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Egmont Overture

Discussion in 'Orchestral Technique [DB]' started by Steve Freides, Mar 3, 2016.

  1. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    I have a student playing this - Egmont Overture - in middle school region orchestra.

    Rehearsal H in both his part and the one I got from IMSLP is in tenor clef - he said his entire section is sitting that out, I said he should play it, and that he should learn to read tenor clef, which he sort of does already but ... Am I correct?

    Opening of the piece - I vote for F, F, F as written, the F-Eb up an octave, then back to as written. Good, bad?

    Thanks, other pointers invited, bowing at m.25, where to flip octave at 35 or 36, etc.

  2. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    From what I found on IMSLP, it's a cello/bass part, so the basses should be playing the bottom line when there are two staves. That solves your bowing, octave issues in 35-36, tenor clef problem, etc. While it is a good exercise to learn the tenor clef and even the cello parts some of the time, they absolutely should be sitting it out unless they are playing it at pitch with the cellos, which I assume isn't going to happen in a middle school regional orchestra.

    I agree with your octave suggestion at the beginning though. Something like that makes much more sense in context, and it would be needlessly awkward to play the F down.
  3. Rather than doubling the celli on the tenor clef passage, this might be an opportunity to learn to play with the E detuned to a D, assuming you wanted the student to expand their awareness of what is out there. Then the whole opening passage will be in the appropriate octave.
  4. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    @MikeCanada , I don't think it's a cello/bass part in the way you describe. My take is that this is old enough music that it's a cello part, with cello divisi, and the basses double what the cellos do.

    @carl h., I've done what you describe, and I don't like it - it wreaks havoc with the rest of the strings' tuning, at least every time I've tried it. And even if you deal with that, while Eb isn't too terrible sounding, D and lower start to sound pretty flabby, IMHO.

  5. In most middle school groups, tone from the lower strings is pretty optimistic at best.

    Success on detuning is highly dependent on string choices. The strings I took off my bass (Cathedral) were fabulous down to a C, but not entirely the easiest strings to bow at lower dynamics. After putting on a set of Belcantos I didn't even try this past weekend, just displaced about a hundred octaves up.

  6. MikeCanada


    Aug 30, 2011
    Toronto, ON
    There are instances where cello parts are later split into cello/bass parts or "bass" parts are written for whatever bass instrument happens to be available which often was a cello. Beethoven had a tendency to write parts that occasionally split, sometimes quite dramatically, and he seemed to be aware of what was possible and/or desirable from each instrument. I have always interpreted Beethoven cello/bass parts with two staves as such, and have yet to encounter an orchestra or conductor that desires otherwise. There absolutely is a possibility that I and the ensembles I have worked with have been interpreting this wrong, or at some point that became the accepted/standard performance practice and was not what Beethoven intended, but that is what my experience leads me to believe.
    the_Ryan and carl h. like this.
  7. Dbass926


    Jun 20, 2005
    Philadelphia, PA
    I have never experienced a situation where a Beethoven part with two staves was treated as a bass divisi situation. In the case of the Egmont, I concur with Mike that the basses would play the bottom line only, and would not play tenor clef sections. There are questions throughout Beethoven's work as to whether the basses should play on the extension as opposed to playing a unison with the cellos, but the passages you describe above - 25, 35, letter H - all clearly reflect a divisi between cello and bass (not a division of cellos either!) and the basses play exclusively on the bottom line. The double bass easily predates the Classical and Romantic periods that Beethoven straddled, and even composers in the Baroque period made a distinction between continuo instruments playing in the 32' register and celli playing in the 16' register.
    the_Ryan, eerbrev and DanielPerry like this.
  8. gnypp45


    Apr 21, 2014
    Stockholm, Sweden
    But it IS a cello/bass part in exactly the way MikeCanada describes. There's no two ways about it.

    Just listen to any recording of this work with the cello/bass part in front of you, and it will become clear.
    Last edited: Mar 4, 2016
    neilG likes this.
  9. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    Thanks, everyone, for your replies thus far. I will have to do a little more homework. I know that Beethoven wrote some of the first distinct parts for double bass in the orchestra, but I will investigate a little more to see if I can figure out when that happened in his life and career, where Egmont figures into the chronology, and whatever else I can find.

  10. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
    OK, a bit of homework done.

    Beethoven Symphony #5 was written _before_ the Egmont Overture, and Symphony #5 is a famous early example of a separate bass part. So it's reasonable to assume, as @MikeCanada suggests, that the top line is for cello and the bottom line for bass.

    If - and this is a big "if" - the parts I have, which match the Kalmus edition my student was given, are the same as the autograph manuscript, then it's right, I think (or at least justifiable) to treat the top line as cello and the bottom line as bass when the part is divisi.

  11. Steve Freides

    Steve Freides Former Mannes College Theory Faculty Supporting Member

    Dec 11, 2007
    Ridgewood, NJ
  12. robobass


    Aug 1, 2005
    Cologne, Germany
    Private Inventor - Bass Capos
    That's actually the problem. A lot of baroque music has bass parts which are somewhat independant, and written out separately from the cellos. The early classical style actually dumbed things down, and had the basses blindly double the cello line an octave down, a practice which continued basically through to the 20th C. In this case I think everyone agrees that Ludwig intended for the tenor clef sections to be played only by the cellos. The beginning? Anyone have the manuscript score? I would play those Ebs down if practical. By "practical" I am excluding the concept of having middle school students detune their E-Strings:eek:. Just like in the opening of Brahms II, I think the composer would have liked to have the basses continue the octave doubling of the cellos, but accepted that it wasn't going to happen in a nice way when the prevailing system was fourth-tuned four-stringers!
  13. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Both times I've played it, the bass section has played the lower stave, and the celli the upper. It also looks like the bass and celli are explicitly separated in the Conductor's score, even in old editions. When you look at the conductor's score, it is clear that the lower divisi is the bass part, and the upper part the celli.

    Re: the low Ebs - At the time, Beethoven would still have been regularly encountering viennese basses (indeed, even up to his later symphonies), so two possibilities are likely:

    1.) his bassists detuned their lowest string to get the note - something which is not unheard of in viennese bass

    2.) more likely in my opinion, Beethoven was following the compositional tradition of bass part writing: "Write for the keyboard, and the bassist will figure it out. If no keyboard, write for the cello and the basses will figure it out."
    robobass, carl h. and Dbass926 like this.

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