Jun 17, 2007

The Rhenish

Download rhenish.mp3

Last month I put a sound file on this website of the opening of the 4th movement of the Symphony No. 3 by Schumann, and I want to give you my thoughts on playing and performing this excerpt.

First and foremost lets decide once and for all, the softer you play this excerpt, the easier it is. That's because you don't run out of chops by the time you get to the high Eb. I also don't like to hear a big crescendo through this excerpt, as is frequently the case. Why? Because he didn't write one. You can score a lot of points in an audition by trying to play the dynamic written, which is pianissimo. There are 3 parts to this excerpt. The first part is the 1st 3 measures plus one beat, up to the Bb. I usually set my embouchure for something between F above the staff and high Bb. Then I breathe, reset my embouchure for the smallest, clearest alto sound I can get on the Ab, ( whether you play this on tenor or alto makes no difference,) then FREEZE my embouchure and totally rely on the air stream to finish the phrase to the next breath, which comes at the end of the slurred section.

Once I get to the 2nd part, after the 1st breath, starting on the Ab, where I prefer to breathe, I make a very clear articulation to focus the sound, and from there on I don't use any tongue at all because the partials are so close together that it is impossible to get a gliss, and the tongue will only stop the sound. If fact I try to gliss with my air to make sure the air is strong enough to keep the lips vibrating because they are set for such a small, focused sound. I also don't try to change notes using the slide because this will only get the slide there before the air, and that is the recipe for disaster. In fact I use the slide to help move the air by collecting the air with the slide and bring it to the next note. This results in a beautiful legato, and after all this passage is in the style of a chorale isn't it? If I had to describe the syllables going up to the high Eb, they would be something like: "tu--weeee." Usually I use a syllable like the sound "Tauw" for most playing, but when you are trying to make a tiny, clear alto sound on a high Ab, the syllable will be closer to "tu." Once you get ahold of the high Eb, DON'T MOVE and try to get it better. Wait till the note is over, then slur down to the Bb. People make a huge mistake by trying to improve the sound of that note while on it by changing the embouchure. All that does is stop the note from speaking. You can only influence the sound of a note at the very start.

The 3rd part of this excerpt is the articulated passage. I like to think of this as a complete contrast in style to the preceding measures. I raise the dynamic slightly, use a marcato-tenuto articulation, and then make a diminuendo into the forte, giving extra length to the last eight note before the forte. The diminuendo gives the impression to the listener that the whole passage was played very,very softly. I also use an articulation on the forte note that could be described as a bulge, or a soft forte attack. As much as I have cautioned in the past about using this articulation generally, I have also said there is a place for everything, and this is one of those places. I do not breath before the forte. If sufficient air is taken in it is possible to take the next breath in between the two forte notes. Although I prefer this excerpt on tenor, a German style one at that, I do play this on alto in the orchestra to be faithful to the composer. However I believe the tenor blends with the horns and trombones better, and it is called for at many auditions.

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