(This is the first part in a series of practice-oriented, pragmatic analyses, with the sole aim of sharing with my colleague-bassists and other interested musicians a few of the thoughts and insights i have gathered over many years as a performing musician with an inquisitive mind. This is not musicological research in the strict sense of the word (whatever that strict sense might be), but it's great fun and there is no danger involved other than the risk of discovering things for yourself. Do try this at home.) 


1. The Articulations, their effect and meaning.

Page 1 of the Solo Bass part: all notes separated (red rectangle).

(You will often see little red and blue arrows pointing towards notes. I'll get back to these later on. If you've read the explanations about the piece in the other posts, you may have an inkling of what the arrows are about).

The very first thing that strikes us is the tempo indication: "Allegro Moderato". Adolf Meier ("Konzertante Musik für Kontrabass in der Wiener Klassik", 1969) has pointed out that in Viennese Classical bass music, the Allegros are nearly always tempered by a "Moderato". "Real" Allegros are exceedingly rare. This is important information. A fast tempo can sometimes be used as a form of "Affekt", as an emotional tool. So can virtuosity. But in this movement they are not meant that way.

As was usual back then, the soloist plays the tutti passages along with the Ensemble. This is a tradition we have lost since the Romantic period, and that is worth recovering. Instead of standing there on stage, doing nothing but pretending to be tightening your bow for the umpteenth time or exchanging glances with the conductor, wiping off your strings or staring at the tips of your shoes, just play along. You will feel like you're part of the orchestra, taking your bit of responsibility for creating the right atmosphere from the start. And the audience will love to see your common engagement.

As a player one has to get used to this switching back and forth between two roles, but it's exhilarating when it works effortlessly. In ancient performing practice,  the soloist was "embedded" in the Ensemble, and more of a "primus inter pares" rather than a sort of Rock Star avant la lettre. Played this way the concerto becomes a whole, not an alternating between flashy solos from a god-like soloist, and boring tuttis from the orchestra.

As the solo starts (red rectangle), the questions also start coming. From just looking at the Bass Solo part you wouldn't know that the orchestra has a different articulation for the first three notes: the Basso Solo has all three notes separated, whereas the Violino Primo has the first two (or three?) notes tied (Ex. 1 and 2):

Ex. 1 Bass Solo: detached notes

Ex. 2 Violino Primo: slurred. Note how the stroke, that would normally indicate that the last note is separated, is absent (by mistake?) 

(Also note that the four 16ths that follow are all slurred together, in spite of the tie that seems to be over the 2nd and 3rd notes only).

The plot thickens: in the Violino Primo Ripieno, we find no slur at all (Ex. 3)...

Ex. 3 Violino Primo Ripieno, exposition, bar 1: detached...
(And note here too that the 2nd bar has all four notes slurred in spite of the "incomplete" slur sign)

Then, when we look at the repeat of the theme in the Violino Primo's re-exposition (Ex. 4), there seems to be something that looks like a very short slur, which i encircled in orange:

Ex. 4 Violino Primo, re-exposition: slurred. The stroke is there, to indicate the last note is detached (blue arrow).

And in the Ripieno's re-exposition, there is the same small slur as in the Violino Primo's re-exposition (Ex. 5):

Ex. 5 Violino Primo Ripieno re-exposition: slurred. Dash on last note.

The first time the little slur occurs, one might be forgiven for thinking this is just some dirt, a smudge or whatever. But not in both parts (Violino Primo and Violino Primo Ripieno). And both times the following note seems to have a dash (blue arrow) which corroborates the slurring of the first two notes. 

It's interesting at this point to mention the "Streicher Manuscript" that i found in Kakogawa, Japan, and that is in the possession of Satori Hasegawa, an old Streicher student. Apparently Ludwig Streicher (whose Vanhal recording remains one of the most important ones available) must have had a close look at the manuscript material. He does add the "violin"- slur over the first two notes, but in the next bar he makes the same mistake that we find in most editions, of setting the first note apart. However, in his recording he doesn't play any of the awkward "original" articulations. I can only guess that his musical instincts were stronger than his desire to be "accurate".

