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Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 20 Dec 2020, 22:09
by David Ward
In the early stages of Act 3 of Die Frau ohne Schatten there seem to be several notes written below the bottom C for the orchestral cellos. There's nothing to suggest a scordatura is intended (or indeed appropriate).

Does anybody know the piece well enough to know what Strauss actually intended?

I've just listened to the Vienna State Opera CDs from the centenary of the opera's first performance, and as far as I can judge these notes appear to be played on the double basses. At the very beginning of the act there is a C flat that is easily covered/faked, but just before 7 there is a totally exposed slow passage for all the cellos in unison that goes right down to B flat. The double basses are not officially playing here, but on the recording there is a subtle change of colour on these lowest notes that makes me believe it is the basses that play them. Given the extremely virtuoso writing elsewhere, it seems unlikely that a temporary scordatura would be a reliable procedure.

(Because of its size, it would be awkward for me to scan my score so members of the forum could see what I'm referring to.)

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 21 Dec 2020, 11:31
by Callasmaniac
Strauss.GIF
Strauss.GIF (20.99 KiB) Viewed 578 times

This is the passage.

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 21 Dec 2020, 13:10
by OCTO
Strauss is notorious for his "ignorance" in orchestration. Likewise there are notes below low G string in Metamorphosen, composed a few years before his death. Once, after the rehearsal, a violinist came to him and told that that some notes are below the G string. He replied: "I don't care if you cannot play it. I have written what I heard in my head and it is your problem, not mine". Only orchestration-masters, such as he was, could do that way.

Remember, that was a period of very strong influence of the philosophy on music (late 1800) and some composers put ideals and philosophy on the higher level than music itself. That is how I understand it. I have found some unplayable notes in Mahler too (I think 9th Symphony).

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 21 Dec 2020, 15:44
by John Ruggero
OCTO wrote:
21 Dec 2020, 13:10

Strauss: "I don't care if you cannot play it. I have written what I heard in my head and it is your problem, not mine".
What arrogance. Beethoven once said something like that to a violinist, but in that case the violinist was probably complaining about the difficulty of the passage, not its impossibility.

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 21 Dec 2020, 17:52
by David Ward
I think the low F#s in bars 84 and 87 of Metamorphosen for Violin 8 are so the player can see the whole line which is doubled by Violas 1, 2 & 3 and Cello 1, and were not to be understood too literally.

The cello passage from Die Frau ohne Schatten is not doubled, a quiet drum role is the only other thing going on. However, the Vienna State Opera probably has access to the original parts, so the use of double basses for the over-low notes may be what was intended all along. When things become vaguely normal again (I hope!) I'll ask someone who will have played the cello in this opera on a number of occasions.

Strauss was more often guilty (if that's the word) of writing the technically playable, but so demanding as to be nearly impossible. I doubt very much that anyone could play his second horn concerto without errors at the time it was written and it is still a quite terrifying challenge, often making orchestra and conductor at least as nervous of the outcome as is the soloist.

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 22 Dec 2020, 09:36
by OCTO
John Ruggero wrote:
21 Dec 2020, 15:44
OCTO wrote:
21 Dec 2020, 13:10

Strauss: "I don't care if you cannot play it. I have written what I heard in my head and it is your problem, not mine".
What arrogance. Beethoven once said something like that to a violinist, but in that case the violinist was probably complaining about the difficulty of the passage, not its impossibility.
I don't have the source of his statement, this was told to me by my late composition professor at the university, when I was student. I will try to find the source anyway, it is interesting.

In Ligeti's Violin Concerto there is a bassoon passage (5th movement "Appassionato", m75), that is impossible to play according to the rules. Even in Pascal Gallios' book there is a reference to this tone, but produced with a great care and preparation and only available in pppp. I think this is also more "idealistic and philosophic" writing than acoustical.
ligetivnconc2.jpg
ligetivnconc2.jpg (42.68 KiB) Viewed 529 times

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 22 Dec 2020, 15:17
by RMK
I've known bassoon players who could reach the c above this g.

So, no, not impossible.

There was a Philadelphia Orchestra bassoon audition long ago where one of the requirements was to play a 4 octave F major scale.

Now if the dynamic was ppp, that might be another story...

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 22 Dec 2020, 16:31
by John Ruggero
David, I wonder if this was caused by a later downward transposition of the section by a major second for some vocal reason?

I see a low C flat for both cello and bass in the first measure of Act 3. Maybe Strauss was anticipating B-flat extensions for cellos of the future?

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 23 Dec 2020, 12:22
by oktophonie
At the end of Act 2 (score p431) Strauss asks Vc and Db to tune down to low Bb; so the scordatura could feasibly continue until the beginning of Act 3. That said, it may just be another example of Strauss's "I write what I want" attitude (like his notorious violin low E, etc), and in practice usually the basses take the cello low B/Bbs in these case, as has been observed.

Re: Does anyone know what Strauss intended?

Posted: 26 Dec 2020, 13:17
by John Ruggero
I think you answered David's question, oktophonie. There a places earlier in Act II for the cellos to tune down their C string, and places in Act III to tune back up.