Saturday, February 27, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #5

Rochut, Melodious Etude #5. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Word About Rochut

I started posting the Rochut Melodious Etudes a couple of weeks ago with little or no fanfare, and it occurs to me they warrant at least some introduction.

The Melodious Etudes are Rochut's transcriptions of Vocalises of the Italian tenor and teacher Marco Bordogni (1788-1856). In my (quite limited) research, I've been able to find very little evidence that these vocalises (vocal studies) are much in vogue among singers. In a sadly lost moment of personal history, I once, years ago, caught part of an old B&W movie on TCM--in the background, someone was singing along with a piano--a recital of some sort--I recognized the music as one of the Bordogni vocalises. In the fuzzy image of the movie that remains in my failing memory, the movie must have been from the 1930s. For the life of me, I have no idea what that movie was--for all I know it was a Marx Brothers or an early Three Stooges film--they always loved harassing large divas. So, if that counts as some small evidence that the Bordognis were in use by singers in the early 20th century, a quick trip through Google and seems to show much less interest here at the beginning of the 21st.

The same can't be said about the trombone transcriptions. These are still highly popular among low brass players. While there are a number of different sets of Bordogni transcriptions out there, the most ubiquitous (I can hear my high school English teachers "tsk tsk"-ing me for assigning degree to ubiquity) set out there is Rochut's three-volume compilation of "120 Melodious Etudes," published by Carl Fischer in 1928. While they offer many challenges with rhythm, range, key signatures, breathing, and articulation, for me, their greatest value is in the inescapable reminder that what we're doing on our instruments isn't just playing notes--we're making a song. Rochut puts it right there in the name of the studies: Melodious Etudes. When you play these, you don't just play--you have to sing through your horn.

I've crossed paths with many low brass players who call these the Bordognis. And many others who call them the Rochuts. Which is correct? Perhaps it tells something about your personality like Coke vs. Pepsi; Beatles vs. Stones; Boxers vs. Briefs; Ginger vs. Mary Ann. Or perhaps it's just habit. Mrs. Holmes, my first euphonium teacher, would always have me play a Rochut--not a Bordogni. Every single lesson, by the way. So to me they will always be the Rochuts.

Monday, February 22, 2010


Not even the end of February and I've just posted my fourth Telemann Fantasia recording. I was kind of thinking I'd go at a clip of about one per month, so it's nice to actually be ahead of schedule on something for once (I have equally good intentions with my taxes this year--let's see if my Telemann enthusiasm rubs off and I can beat my usual April 14th submission date).

That being said, I think it's time to think non-Telemann thoughts for a week or two. This project isn't a race, and I don't want to accidentally turn it into one. Over the next few weeks I'll surely record a few Rochuts, play some other euph music, and perhaps spend some extra time on my beloved, and slightly neglected cello (which I was playing almost daily until I started recording these Telemanns, and now I'm lucky to play 2-3 times a week).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Audio Post - Telemann, Fantasia #6

Telemann, Fantasia #6. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

My second day in the studio was better than the first (though I did use the Dolce from the first session). For purely comedic value, I'm tempted to post a rather lengthy set of outtakes in my struggle to record this one, particularly the second movement; however, I'm equally tempted to delete those files and pretend the whole thing never happened.

I discuss some of Telemann's rhythmic techniques in this Fantasia here.

Strike One!

I went into my studio last night to record Telemann's Fantasia #6, but I came out empty handed. I was debating whether or not to even bother recording last night. Somehow, I didn't think the mojo was quite right. I should have listened to that little voice.

First I blew a few notes and got a nasty rattle whenever I played E natural. I searched all around the room puffing E's. Finally, after about 10 minutes I found the offender: a loose strip of clear plastic window insulation. So I sat back down and hit record. A few false starts later I realized that my first valve needed some oil--it was sticking just a tiny bit, but enough to cause some problems.

Having now blamed the window insulation and my sticky valve, it's time to 'fess up and acknowledge that I was playing pretty crappily. I was struggling a lot, including areas that shouldn't be a struggle. I had this weird sensation that I was sight-reading the music--never a good sign. Still, I persevered. I struggled my way through all three movements, trying to decide if anything I'd recorded was presentable. Then I looked down at my recorder and noticed that it had stopped with a low battery error. I had gotten a lot recorded, but I wasn't happy and I needed an excuse to scrap what I'd done and try again another time. So thanks to my cheap-o Aldi's batteries, I'll take another crack at this one another time. It's for the best.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #4

Rochut, Melodious Etude #4. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #3

Rochut, Melodious Etude #3. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Telemann's Use of Rhythm in Fantasia #6

Don't take my recent activity with the Rochut Etudes (1 here, and 2 here) as an indication that I'm swaying from the Telemann project in favor of Rochut. I hope to try to record Fantasia #6 this weekend.