The Streicher Manuscript


I believe it's clear now that the two first notes are meant to be tied: a short slur (Ex. 4 and 5) is still a slur. We will encounter many more examples of very short slur marks, sometimes over just one note. A one-note samba might make sense, but not a one-note slur (red circle, middle note) (Ex. 6). As long as there is no stroke to set the neighboring note(s) clearly apart, all notes should be slurred. 

Ex. 6 Bass Solo, Adagio: slur over one note.

FOLLOW YOUR LEADER (but not too closely)

Since Ensemble players were supposed to play exactly like their leader (the Violino Primo), i think we can safely conclude that the first two notes have to be played slurred in all the Violins, even though there is one slur (accidentally?)  missing at the beginning in the Ripieno part. 

Actually, in most Tutti parts of that period we find very few (if any) indications of bowings, fingerings or other. Musicians intimately knew the style of music they played every day, and all its articulation and bowing possibilities. They were used to following the leader. And very often there was simply no time to pencil in a lot of indications. The best source of information is often the Violino Principale part, the part of the orchestra leader.

Let's take a look at the cadenza of the Solo Bass: the motif is played at the start, and repeated/transposed immediately, both times without slurs (Ex. 7):

Ex. 7 Cadenza Basso Solo: no slurs, only dashes.

Interesting dilemma. Since the 1st Violins are the ones that introduce the theme for the first time (they are the only ones to play it like this, the oboes have a dotted half-note followed by a quarter-note), it would make some sense for the solo bass to imitate their articulations, and thus to slur the first two notes as well. The choice is up to the soloist and to the Ensemble or its leader. (Contrary to the Tutti players, who were supposed to follow their leader at all times, soloists had great freedom in the way they played their solo passages).

For the Solo Bass it does make sense to separate the notes so as to have more power for each individual note. Even though composers were intelligent enough not to cover the solo part (except in some very interesting cases, where technically difficult solo passages were "coloured" and camouflaged by the orchestra, often by having the tricky passage doubled) it could be advantageous for a double bass (which is not, generally, a very loud instrument in spite of its obese body) to go for an articulation that heightened the chances of actually being heard. In Vanhal's concerto, the Solo Bass plays the motif all alone, so it will be heard no matter what. But after the orchestra's introduction, the soloist might feel he or she needs more power to compete with the sound level the audience has just heard from the ensemble, or he or she may want to add some interest to the piece by varying the articulations. It's all part of the joy of playing.

There might also be a more prosaic explanation. Slurring the theme's first two notes isn't all that easy: in the exposition we have the falling fourth d-a, with the "a" as an open string (unless we play the "d" with the fourth finger on the 1st string, and the "a" with the first finger on the 2nd string). If we play it all on one string, the open string "a" may resist a bit, and not "speak" properly (gut strings don't always behave like we would like them to behave, which is one of their endearing qualities). I solve the problem by using a discreet left hand pizz to make it speak. 

When the theme is transposed to a-e, further on, the "a" is a harmonic, and the "e" has to be played either on the 1st string (a long distance away, so it's not all that easy to slur properly) or on the 2nd string with the first finger, which is slightly risky intonation-wise.

For a soloist who wants to make sure that at least the theme comes out nice and clean (we can screw up later in the piece, but not in the main theme), it's much safer to play all three notes with separate bowstrokes.

Personally, i prefer not to conform the first Violins' articulations to those of the Solo Bass by having them play the notes without slurs as well. So i keep the first two notes slurred for the orchestra. On the other hand, in the Solo Bass part i do like to alternate the detached exposition with a slurred re-exposition (or vice-versa): the best of both worlds. 

It is always a good idea (at least for my taste) to try and find variety in the repeats. Having the first two notes slurred when the theme comes along for the second time makes for a different colour. It's a subtle difference, surely, but very often it's little pleasures like this that make the music come alive for player and audience alike. As we will see further on, Vanhal himself actually uses such subtle differences in the Bass Solo part and in the ensemble, in all three movements.


