even the same notation but an octave down in practice.  The reason you are seeing this is in that particular symphony is that it is not as fully developed an orchestration /notation as Beethoven later created in the 5th and onward, especially the 9th in which he totally changed the history of orchestration.

Posted on Wed, Sep 23 2009 16:25
by aural
Joined on Sun, Nov 02 2008, Berlin, Posts 170

another possibilty to notate divisi is make use of the directions of the stems (1st chair up, 2nd down). it is not so common though, but it does happen. i prefer this notation because it is the most obvious one. nevertheless it should still say "divisi" at the beginning of the passage to make it clear.

concerning the problem of the notation in the beethoven-symphony you mentioned:

i think, it is a pretty bad copy. beethoven never wrote celli and basses in octaves on the same staff (which by rule would mean that they play TWO octaves apart) and i´m pretty sure it never was common or uncommon practise in music history ever. octaves as double stops on a bass are utterly impossible as long as no open string is involved. since the bass is a transposing instrument, it is clear that it sound an octave lower than written. writing a transposing (bass) and a non-transposing (cello) instrument on the same staff an treat them both as if they were non-transposing is amongst the most embarrassing things an orchestrator could ever do. i don´t see it in front of me, but i suppose the publisher wanted to point out that they play in octaves, which would explain the instruction "bassi" without the later intruction "+celli". are the basses in single notes and then suddenly the part is written in octaves again?

edit: just out of curiousity... what about the other transposing instruments like clarinets and horns? are they notated as they sound or as they are played?

MacBook Pro 2GHz, i7 | OSX 10.6.8 | 8 GB RAM | Cubase 6.0.4 | Chamber Strings I+II Full | VSL Special Edition Bundle Standard | DL-Products: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet in Bb, Bassoon, Trumpet in C, Horn, Trombone | Vienna Suite
Posted on Wed, Sep 23 2009 20:38
by aural
Joined on Sun, Nov 02 2008, Berlin, Posts 170
vibrato wrote:

 Aural - I am sure they are not double stops - I can hear it. In the opening notes - it says Basso Arco. - Vlc. Arco after the first Pizzicato note. So - this make it clear that both are playing an octave apart. The opening woodwinds - example Bassoons and Oboes are also playing in Octaves - Upper and Lower note respectively - 2 Bassoons - 2 Oboes. But there its simple as there is no difference in the key cauz its the same instrument. It becomes unclear for Celli and Bass.....I guess I need to try and make the best possible musical sense - as I also hear the music at the same time - it makes it easier.


well, i just happened to have found a copy of the score and now i am wiser.

celli and basses are notated on the same staff. that´s clear. it sais in in the second measure bassi arco above the staff and cello arco below the staff. this means that celli and bass are playing in unison there. the upper notes are to be read as bass and the lower ones as celli.

celli and bass are almost throughout stemmed differently. that gives is away... the passage where it sais "Bassi" in measure 21 is also clear now to me. in measure 27 you see that polyphony is notated. the notes with stem down are to be read as bass and those with stem up are to be read as celli, since not otherwise notated, even if a downstem-note is notated higher than an upstem-note, it still is bass (sound an octave lower though, not to be forgotten).

concluding: every polyphonal passage is to be read as bass with downstem and celli with upstem, except where notated differently as for example in measure 2. polyphonal notation (i.e. different "stemming") is always implying in orchestra scores that two notes, even if they are on the same rhythm, are to be played by different players, groups of players or instruments... also watch out for breaks in polyphonal notation. then one of the instruments pauses. this does not mean that they are playing in unison then...

MacBook Pro 2GHz, i7 | OSX 10.6.8 | 8 GB RAM | Cubase 6.0.4 | Chamber Strings I+II Full | VSL Special Edition Bundle Standard | DL-Products: Flute, Oboe, Clarinet in Bb, Bassoon, Trumpet in C, Horn, Trombone | Vienna Suite
Posted on Thu, Sep 24 2009 09:00
by PaulR
Joined on Mon, Dec 22 2003, England, Posts 2371

Tanuj - it's not really a question of sharpening up skills so much as having fun. If you take the approach that theory examinations can be fun  Stick out tongueConfusedConfused - then you'll soon find your knowledge of the mundane increasing exponentially. 

