Question about Very High Violin Ensemble Part

Zedcars

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Hello,

I've just had a bit of a shock after I read (in an old notebook of mine) that even professional violin players cannot perform jumps bigger than a 3rd up to the very highest notes (say above high A). I have a piece I'm writing that I'm quite a long way towards finishing where I have the following 2 passages for Violins 1:

Vln_High1.png
Vln_High2.png

As you can see, the first one jumps from high G up a fifth to very high D. This is potentially the most problematic.

The second example is divisi (triplets), the upper part of which goes from F# up to high B down to D and back up to B.

Obviously this is for violin ensemble. Please could someone tell me if this is impractical? If so, I will have to re-think my score. Or if this is playable by a group? I've been unable to find any passages in the repertoire for very high strings in this context.

The only other instrument I have playing up there is a piccolo. If I were to have to re-score it, my only options I can see are 1) have Vn1 play in unison with Vn2 an octave lower (causing a dramatic loss of power in the top octave), or 2) go back to the drawing board and transpose my entire piece down a whole-tone (which will cause other problems and may still be too high anyway). 3) Have them play the melody as written, but play the high D note down 1 octave and allow the piccolo to cover the octave above. This will may ruin the line though.

My intention is to have my piece performed at some point.

I'd really appreciate any help and advice on this. :sad:

Edit: Forgot to add # to F# above.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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Both examples can be played although the violinists you choose might say quite a few choice words in their heart.
Thank you. I don’t mind if they swear at me under their breaths, although I’d rather not upset them.

Do you (or anyone else) think intonation could be a problem at that altitude (especially when combined with piccolo)?
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Those parts are going to be a challenge for weak players. If you're in Los Angeles or London or something, they can play it, but it isn't the easiest.

One thing I've done when I don't have enough really great players is to put just one violin on the top part. Usually there is at least one player who's strong enough to manage difficult / high parts, and it's surprising how well even one violin can articulate a very high note like that.

Put differently, the balance may not be exactly as you've imagined it with one person on the top line, but better to have one person playing in tune up there than three or four wobbling. Also, that leaves a larger number to play the second violin part all together, which provides that line with air cover.

Last suggestion -- have the violas play the tremolo B in the lower staff in the second bit. Even one viola can provide enough power in that register so you can hear it. That way you can use all the violins up high.

Kind regards,

John

PS -- ask @JJP what he thinks. I'm somewhat cautious because I hardly ever want to pay for rehearsals, so I try to write stuff that can be played accurately in one or two passes.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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Those parts are going to be a challenge for weak players. If you're in Los Angeles or London or something, they can play it, but it isn't the easiest.

One thing I've done when I don't have enough really great players is to put just one violin on the top part. Usually there is at least one player who's strong enough to manage difficult / high parts, and it's surprising how well even one violin can articulate a very high note like that.

Put differently, the balance may not be exactly as you've imagined it with one person on the top line, but better to have one person playing in tune up there than three or four wobbling. Also, that leaves a larger number to play the second violin part all together, which provides that line with air cover.

Last suggestion -- have the violas play the tremolo B in the lower staff in the second bit. Even one viola can provide enough power in that register so you can hear it. That way you can use all the violins up high.

Kind regards,

John

PS -- ask @JJP what he thinks. I'm somewhat cautious because I hardly ever want to pay for rehearsals, so I try to write stuff that can be played accurately in one or two passes.
Thanks so much. That’s really helpful. In order to deal with an even higher G#, this guy, whom you may have heard of ;) , reduced the upper players to 2 desks doubled with piccolo in the following famous piece:

BEEBA670-0F9A-46F8-AA8A-D796A4D62C5E.jpeg
 

Bernard Duc

Active Member
Be careful not to think that something is of acceptable difficulty just because R. Strauss did it. A lot of those passages are audition pieces that the players spend their whole lives practicing. As for your example, I don’t know, it depends on the level of the players. But there is no hard rule, some players can jump directly to incredibly high notes.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Apart from it being only the top two desks, notice three other aspects of the Strauss example:

1. Tremolo -- Intonation is more forgiving with tremolo when the strings are up high. When I was just starting out, I also wrote some pretty high parts, often for small groups of players. Result: rather feeble, weedy sound. But I learned a good lesson when a kind concert-master suggested that half (or all) the first violins play very high lines tremolo. Definitely helps.

2. Rests -- there are short rests separating some of the jumps.

3. Stepwise movement -- many / most of the moves from one note to another are only one step away.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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Thanks so much for all your replies. I’ve had a think and tried out some alternatives using BBCSO which I feel is very good for hearing a good balance in lieu of the real thing. I think I’m just going to drop the Vn1 down an octave. That upper octave is covered by the piccolo and I think it’s penetrating enough to shine through on its own. I did try adding a solo violin up there, but don’t think it improves the sound in the end. I might be wrong though.