Let us not forget that articulations determine, to a great extent, the expression. Music is more than the notes. The figure of the falling fourth (d-a), when slurred, will automatically call for a slight diminuendo. It's a "sighing" figure. Separating the notes can change this character (although it doesn't need to if you're sensitive). The worst thing you can do, is what i saw in a couple of modern editions: setting the first note apart, and slurring the last two notes of the bar together. This is a very drastic character change, that goes against the "feel" intended by the composer. Instead of the first two notes belonging together, as they should, there is now one lonely first half-note, followed by a slurred group of two quarter-notes. This "utilitarian" bowing, with no relation to the manuscript whatsoever,  completely changes the centre of gravity and the declamatory character of the concerto's theme.

Does it matter? In the grand scheme of things, in the knowledge that outside senseless and cruel wars are going on, and that humanity is doing a great job of destroying itself and its own planet, no. Of course it doesn't. But if we try to forget this kind of relativization for a moment (which i find ever more difficult to do), then i would say that it does matter. Just a little. Being aware of what's actually in the manuscript is useful in making your own informed choices instead of relying on editions. Looking at all of the original material instead of just the solo part will give you a lot of very useful information that will help you in finding good ways of expressing the emotions inherent in the piece.

When we look at the Oboes, like i mentioned earlier, we see that they play the theme this way, both in exposition and re-exposition (Ex. 8):

Ex. 8 Oboe Primo

The rhythm is one dotted half-note and one quarter-note, no ties. The quarter-note is clearly set apart. This means that it has a meaning, a poignancy of its own, just like it has in the violin and solo bass parts. It should not be slurred to any note preceding it. Neither should we do this in the Bass Solo part.  Slurring this note will change its signification.

This all seems like a lot of fuss for only one bar of music, but i think this is very useful research. There are many different possible permutations in articulating, bowing, accenting, and shaping these notes, and finding the most probable or the most appropriate ones will bring us closer to a coherent "story" to tell.

(It Ain't Necessarily So)

Bowing direction is one of these parameters as well. While it seems logical to start with a down-bow, it's good practice to try starting with an up-bow as well. Not only as a way of building technique (the method of the "Verkehrte Bogenstrich" or "Upside-down Bowing" was well-known as a surefire means to improve one's bowing skills: it consisted in playing a piece entirely with the opposite bowings), but also because, as i have found very often, the works of Sperger and others present a multitude of intricate passages that often work much better by just turning the "logical" bowing around. By doing all that work, one increases one's sensitivity to sound colour, phrase direction, construction, and ultimately to expression and communication.

There are quite a few misunderstandings concerning bowing in Ancient Music. 
- Again, as in every other aspect of music, what was valid in one region at one time wasn't necessarily valid elsewhere or in a different period. 
- What treatises say doesn't necessarily reflect reality: sometimes they're more prescriptive (saying what the author thinks should be done) than descriptive (describing what the author actually sees around him). 
- What seems logical to our modern minds doesn't necessarily have the same logic in Ancient Music.

Some of the ancient writings are extremely enlightening and inspiring. Georg Muffat comes to mind. And although he describes a great many bowings in detail, some of these remain almost painfully unacceptable to many musicians because they find them "illogical". The Down-Up-Down / Down-Up-Down bowings in Menuets that Muffat describes are usually met with great scepticism and even animosity, are reluctantly tried and rejected because we're so used to playing Menuets with a "logical" (or should i say "lazy") Down-Up-Up bowing.

The same goes for the idea that upbeats almost invariably have to be played up-bow, and downbeats down-bow. An open mind in these matters solves many problems, and an unprejudiced player will find countless instances in this concerto and in most other works from the Viennese Classical period where it's more intelligent to look at the phrasings and articulations first and then to adapt the bowings to those, rather than the other way round.