I've seen scores written out for orchestras that are so completely basic you wouldn't believe it. Nothing but the notes. But good players can put whatever they like on that - you'd be surprised. My violin teacher - who was at the Royal College of Music 6 years before I was - told me when we were discussing a tv score - that the one thing orch players hate is when the scores are printed to small.

All this stuff can be learned - all it boils down to is technique. Once you have technique in your head so you don't ever have to think about it again  - is the time you can get really imaginative and forget about technique and so-called rules. But the stuff you write has to be playable - that is certainly important. One thing that may be noticeable to some - is when you hear a sampled orchestral work for instance - and to the naked ear it just isn't playable in real life. That's a bug bear which I hate. Unplayable sampled orchestral work!! Sounds like S**T to my ears.

What William says is completely correct btw. Which illustrates how few people study Baroque when they should be doing that first AND then moving on to the likes of Mozart and THEN the likes of Beethoven. Personally, I'm still stuck at Baroque after oooohhh - 46 years - but I blame that on my first music teacher. Hmm

Arco simply means revert to bowing as opposed to Pizz - which means revert to plucking!!! Hahaha! Arco is not necessary when applied to chickens.

Posted on Thu, Sep 24 2009 11:47
by mathis
Joined on Sat, Feb 07 2004, Munich, Germany, Posts 1137

William, you're of course completely right, I was hasty. It was clear to me that the scores discussed here are the first symphonies, which for me is Beethoven 1st.

The later Beethoven seems to be a different composer, this is Beethoven, the 2nd, a composer from a later period in music history.

Of course Beethoven 2nd invented this later period in music history.

Posted on Fri, Sep 25 2009 10:07
by PaulR
Joined on Mon, Dec 22 2003, England, Posts 2371

Fun is good. And a really good orchestra can make anything sound good. But always remember this!! 

If you ever get to using a real live orchestra, the two most important points to remember are :- they like to have their refreshment breaks in peace and - always make sure there are good toilet facilities.

Edit: Just noticed your last point. There's nothing quite like playing - so if you're a keyboard player I would start off with Bach's Anna Magdelena Notebook - and learn to play it. Being 25 years old won't mean anything when you can do that because you will then be light years ahead of Hans Zimmer and then all you will need is his contacts - and that will be the end of Hans straight out.  

Seriously, a lot of the film writers are trained classically - doesn't mean they are good or not so good - but classical training, or any type of training for any job is better than none at all. Would you hire a plumber with no plumbing training? I, any many more have - and regretted it. A lot of film/tv writers are ex rockers - and a lot of the time it sounds like it. All of that pales into insignificance anyway if you don't get contacts in the business. You could be brilliant - and not get a gig - BUT you have more chance if you're trained. If you learn to play properly - you will learn to improvise much better and quicker - and Bach can do this for you!!!!   Geeked

Posted on Sat, Sep 26 2009 09:02
by rino amato
Joined on Wed, Aug 13 2003, Rome-Europe, Posts 494

May I add that at the time of Beethoven's 4th Symphony the double-basses had just three strings?

So, Vibrato, reading that scores keep in mind it... the (Double)Basses were different instruments from that we know nowdays...

Hi PaulR! How are you? Smile


Posted on Sat, Sep 26 2009 09:57
by PaulR
Joined on Mon, Dec 22 2003, England, Posts 2371

Big SmileBig Smile

Hi there Rino!!!! Not too well at the moment unfortunately - but good to hear you Rino!

I watched Angels & Demons on dvd the other night and thought of you. What a stupido film though!! The only demons floating around the room during that film were ones out of my a$$! Haha! Send me an email sometime Rino!

Posted on Sat, Sep 26 2009 10:30
by rino amato
Joined on Wed, Aug 13 2003, Rome-Europe, Posts 494

Embarrassed Sorry for the OT, Vibrato! ...it was a long long time...

(Paul, you'll get a mail!)

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