Number 6 is written in D minor--I'll be recording Alan Raph's edition which is in F minor. The first movement is marked dolce, which means sweetly. Interestingly, Raph has his edition marked Andantino (dolce). I assume he adds the Andantino marking because dolce by itself only indicates style, but not tempo. Andantino is somewhat interesting because there's some ambiguity in the textbook definition of the term. The New Harvard Dictionary of Music:

In present usage, usually slightly less slow than andante. The term is ambiguous, however, in part because of the ambiguity associated with andante. In the late 18th century, andantino seems to have called for a tempo slower than andante. Beethoven wrote to his publisher in Edinburgh, George Thompson, that the term could be used for a tempo either faster or slower than andante.

So if andante is a walking tempo, what's the diminutive of a walking tempo? Slower or faster? What's the diminutive of toast? Or vanilla?

Fortunately, I think the character of the notes drives a likely conclusion. Much of this movement contains eighth-note lines--not fast lines, but driving ones. These phrases need a strong sense of forward motion or I think they kind of die. So in this case, I think Raph's Andantino is telling us, sure, it's a walking tempo, but we're walking to the bus stop a block away and I think I see the bus coming, so let's keep it moving. I've added some ornamentation on the repeats, including a descending 16th-note run which turns each 16th-note into a triplet three measures from the end of both the A and B sections. I hope to try that same ornamentation at the end of the much faster third movement.

A few days ago, I suggested that Telemann does some interesting plays with rhythm in this Fantasia. One trick his does is shifting the beats of a phrase to an unexpected place in a measure. He does this right in the first measure. When you have a piece written for a monophonic instrument, you can (and Telemann does) get a neat effect by starting the song on beat two. This movement (Allegro) is in 4/4, and the first four notes we hear are quarter notes. However, the first beat of the first measure is a quarter rest. So the first five beats are as follows:

1.[rest] - 2.F - 3.E - 4.G | 5.C ..

where the "|" is the break between measures. Since there's no bass line to tell you where you are in a particular measure, you hear the song like this:

1.F - 2.E - 3.G - 4.C | ..

In other words, you think beat 2 is beat 1. This messes you up as a listener because it leaves you struggling to find beat 1. Just when you think you've found it, Telemann does it to you again in measure 11. He throws that rest in on beat 1 and starts the party on beat 2. Then, a few measures later, at the end of measure 15, Telemann repeats the phrase (in a different key), but he starts it on beat 4. It has the effect of slamming on the brakes and hitting the reset button (those metaphors don't really work well together, but still, that's the effect). The beat is very easy to find; what's tricky is predicting where the next measure and phrase is going to start.

Telemann challenges his listener rhythmically again in the third movement, Spirituoso. The movement is in a lively 3/2. It's clearly a dance. Even though the meter is 3/2, it works more like 6/4. The cool thing about "6" is that you get to pick if you're in 3 (accents on beats 1, 3, and 5), or if you're in 2 (accents on beats 1 and 4). Think of the song "America" from "West Side Story".

"I like to be in A-mer-i-ca"

That's the same thing but in 12 instead of 6. The accents are on "I" (beat 1/12), "be" (beat 4/12), "mer" (beat 7/12), "i" (beat 9/12), and "ca" (beat 11/12). So the rhythm is 123-123-12-12-12, where the accents are on the 1's

Telemann shifts back and forth, somewhat irregularly. In the first few measures of the Spirituoso movement, the accents want to fall like this: 123-123 | 12-12-12 | 12-12-12 | 123-123 | 12-12-12 | 12-12-12. Looks like a pattern until you get a little deeper into the movement, where occasionally we get a extra "3" thrown into the mix just to make sure we're not getting complacent. This is a very cool rhythm. Whenever I play this movement, I can imagine a bunch of Riverdancers stomping in, tapping the accents where you least expect them to land.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Game Changer

Fact #1
I played cello for a year in high school, and about 3 years ago (23 years after I stopped playing) I decided to pick it up again and see if I could teach myself to be a decent cellist. Still have a long way to go on that, but I have been pretty dedicated and continue to force myself to practice and play things that will raise my level of playing, even when it doesn't sound so good. I try to play at least something from this list most every day: Bach Suites, Haydn Concerto #1, Dotzauer studies, Marcello Sonatas, Gabrielli's Ricercari, Schroeder Foundation Studies, orchestra or quartet excerpts, something by Popper.