Moving on then, to the 2nd bar of the Solo Bass, the group of four 16th-notes (blue circle, Ex. 9):

Ex. 9 Bass Solo: Four slurred notes in the 2nd bar, not three...

One fine day, a few years ago, i was shown an edition of this concerto, in which some pusillanimous editor had written this bar exactly as it is written in the manuscript. Not only this one bar, but the whole concerto had been printed "as written". Now what could be wrong with sticking to the manuscript? It's a noble and laudable endeavour, no? Isn't this what musical research is all about?

Maybe so. But it didn't sound right, and it didn't feel right. I was perplexed at such an angular, contrived, "maladroit" articulation after the seamless ease of the orchestra's introduction. It kind of felt like a pebble in my shoe. So i started to look more closely at the manuscript. And there i found a lot more than i had bargained for. It was the start of a never-ending quest full of hints and riddles, in which the questions often outnumber the answers. (Which is, of course, exactly how it should be).

The way this measure is written, it looks like there is one detached note, followed by three slurred notes. But this is one of those many instances where one has to look beyond the one bar on the one page. At first sight, this bar couldn't be clearer than it is: maybe it feels wrong, but it must be right, right?

Well, it isn't. There's one thing missing if it is supposed to be 1+3: a dot or a dash, or a stroke if you prefer. In Sperger's music, every now and then the slurs are not what they seem. Copyists and composers usually had to work fast, and slurs were not always written very precisely. Groups of four notes that should be slurred often have written slurs that are too short, or misplaced. What Sperger did, was to put a dot or a dash over or under the notes that did not belong to the slur. He was very systematical in this. Ergo: if there is no dot or stroke on any of the notes within a group, then all the notes are slurred. In this specific bar, there are no dashes at all, so the four notes belong together in one bow. No doubt about it. Further proof comes from the orchestra parts. In many instances we find the same "imperfect" slurs that seem to confirm the 1+3 structure or other "lopsided" figures, but here and there we can see that the slurs are actually meant to encompass all four 16th-notes (big orange circles, Ex. 10 to 13):

Ex. 10 Violino Primo Ripieno, exposition: 2nd bar slurred...
Ex. 11... and again in the re-exposition

Ex. 12 Same slur in the Oboe...

Ex. 13...twice.

When you look further than just the Bass Solo part, there are many such note-groups. I have indicated some of them with red arrows. The blue arrows show the notes that have dashes or dots, and that thus need to be articulated separately. The red ones show the notes that belong together within the slur.

It may be clear now that it's not sufficient to just stare at the Solo part if you want to understand the articulations. The other parts, or the score if there is one (which is not the case here) can shed light on things that seem mysterious at first sight. But as we have seen, even the spots that seem totally unproblematic and straightforward must be checked against the background of the whole manuscript. A healthy dose of skepticism is always useful. Otherwise we might all too easily jump to conclusions that are in fact erroneous.

In the Violin parts, unless the fp indications have the same meaning as the dashes (which i don't believe) the four notes should be slurred as well. In any case, this works really well and is much more beautiful than having the fp note set apart and followed by three slurred notes (blue rectangle, Ex. 14). The character, and thus the expression, is very different between playing them 3+1 or with four notes slurred. These are not simple, quickly-decided "technical" choices, but choices of expressive and emotional content. 

The second 2+2 half-bar before the resolution (which is the bar with the half-note) can then be played in one bow with a slight separation between two consecutive upbow-gestures so that the slurred resolution f-g ends down-bow.

Ex. 14: 3+1 or four notes slurred? There does seem to be a dash on the 2nd fp (blue arrow),  but that one belongs to a note in the bar above. In my opinion, it's four slurred notes, which is warmer sounding than 3+1.

It's also interesting to note that the figures within the blue rectangle are sometimes changed to: 

Ab-F-Eb-D / Ab-F-Eb-D // Bb-G-F-Eb / etc. 

although the original says:

Ab-F-Eb-D / Bb-F-Eb-D // Bb-G-F-Eb / etc.

