Vienna Symphonic Library Forum
Forum Statistics

182,061 users have contributed to 42,201 threads and 254,657 posts.

In the past 24 hours, we have 2 new thread(s), 8 new post(s) and 41 new user(s).

  • Dissonance or Something Else

    Hello,

    I am hoping someone can answer my question on orchestral notation. 

    I am in the process of recording a piece from Pictures At An Exhibition using the VSL, and I am a little confused as to why some of the instruments in the notation are obviously playing a passage in unison but a few of the notes are flat for some of the instruments while others are natural or sharp.  Is this done to create dissonance or is it another reason?  I feel a little embarrassed asking this but I never had any formal music training so I'm sure it is my lack of knowledge.

    When playing back what I recorded, it simply sounds awful.  I've made other recordings before where I saw notes so close to each other but they were within the same instrument family, like the French horns or the Clarinets.

    https://www.broadjam.com/songs/johnminardi/raiders-march/Play

    These notes in Pictures at an exhibition are spread out between some of the woodwinds and some of the brass.  

    Sincerely (and frustrated), 

    John A. Minardi

    johnminardi@comcast.net


  • Hi John, Maybe it has do to the transposing instruments? The b flat clarinet sounds a major second lower. The horn in f a perfect fifth lower, etc? Otherwise I don't know... Best regards, Dominic

  • John, I've encountered something similar (Wagner in this case) and I'm also very puzzled about what it's supposed to indicate to the players.

    [See attached pic]

    In this pic the two (bass clef) staves are for the 'celli section in 2-part divisi. Along with this (for me) puzzling enharmonic spelling of Gb and F# for the two celli parts, trombones are playing a major third written as Ebb and Gb. Certain other clues around the score at this point strongly suggest to me that the trombone written note Ebb will be played as concert note Ebb+ (i.e. sharpened by a syntonic comma and hence very nearly D natural), while the written Gb is concert Gb. I'm reasonably sure that trombones render here this just major 3rd as part of a major triad rooted on (very nearly) D natural. But what concert note(s) are the two 'celli divisi subsections supposed to play, and what's the reasoning?

    I use an orchestral intonation subsystem in my DAW that's able to render true concert notes, but not 2 enharmonic pitches at the same time; so I'm extremely curious and interested in knowing more about this particular scoring 'trick' or technique.

    Image


  • Hi Dominic,

    Thank you for your reply. Yes, that is something I thought about also.  I have listened to two different recordings by two different orchestras but I can not hear the notes in question on either recording.  Very frustrating but I'm sure there is an answer to it.

     

    John A. Minardi


  • Hello Macker,

    Thanks for the reply.

    As I mentioned in my first post, I have had no formal training in music and if I saw something like what is in the picture you attached, it would really baffle me!  I have learned to play instruments by ear and I have only been reading music since about 2016.  I was a rock drummer most of my life but always loved the orchestra.  Music notation looked like someone dipped a chickens' feet in ink and let it walk around on the paper.  When I retired, I determined to understand what all that chicken scratch really was indicating. I realized the beauty of it and I'm still learning, which helps keep my mind from wasting away I guess. 

    Thanks again for taking the time to share your info.

    John A. Minardi


  • John, if the score issues that are puzzling you might possibly be a case of scoring for transposing instruments, then of course those questions need to be addressed first.

    But I am half hoping it turns out that Mussorgsky's piece does have examples of this strange scoring technique that I've seen in Tricky Dicky's .... er, Richard Wagner's work. (Well, Wagner was a fellow Gemini and I reckon I'm sort of allowed to call out Gemini trickiness where I spot it - kind of like a natal-astrological confessional, lolol. And bloomin' heck, he really went to town with Tristan & Isolde; no wonder he was at first told by everyone that the piece was unplayable!)

    No promises, but I might find a bit of time to try to help you resolve (or eliminate) the transposing instruments question, if perhaps you'd quote bar numbers etc where you're seeing these issues in the Mussorgsky score.

    I studied music theory for myself in the late '70s, and then again, more intensely, about 20 years ago. I get by, though of course certainly nothing like as fluent in the language of music as a classically trained and well experienced musician. (Just as, vice-versa, musicians tend not to be fluent in my former professional field as a weapon systems designer, lolol.) Glad to know you're also a Boomer - and yes, I too find that orchestral composition, digital emulation and all that good cultural stuff is a truly excellent way to spend time now!