Fact #2
I try to play a little euphonium every day. Things I like to try to touch include: the Telemann Fantasias, the Bach Cello Suites, the Rochut book, Arban's method, Clarke studies, excerpts, Euph/Trombone/Trumpet solo repertoire, etc.

Fact #3
I do a fair amount of arranging and transcribing--some of which I do down at my computer, but some I do in a fat book of staff paper, right by my music stand.

Fact #4
In addition to a large collection of printed sheet music and books, I have a lot of unbound sheet music (my own arrangements, parts I've copied, scores I've downloaded) in no fewer than 15 one-inch binders.

Fact #5
Tools I use in my daily practice include tuners, metronomes, pencils, a sharpener, cello mute, euph mute, rosin, valve oil, digital recorder, stand light.

Fact #6
I'm terrible at putting stuff away.

My Manhasset music stand is a good stand. No bandroom would be complete without about 100 of them. However, to say I pushed mine to the limit would be an understatement. My stand was always so stacked with music, books, pencils, and accessories, that every time I turned a page the whole thing was at risk of collapse. Whenever I'd put a binder on the stand, I'd have to toss a pile of music on the floor to make room. When I record, I keep the digital recorder on the stand, so I have to toss more paper on the floor. When I tune, same thing. The worst thing is when I try to mark up my music. If you're holding onto a cello or euph with one hand, that only leaves one pencil hand, with nothing to steady the stand. Unfortunately, Manhasset stands swivel and tilt, so scribbling in a dynamic marking or an ornamentation tends to require a certain amount of acrobatism to keep the whole production from dumping on the floor, and because the stand keeps moving, the resultant scribbles on the score are illegible half the time. Don't even get me started on the perils of trying to erase one of those unreadable markings.

Then I discovered the very informative video postings of David Finckel, who is the cellist with the Emerson String Quartet. In these short videos Finckel talks about all sorts of aspects of playing, performing, and practicing. In one, he shows his practice space and the large board he uses as a music stand.

It was like a thunderbolt. A music stand is NOT the best music stand. The simple and obvious solutions are often the best. I remembered an old drawing table that I had stashed in my parents' basement almost 20 years ago. I finally picked it up this weekend. Went to Home Depot yesterday and spent eight bucks on a chunk of door frame molding and a handful of metal brackets.

Behold! The Super Wonder Stand. It easily holds 3-4 times as much music as a regular stand. It doesn't spin or tilt. You can mark and erase your music without knocking anything over. You can keep all your accessories in easy reach. Even with all the music and accessories, there's room on the bottom ledge to set my cello bow down.

I think I can say with no hyperbole whatsoever, that this is the single best thing ever.

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #2

Rochut, Melodious Etude #2. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Audio Post - Rochut, Melodious Etude #1

In between working on the Telemann Fantasias, I think I'll try to record my way through the Rochut Melodious Etudes. Why, here's one now:

Rochut, Melodious Etude #1. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Up Next

Three down, nine to go.

The next Fantasia I'll be recording is #6. Telemann's original key is D minor--I'll be playing Alan Raph's transcription which is in F minor.

The big story for #6 is going to be rhythm. In the second and third movements (Allegretto and Spirituoso) Telemann has some fun moving the beats around, throwing the listener (and player) off balance. I'll try to dissect that a little bit in an upcoming post.

Although the first movement is slow (Andantino) I'm going to have to spend some time in the woodshed working out some sections because I've scribbled in a few ambitious ornamentations. My fingers don't move that fast yet. The third movement presents a similar issue on a similar ornamentation. The second movement is perhaps the toughest: the combination of some up-tempo sixteenth-note runs, fairly low on the staff, in the key of F minor (4 flats) leaves me with some fairly gnarly fingerings to work through (For low brass players out there, these would remind you of your Clarke-Gordon Technical Studies).

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Audio Post - Telemann, Fantasia #1

Telemann, Fantasia #1. Copyright 2010, Jeff Lazar. All rights reserved.

In my previous 3 posts, I discussed descending scales and implied fugue, as well as some factoids about my transcription of this Fantasia.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Going Down - Descending Scales in Fantasia #1

Word on the wire is that this weekend we should expect a snowstorm of somewhat epic proportions here in Fallsington, PA, along with most of the rest of the east coast. I like that kind of weekend. Snowbound, I tend to have a decent chance of getting something done, like recording Telemann's Fantasia #1.