Now, very probably because the first recording i heard had the altered version, to my ears the original still sounds like it's wrong.  

At the risk of appearing inconsistent, i must say i prefer the changed version. In our Duo arrangement with the Viola d'Amore, i have Haruko play both: first the version with the Ab, and the second time the one with the Bb. This makes for a little musical "surprise", a subtle heightening of tension which seems in keeping, if not with the actual written notes, then certainly with the spirit of the concerto: Vanhal uses such subtle changes himself throughout the piece in order to change the atmosphere and the emotion. So i hope he'll forgive us the licence we took.

Moving on then. In the next few bars, we see more differences between the Bass Solo part and the Violins (orange circles, Ex. 15 to 18):

Ex. 15 Bass Solo

Ex. 16 Violino Primo

It is clear now, that different articulations exist between the Solo and the Ensemble parts, but also inside of the same parts we find different articulations in repeats of the same or similar material:

Ex. 17 Bass Solo: first time...

Ex. 18 ... and second time.

Ex. 19 Same phenomenon in the Violin part 
(blue circles):
similar material, articulated differently.

It's good to be aware of these differences and to make informed choices. Like i just mentioned, there are also very interesting differences to be found in the Bass Solo part, between similar phrases in exposition and re-exposition of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Movements. Usually these differences are ignored and we end up playing the repeated phrases with the same uniform articulations. That's a pity, because it just might be that the composer intended the repeats to be different because they convey different feelings. We'll explore this subject in upcoming chapters, but at this point i would already like to stress the importance of studying the original scores very closely. Not just the Solo Bass part, but the other parts as well. Editions are someone else's opinions. Whenever there is an original source available, we don't really need editions. 


Another question concerns the left hand: Viennese Tuning allows for a great variety of fingerings. Having, in a manner of speaking, two top strings available instead of just one, we can multiply the number of usable fingerings for any given passage. Indeed, it is as if the "normal" top G-string of the bass has been split in two: an A and an F#. Both strings, being only a minor third apart, retain a lot of the timbral qualities of a "chanterelle".

In my opinion, it is important to expand our horizons when using Viennese Tuning: often we still have a tendency to accept the more "obvious" fingering solutions, and we play almost every D, F# and A as open strings or harmonics. When studying the works of a virtuoso such as Sperger,  one soon begins to understand that this "Viennese Tuning for Dummies"-approach doesn't always bring the best results. It also takes some time to switch to a much more position-oriented playing style. Rather than to play up and down on one string, in Viennese Tuning it's the across-the-strings playing that opens up countless possibilities of fingering and of colouring the sound. 

Often the left hand possibilities or solutions will dictate how to articulate with the right hand, and vice versa: more than in modern tuning, both hands have to know what the other hand is doing. The sound esthetic in Viennese Classical (bass) music is different from the Romantic ideal. Since it's a more narrative and less singing style, the ideal of the unified, single-colour sound is much less important than it became for the likes of Wagner. Differences in sound character, resulting from the differences in string timbre across the strings, can be used to great advantage: they can be used to better articulate and to find the "speaking" quality that is so important in this music.

I will offer some fingering suggestions for certain passages later on, but i would urge the serious player to always keep looking for alternatives. One of the great things of this tuning is the pleasure of personally discovering new ways of playing. Ease of playing is not the sole criterium in this odyssey - besides, usually greater ease of left-hand execution is offset by more intricate bowings - but sound colour, articulations, consonants, and variations in resonance are just as important.


Ex. 20 Basso Solo, page 2: obvious mistake(s)?

There seem to be just a couple of "mistakes" in the manuscript. The most obvious one is on the 2nd page of the Bass Solo part (encircled in orange). I'm quite sure that instead of two detached notes, followed by two slurred ones, it should be the opposite. (Still, it's interesting to try and play it as it's written. It might not work in a real concert situation, but it will develop your imagination and your bowing skills).