  • last edited
    last edited

    @Macker said:

    John, I've encountered something similar (Wagner in this case)

    In the ever changing harmonic world of he late Wagner, a note can change its function in the same bar, while the other notes continue to move. Maybe the first celli are playing in D major, while the seconds are in Eb minor, Ab minor, or another more undefined transitional key.

    Paolo


  • [Edited 8th Aug]

    Indeed, Paolo, the role of so many notes in Wagner's Tristan & Isolde is wonderfully fluid, dynamic and contextually highly sensitive - just how I like it! That said, in a few places in this score there are some particular usages of notation that escape my full understanding, such as harmonies of some of the brass and string parts that apparently disagree enharmonically with each other. If you ever get the time to work through just the first 8 bars of Isoldens Liebestod, you'll see what I mean.

    I hear what you say about the possibility of different instrument groupings being in different keys at the same time; but aren't Wagner's works known for having a drastically minimised sense of key? Why then would he write such that each part has diatonic or traditional chromatic 'loyalty' to a particular key, and more than one key may be active at any one time? (I wonder if the publisher's editors did some editing.) And doesn't doing so run the risk that the orchestra will render certain theoretical 'unisons' as a comma interval? I don't get it. My orchestral intonation subsystem cannot render any 'comma-separated unison', but I have conducted listening tests by other means. And to my ear, harmonies that include a comma interval usually sound bloody horrible and simply wrong; moreover, it appears to me that any interval and especially unison should be intoned as precisely and purely as possible when it serves in the interlacing of concurrent keys or tonal centres.

    I've been thinking about buying the full Tristan score from Schott - the expensive version with copious comments included. But then again, I suspect it won't satisfy my deeper curiosity as one who does not live and breathe staff notation as if virtually my native language. So, as essentially a 'foreigner' in music notation land, I'll probably just soldier on as best I can, a mio modo consueto.


  • Hello Macker,

    I want to thank you for offer to take a look at this. I am going to attempt to attach two examples to this post but I have never done that before so I hope it works.  By the way, my wife knows a little bit about weapons design. She has been working for Lockheed Martin company for the past 40 years, although not directly in weapons but mostly in the space division.  She is thinking of retiring next year.  (We'll see about that; I'm trying to get her interested again in painting now before she retires so she won't be bored to death)!.

    John

    Image

    Image


  • John, the score is written with transposing instruments. So, Clarinets in Bb are written one tone above the sounding one. Horns a fifth above. You have to transpose them either by doing a mental transposition (but it is not a banal task even for some pro musicians), or use the transposition function of your DAW.

    Paolo


  • Sorted! Thank you Paolo!

    John, Paolo's excellent advice will get you sorted out for this score. More broadly for your future endeavours, you'll find a useful general guide to which instrument parts are written transposed, and by how much, in VSL's "Academy" pages in this site. All the usual orchestral instruments are covered there. For highly detailed coverage of scoring for orchestral instruments, including certain historical or otherwise unusual instruments found in some scores today, you might want to equip yourself with a decent text book on orchestration (though the best ones are quite expensive).

    On the first page of music in any full orchestral score, the publisher carefully identifies every main type of instrument used, such as in this case, "Clarinettes En Sib", and "Cors Chrom. En Fa", etc. Then it's up to you to know exactly what transposition, if any, has been applied in each instrument's part.

    Welcome to the never simple or straightforward world of orchestral scores, John!


  • Paolo,

    Thank you for the help with this.  I had the thought that it was the transposing of those instruments but just couldn't be sure.  Now I have a little fixing up to do.

    Thanks again,

    John


  • Hi Macker,

    Thanks for the info about the Academy page.  I will be checking that out a little more closely.  Also will be looking for some more in depth books than what I have right now.

    Take care,

    John


  • Just another guess...

    Sometimes composers use the most practical reading spelling (for the instrument player). Just as simple as (if there's no clear tonality): rising notes get a #, descending ones a b... In the case of the example, it looks something like that. But as I said, just a guess.

    Jos


  • Hello Macker,

    I finally finished my project and wanted to send you the you tube link.  You helped me back in September with some advice.

    Hope you're doing well.  Take care,

     

    John A Minardi................my pseudo name for my first you tube is Johann Oppenheimer



  • last edited
    last edited

    @Minardi said:

    Hello,

    I am hoping someone can answer my question on orchestral notation. 