There's one more aspect of Fantasia #1 I wanted to discuss before recording and posting, and that is the magic of the descending scale. If you have ever studied and trained as a musician, you've surely spent countless hours working on scales. First-year clarinetists and world-class violin soloists alike include all sorts of scales as part of their daily practice rituals. Take a look at most any score by Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, or about a google other composers, and you won't have to look hard to find examples of scales or parts of scales all over the place. Listen to a solo by Charlie Parker or John Coltrane. Scales, scales, scales. They're everywhere. However, we hear and play scales so often, and perhaps consider them more a chore than a part of the music-making experience, that I think musicians and listeners often forget that there's a basic and real beauty built right into the major scale--particularly, the descending major scale.

My brother once told me a story about a friend's young daughter who was taking violin lessons. "Want to hear my favorite song," she said. "It's called D Major Scale."

Listen to this little sample from Wynton Marsalis's incredible epic work, "In This House, On This Morning."

Absolutely gorgeous. And it's nothing more than a descending major scale down to the third. How many times have I played descending major scales and forgotten to listen, and forgotten to hear THAT? I don't necessarily play scales every day--though there have been some long stretches over the past few decades where I have--but I get a pang that I have often treated them like a chore, when they pack as much beauty as Wynton demonstrates. Now consider the clip below. This is me playing two lines from the second movement of Fantasia #1. Here also is the excerpt from the sheet music.

OK, I recognize the brazeness of putting my audio clip right under Wynton's and saying, "isn't that pretty?" But isn't it? And believe me, I'm talking about Telemann's notes, not my playing of them. If you think that Telemann passage is beautiful, which I certainly do, you have to acknowledge certain neat things that Telemann is doing here. For one, look at that descending line in the green boxes (you may need to click on the score image to enlarge it). It's a plain-vanilla descending D major scale. Telemann calls special attention to that descending scale in two ways. First, the eighth and sixteenth notes he wraps around the scale don't change, i.e., if you take the green-box notes away, you just just hear the same (kind of dull) repeated phrase. Put those notes back in (i.e., put the descending scale back in), and you get this thing of magical beauty. The other thing he does is he keeps pinging those D's at the top of each line. So he's playing the scale against an implied drone on the D, just to remind us where this is going. Listen to the first part of that example again. This time I'll use a wee bit of technology to call attention to the descending scale.

See? Just a descending major scale. Now listen to example two again while following along in the sheet music. Pay special attention to the surprise low G# at the beginning of measure 35. It catches you by surprise because it feels like Telemann is going to descend all the way down the D major scale. Instead he descends down to the 5th (D down to A) but suddenly, he throws us a curveball--this G#, which is totally unwelcome in D major, but is the 7th, the leading tone, in A major. Telemann switched keys on us. And then he uses that as a jumping off point for another descending major scale--this time A major (look at the red boxes). When he descended from D, he went down to the 5th, and now in A major, he picks up at the 4th. And it's just as beautiful this time. Plus it's very warm and fuzzy and satisfying because this time he descends all the way down to the A.

Looks like the snow will be coming soon. Hopefully this weekend I'll record #1.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Clefs and Keys Again - Fantasia #1

I've written a couple of posts, here and here, about the various clef transpositions that Alan Raph used and that I used in our respective transcriptions of the Telemann Fantasias. I promised (or threatened, depending on your point of view) to talk about clefs and Fantasia #1 at some point. Well, that bell is finally a-tollin'.

As you surely recall, in all of the other transcriptions Raph just replaces the existing treble clef with a tenor or bass clef and makes a choice of two possible key signatures. On the ones where he went to tenor, I repeated the process for my own arrangements, i.e., I just replaced the tenor clef with a bass clef and picked the appropriate key signature. In one case, #9, I didn't like where that landed me, so I set it in a different key.

For Fantasia #1 there was an interesting twist. Raph's is in tenor clef, but in this one instance, he actually keeps the original key--A major--he just sets it in tenor clef. So his arrangement is really just taking Telemann down an octave. As I look through his arrangement, I noticed it's very slide-friendly. Raph is a trombonist and I can see the appeal of playing this one in A major. You can play most of the first movement either in second position, or with the slide very close to second position.

My version is in D major, which--you guessed it--is the clef transposition to bass clef from Raph's tenor clef. So in this case instead of doing 2 clef transpositions (Telemann's treble to Raph's tenor to my bass) like I did with three of the other transcriptions, I'm taking Raph's clef change (the transposition is just down an octave, so I won't count that for this discussion--or, I'll treat it as something different from the other clef changes which come with key changes), and doing a single clef transposition off of that (Raph's tenor to my bass).