The other possible mistake is at the top of the page. I presume (but i might be wrong) that the last four 16th-notes should be: three slurred and the last one detached, as it is written every time this figure appears (an example of which can be seen in line 2, bar 2). 

Strangely, this "unequal" articulation of 3+1 has been changed to 2+2 in every edition that i know. Maybe everybody assumes that the very first time it appears (where it is indeed written as 2+2) is the "correct" version, and that the subsequent 3+1 articulations are the mistakes. But i find that the long-short version is very effective and a lot more interesting than the lazy and uninterested sounding straight series of 2+2's. My theory is, that the first 2+2 is the mistake, and that the subsequent 3+1's are what Vanhal wanted. (Or maybe there is no mistake at all, and the difference is intended). 

The complete phrase of "2+2, 2+2, 3+1" is at the same time more exciting and more elegant. Sure, it's harder to make it sound clear enough. It's a kind of semi-articulated dotted rhythm. Again, it's one of the subtleties that make this concerto so fascinating. What makes this even more interesting is the alternation of this figure with the bars of straight 2+2 articulations that follow: in this way Vanhal creates a sort of black/white contrast, or two shades of grey, if you prefer, or a sort of question-and-answer interplay. The difference is even more marked because of the change of note (the last, detached 16th) as opposed to those straight, obstinate, stubborn in-between bars with their "rechthaberisch" character (Ex. 21). The effect can be enhanced by playing with contrasting dynamics and/or sound colours.

Ex. 21 Bass Solo, page 4: articulations of 3+1, 
contrasting with the following bars of straight 2+2 articulations.
A  very subtle and effective way of achieving variety.

This is one of many examples in this concerto, and in most music from before 1800, of a more declamatory style. Instead of playing everything smoothly, one can find so many occasions to play with light and dark, with an almost spoken-language-like expression and contrast. Finding and expressing this "speaking" quality can be a way towards better communication with the audience. 

Even without real words, a speaking way of playing will, in my opinion, resonate better with the listener. And as you may or may not know, the listener is very high on my list of priorities as a musician. I would suggest playing these figures starting up-bow, so that the last note "d" in the 3+1 group arrives down-bow. The figure will then be clearer for two reasons: the down-bow will make the very last note stand out a little more. And the following first quarter note "b" of the next bar will be up-bow (see the blue notice below), making the bowing movement more natural.

Very often "difficult" bowings can be solved by the simple realization that, physically, it's easier to have a note on a higher string down-bow when it is followed by a note on a lower string that is up-bow, and vice versa. The opposite: down-bow on the lower string and up-bow on the higher string, requires a much bigger arm movement. This is especially true in underhand or "German" bowing. It's often a good idea to adapt the fingerings to the bowings, rather than the other way round. Many seemingly awkward passages, also in orchestra excerpts, can be made a lot easier by observing this simple rule of having the string change from a lower to a higher string with the lower string up-bow and the higher string down-bow, even if this makes the left hand a little less easy. Good examples are the Scherzo of Beethoven V (don't play all the open strings open), and Mozart 40, where you can just reverse the bowing from down-up to up-down in the descending thirds-figures. 

Notice: in the left hand, i would opt for a "parallel" fingering on the last note of the 3+1 figure and the first note of the next bar (d-b), with fingers 2 and 3 next to each other (parallel) over the top two strings. This is easier than playing the "b" on the first string. I'll come back to specific fingering tricks in the dedicated chapters for the left hand and for the bowing directions.

There is another spot where i'm not really sure what to do. Take a look at this, the two bars of syncopations starting in bar 3:

Two possibilities here: either we play it as written, which interrupts the series of syncopations (red circle) or, if we believe this to be a mistake,  we add a tie over the bar-line in which case the syncopations continue uninterrupted. Both choices have their own specific "taste". Since i can't decide which choice is the best, i play both versions in concert (not at the same time of course). 