    I am in the process of recording a piece from Pictures At An Exhibition using the VSL, and I am a little confused as to why some of the instruments in the notation are obviously playing a passage in unison but a few of the notes are flat for some of the instruments while others are natural or sharp.  Is this done to create dissonance or is it another reason?  I feel a little embarrassed asking this but I never had any formal music training so I'm sure it is my lack of knowledge.

    When playing back what I recorded, it simply sounds awful.  I've made other recordings before where I saw notes so close to each other but they were within the same instrument family, like the French horns or the Clarinets.

    https://www.broadjam.com/songs/johnminardi/raiders-march/Play

    These notes in Pictures at an exhibition are spread out between some of the woodwinds and some of the brass.  

    Sincerely (and frustrated), 

    John A. Minardi

    johnminardi@comcast.net

    In pre-20th century composition, the default practice is, when there is a key signature at the start of a piece and one of the notes in a measure is given an accidental, that accidental holds true for that measure only, and for that particular note only.  Where it gets a bit tricky is in multi-voice texture (contrapuntal or SATB, if the note with the accidental is repeated in another voice in the same measure. For example, in a piece in D-Major if in measure 12 the alto note has an accidental d# that D# is only for that measure.  Next measure (unless tied across barline) the same D would be natural.  But what about the other voices in the measure 12?  If a D is written is it sharp or natural?  According to Gardner Read's text Music Notation, on page 129, he says that the accidental holds true only for that voice within that measure.  So if there is a d4 that is sharped, a d5 or a d3 in the same measure would not be sharped unless an accidental were added to those specific notes.  But what about a situation where, say we have an SATB texture and in a given measure the alto's d4 is sharped.  Does this mean if the tenor, bass or soprano hits a d4 in the same measure that those notes should be sharped?  The answer is usually yes, all d4s in that measure would carry the accidental.  If there is any uncertainty at all, best to clarify it in the parts, if not in the score.

    In the 20th century as music became increasingly chromatic and dodecaphonic, and often without any key signature at all, the practice gets a bit more complicated.   On page 53 of Music Notation in the 20th Century, Kurt Stone discusses accidentals.  He says that if an accidental is canceled within the same measure but in a different octave, it must be canceled again if the note occurs subsequently (in same measure) in the original octave. 

    Another situation arises when music is highly chromatic.  Let's say a composer writes a polychord, F-minor over A-major.   What I do in this type of situation is think in terms of two triads, the F-minor chord is spelled F-A-flat-C, even if I were in the key of A-major.  If I stuck to the traditional rules, I would spell it e# g# b#.  But this doesn't feel right, nor does it express the simplicity of the triad on top.  There are situations in highly chromatic music where redundancy is called for, better to be overly-clear than leave room for ambiguity. 

    In your example, these accidentals are written as they are due to instrument transposition so all of the above can pretty much be ignored!  The clarinet is written a major 2nd higher hence an e-flat is written as an f.

    I abandoned transposed scores decades ago as I felt it made score-reading comprehension unnecessarily complicated.

     

    Jerry


  • Hello John,

    thanks so much for thinking of us and coming back to give us full closure on this labour of love.

    I listened through the whole piece and enjoyed all of it. I'm also mightily impressed by your handling of VSL's wonderful VI libraries. Regardless of the technical difficulties of notation you've had to overcome, your musicianship has brought this lovely piece to life convincingly and lets us savour its beauty, charm and magic effortlessly.

    Superb job, beautifully done! Bravo!

    (BTW, hope you consider also posting a new thread in this forum to showcase this lovely rendition simply and directly, as it richly deserves to be, rather than leaving it only as somewhat buried in this current thread.)


  • Hello Macker,

    Good to hear from you and thank you so much.  I'm glad you enjoyed the recording.  I will post it as you said pretty soon;  I think I just need a couple of days to clear my head of all those notes I had to read.

    Take care,

    John


  • Hi Jerry,

    Thank you for the information you sent.  I read it all and was pretty amazed how complicated music composition can get.  I do sometimes wish I had chosen a music career.  In fact, my mom and dad wanted to send me to Julliard.  Growing up in New York, it would have been a great opportunity, but no regrets.  

    I will be checking out your website about music composition.

    Take care,

    John A Minardi


  • just a note, a syntonic comma - 81:80 - is around 21¢ wide. If something is already very close to being "D" already, it will be that much closer. 

    Also, the notion of Ebb being a lower pitch than D is a convention taught in some schools (a specific pedagogy for strings) that is not universal. It might well be that it's written by a Wagner to convey a smaller interval than a semitone in the case it's to descend to Db, but in itself it's two semitones below "E".