Geeky? Certainly. Esoteric? For sure. Deathly boring to almost anyone looking at this? Indisputably. I wish I knew why I find that so interesting.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Implied Fugue in Telemann's Fantasia #1

I had originally planned on talking about this in a video; however, after that last video I did, I'm thinking that perhaps that's not the most friendly format for me.

So let's talk about this "fugue." Before I do that though, I need to make a couple of stops. First, the New Harvard Dictionary of Music:

Fugue: The most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint, in which the theme is stated successively in all voices of the polyphonic texture, tonally established, continuously expanded, opposed, and reestablished; also a work employing this procedure.

I like that "also a work employing this procedure" part, because that's what we're talking about. Here's a tiny snipped more from the next paragraph in the Harvard dictionary:

...In a fugal exposition, the subject is presented alone in one voice...then imitated or answered, usually in the dominant, by a second voice...Typically, the third voice enters with the subject in the tonic, the fourth in the dominant, and so on until all voices have entered. After stating the subject, each voice continues with a countersubject or free counterpoint...

OK. I'll stop there. We've all heard fugues. You kind of know them when you hear them. Now think of Bach's Art of the Fugue. The Contrapunctus I starts with that all-too-familiar melody, then, four measures later, just like the New Harvard Dictionary predicts, the answer comes in on the dominant while the opening subject continues to do its thing. Four measures after that we hear the third voice back on the tonic. In this Contrapuctus I there are four voices. And we see that's part of the definition of a fugue, ie, "in which the theme is stated successively in all voices of the polyphonic texture." Polyphonic. Multiple voices.

Now, let's stay with Bach for one more minute and consider the Prelude to his 5th Cello Suite. After a dramatic introduction, it takes a breath and jumps into a 196-measure fugue. Sort of. It sounds like a fugue anyway. You have an opening subject. A few measures later you have an answer that comes in on the dominant. Then you have subsequent voices coming in while you hear earlier voices develop. It sure sounds like we're hearing multiple lines weave in and out of each other. Fugue, right? Not quite. With a few minor exceptions for multi-stops on the cello, this piece is monophonic--we only hear one note at a time. Bach tricks us--he starts a familiar phrase and then moves on to something else, letting the listener fill in the blanks on an implied subject or response. he bounces back and fourth with successive eighth or sixteenth notes between the third subject and the first countersubject, giving you just enough information to think you're hearing multiple parts when all you're hearing is one.

Telemann does pulls that same fast one on us in Fantasia #1 (though in much smaller scale--his monophonic fugue lasts for only 16 measures). He develops this implied fugue quickly. It starts halfway through the first movement (vivace). The subject lasts for 2 measures. He brings in the answer on the dominant, bopping back and forth with eighth notes to imply the development of the original statement and barrels through different keys in single-measure or partial-measure chunks--jumping from voice to voice. You can't miss the fugue, even though technically no fugue exists. The challenge--and fun--as a player is to tease out the different parts and to recognize each note as a crucial part of one or more voices.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


I was pleased this evening to discover that euph/trombone player Kevin Thompson has posted a free .pdf of his euphonium edition of the Telemann Fantasias here. I just printed them out in the past hour or so and have noticed a few interesting things. First of all, and quite significantly, he has changed the keys from the originals (down a major 10th), but he has maintained the original key relationships across all 12 pieces.

So, Telemann's original keys, in order, are: A maj, A min, B min, Bb maj, C maj, D min, D maj, E min, E maj, F# min, G maj, G min. And Thompson's corresponding arrangements are: F maj, F min, G min, Gb min, Ab min, Bb min, Bb maj, C min, C maj, D min, Eb maj, Eb min.

I generally like to maintain key relationships when I'm arranging a set of pieces that "go together"; however I didn't do that in this case. I could blame the fact that for half (+1) of the Fantasias I'm using someone else's arrangements, but that's not it. I like where Alan Raph's and my arrangements sit on the horn, and I really I think I had convinced myself that to maintain the key relationships, this set would become prohibitive to play either from a range or a key signature perspective.

Thompson blows my assumption out of the water. His arrangements go a bit high in some cases, though never above high C (5 spaces above the bass clef staff)--high, but not unreasonable. And he never goes below Bb (2nd line on the bass clef staff), which is one of the most comfortable notes to play on the horn. As far as key signatures go--I'm not even sure how this managed to work out this way--there's not a single sharp key in the whole set. He goes from C maj (no accidentals) to Eb min (6 flats) and never touches a sharp key. That's another way of saying, the keys he's using are all very euph friendly (or, in the case of Eb min, at least modestly euph friendly).

As I've been thumbing through his edition, it seems to be very well done and I'm looking forward to trying his arrangements (though I will be sticking with the versions I described in this post for my recording project)