The written version gives a beautiful new impetus to the second bar, especially if we accentuate the second, untied "e". Also, when playing the "original" version we create a stronger syncopation feel in both bars: the second bar then echoes the rhythmic impulse of the first one. Each bar then starts with a strong rhythmic impulse.

When we choose to play the whole passage syncopated, with the tie over the bar-line, there is more of a unity between both bars, and we can develop a different sense of urgency.

It's very interesting to experiment with both possibilities, especially when we add the variations in bowing direction: starting up- or down-bow, having the four slurred sixteenths at the end up or down, playing the last two notes in separate bows or with two up-bows. Very often the four 16ths are tied to the next note "a", but this sounds very different from setting the "a" apart, as it's written. 

Fascinating work, because each solution gives a different feel and emotion to the passage.

It's important to realize that such subtle differences work on two levels: they convey different emotions to the listener, but also to the player. Even if we don't always manage to establish this direct connection with the audience, even if a lot of our subtleties escape the listener's attention, the way we play and the choices we make do influence our own feelings and our own emotional involvement. Our performance as a whole then takes on an identity that is "understandable" to our public on an emotional level, even if the individual little elements that make up our performance are not consciously perceived. And this is why the way we prepare, the way we consciously use the differences in articulation and in the shaping of notes and phrases, is of such great importance. It's not about the details for their own sake. It's about the deep emotional involvement they create for the player and for the listener. It's about the story they tell.

On this last Basso Solo page of the 1st movement, one can also see a suggestion for a different rhythm than what was originally written. Indeed, the suggestion is to echo the rhythm used earlier on (Ex. 22-23, green circles):

Ex. 22 Dotted rhythms, first time...

Ex. 23 ...and the suggestion to do the same, the second time.


These suggestions were probably added at a later date ("probably" is a dangerous word in any kind of research), and we're not sure by whom. They are not the only changes. Extended passages have the 8va sign over them, not only in the 1st Movement. I have written elsewhere in this blog about those. I have a sneaking suspicion they're from Johann Matthias, and not from Johann Baptist. Frankly, i find they don't do the concerto much good. The piece as it is, without the octave displacements, sounds compact and balanced, and in impeccable taste. Taking half of the concerto up an octave destroys much of its balance and adds a touch of over-excitement that it doesn't need.

Meanwhile, an addition that is not even suggested in the manuscript has now become generally accepted, even almost mandatory, and that's this one (red circle, Ex. 24):

Ex. 24 The repeated bar is now usually played an octave higher, and of course without the slur at the beginning.

In my view, it's completely unnecessary. But then again, it's up to each individual player to decide how much poise and balance, how much "taste" he or she is willing to trade in for some cheap thrills. I'm being mean of course. And i admit i used to play it that way myself... But now, in this concerto at least, i prefer a more controlled kind of virtuosity that gives the more intimate qualities of this music a better chance to shine through. There are better vehicles than this to demonstrate your chops.

It's up to you then, to find a personal but informed way to play this concerto. At least, it's always good to know the source, the pitfalls, the history, the background. Some awareness of historical practice is needed if you want to play this music well. From there, every player must find a way to play convincingly. Maybe, as i do, you will play it very differently from one concert to the next. In this way you will gather many enriching experiences. And maybe you will never decide on a "definitive" version. Let's hope so.


Here we arrive a another of those very numerous places where Vanhal changes articulations for similar material. Take a good look at Ex. 25, blue rectangle:

Ex. 25 The red arrow, as always,
indicate the notes that belong to the slurs. 

Compare the articulations within the blue rectangles
with those of Ex. 26

First of all, as we have seen before, the notes indicated by the red arrows are slurred within the groups of four 16ths. But let's compare this passage with a similar one that comes later in the movement (Ex. 26, blue rectangle):

Ex. 26 Very different articulations (blue rectangle)

As you can see for yourself, the articulations are drastically different. Most often, bassists just play the same way twice: less work. The original articulations are quite difficult for the bowing hand, and if you have to study two sets of articulations for what seems to be the same thing, it takes quite a few hours of practicing.

But i think it's worth the effort, if only as a personal challenge. 

Beyond the personal aspect, both passages have a different feel to them. The second time (Ex. 26) there is a trill (red circle), and the first bar is already more agitated than it was the first time we played this figure (Ex. 25): there it was two groups of slurred 16th-notes, here we have one slurred group followed by a 2+1+1. 

In the second bar of the blue rectangles there are big differences too: the first time (Ex. 25) the second beat is tied to the third beat (e to e). The second time (Ex. 26) the third beat is clearly set apart with the repeated a's, which gives it a strong impetus. The same mechanism is used one bar later: the first time we have the syncopated feel of the tied notes, but the second time Vanhal insists again on a clearly defined third beat with a repeated note.

Very different "feels", and a technical challenge for the right hand. In Viennese Tuning the string crossings are more numerous than in modern tuning.

In Ex. 26, also notice once again the 3+1 articulations in the orange circles, which i mentioned before:

Ex. 26 The 3+1 articulations (orange circles)

Approaching the end now. The measures in the orange circles (Ex. 27) don't present any particular difficulties in Viennese Tuning, but they are sometimes changed for the version in fourths-tuning: instead of b-g-d-d they are played d-b-g-g, which is a pity. In other versions the entire passage is simply cut (Ludwig Streicher - whom i admire deeply, by the way - played it like this). 

Ex. 27

Actually this cut is unnecessary because the notes are perfectly playable as they are written, both in VT and in modern tuning. When i still played the concerto in fourths-tuning (in "C", solo tuning), i played the "orange" bars b-g-d-d with the fingering 2-3-+-+ (In solo tuning this would then become a-f-c-c. I take the "a" with the 2nd finger on the G-string, the "f" with the 3rd finger on the 2nd string, and i reach the "c" with the thumb (stretch) on the 2nd string as well). This works very well, even with my un-bassistic small hands. I guess we're sometimes so stuck on fingering habits (the "c" on the 3rd string, all notes in thumb position) that we don't see the other, less obvious possibilities such as this stretch from the 3rd finger to the thumb.

The added suggestion to play the same rhythm as in the exposition (green circles) we have seen and discussed before. I prefer the original 16th-note progression, as it gives a lot more "drive" to the end of this movement. Note that this is another example of Vanhal changing similar musical material when it comes back: the first time, in the exposition, he writes dotted rhythms. Now, at the end of the movement, he fills those up with scale patterns that give a lot more urgency to the music. 

Strangely, at some point in history, somebody seems to have preferred to play the same way twice. Just like modern players do when they equalize all those fascinating little articulation differences that Vanhal wrote. Why players want to dilute such great music, turning it into something bland and insipid, is beyond me.

Here is Sperger's Cadenza:

Ex. 28 Cadenza

It's interesting to see the various dynamics Sperger indicates, and the "tenutto" (sic) at the end of the 2nd line, on the chromatic figure. 

This is not a very exciting cadenza, apart from the first few bars that seem promising. But it can serve as an inspiration for something more personal. I used to like more or less elaborate cadenzas before, but i've moved toward very short ones. Long cadenzas, unless they're really spectacular or inventive, tend to water down the tension you've been building up during the concerto itself. Especially in a work like this, with three cadenzas, it may be wise to opt for shorter cadenzas that "help" the concerto's overall story and atmosphere. Often the cadenzas more or less destroy the good work you've done before.

Something to think about.

1 comment:

  1. A lot of great stuff here- very much appreciated!
    I also use top 4 unwound and 5th a low D.
    I totally agree with you @ the slurs! So much more musical.
    I found the 8 va theory very interesting and I agree that it often seems unnecessary to be up the octave- but looking at Sperger's hand in the manuscript of viol+ bass sonata- it's pretty clear that the 8 va and "loco" designations are not the same hand as those in the Wanhal. Perhaps the manuscript copies I have of Sperger are the work of a copyist?
    I have really enjoyed your creative, musical playing on the youtube videos- bravo!