Not 100% sure how I’m going to handle the second excerpt however.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
I did try adding a solo violin up there, but don’t think it improves the sound in the end. I might be wrong though.
Virtual doubles always sound terrible. Try it live, when you have your players, with a soloist. If you don't like it you can either have them play it an octave down or do something else.

Also, suggest you copy both V1 and V2 onto the same part, so your players can switch back and forth if necessary while you're dialing in the balance. This is fairly typical for film music recordings; somewhat less so for concert performance, so be ready to dismiss anyone fussing at you about it.

Not 100% sure how I’m going to handle the second excerpt however.
You can still put one violin on the very top line, the rest of the violins on the second line, and have the violas play the B-natural tremolo

Also, for all the violins, add a lift (I notate them as a breath mark, just like a wind instrument) between the first three and second three quarter notes (crotchets). That will allow them to reset their bows and also to dig in satisfyingly to the accent on the fourth note.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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Virtual doubles always sound terrible. Try it live, when you have your players, with a soloist. If you don't like it you can either have them play it an octave down or do something else.
OK, it's something I could try. You have to understand I have no experience of hiring orchestras - let alone a top notch full orchestra. I have worked with soloists and small ensembles though, but even then that was many years ago. I do have the funds, but it could all remain a pipe-dream to have this performed. I'm planning on posting the score in due course but fully expect it to be full of problems.

Also, suggest you copy both V1 and V2 onto the same part, so your players can switch back and forth if necessary while you're dialing in the balance. This is fairly typical for film music recordings; somewhat less so for concert performance, so be ready to dismiss anyone fussing at you about it.
Would you mind expanding on the first bit here, as I'm not sure I understand what you mean. Do you mean literally have both V1 and V2 on the same instrument part scores? I've not heard of this practice. Also not sure what you mean by dialing in the balance - you mean from the control room? I'd hire an engineer to do that as I lack the skill or experience.

You can still put one violin on the very top line, the rest of the violins on the second line, and have the violas play the B-natural tremolo.
In my score I have the violas playing the V1 part down an octave. I wanted the trems to be more prominent given that there are more V2 players than violas. Maybe that's not something I should even worry about. Still learning a lot here!

Also, for all the violins, add a lift (I notate them as a breath mark, just like a wind instrument) between the first three and second three quarter notes (crotchets). That will allow them to reset their bows and also to dig in satisfyingly to the accent on the fourth note.
Do you mean a comma - like a fermata?
 

Sears Poncho

Senior Member
Hello,

I've just had a bit of a shock after I read (in an old notebook of mine) that even professional violin players cannot perform jumps bigger than a 3rd up to the very highest notes (say above high A). I have a piece I'm writing that I'm quite a long way towards finishing where I have the following 2 passages for Violins 1:
Example 1 is fine. It's high but there are countless examples in the standard rep. that would be similar or more difficult. Most pros wouldn't flinch, unless it is super exposed but you have the octave below. Leave it.

Example 2: The B D B is going to be problematic. It's a matter of fingering. It's uncomfortable and will be out of tune.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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Example 1 is fine. It's high but there are countless examples in the standard rep. that would be similar or more difficult. Most pros wouldn't flinch, unless it is super exposed but you have the octave below. Leave it.

Example 2: The B D B is going to be problematic. It's a matter of fingering. It's uncomfortable and will be out of tune.
Thank you. I’ll try and rescore the 2nd one. Conflicted now about the advice on the first one, but maybe if I have an alternate version available if the notes are unabtainable.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
Do you mean literally have both V1 and V2 on the same instrument part scores?
yes -- both Violin 1 and Violin 2 are on the same parts for all violin players (two staves).

The idea is that you can rebalance the section, or (better still) ask the concert master his / her opinion "what if we just put three violins on the top line and the other nine on the lower part." That's what I mean by "rebalancing" -- not a mixing board thing, an actual decision you make in real time about how many players are playing each line.

Do you mean a comma - like a fermata?
no -- exactly like a breath mark. In English that looks like a comma but above the bar, in between the notes where you want the 'lift' -- a lift is like an unmeasured, very short rest, but notating it as a breath mark tells the players that you don't really want a measured rest, just a very short interruption.

Also, I agree with @Sears Poncho that the first passage is not nearly as hard as the second. So, provided you have good players it will be fine. But...

...it's just that you don't always get good players or not as many good players as you would wish. I'm giving the "if they rehearse and it sounds awful" backup advice. That's why it's good to copy both the Violin 1 and Violin 2 staves on all the violin parts, so that if it sounds great -- great! But if not, you can try the soloist.

Also, remember that a rule of thumb on any part for strings is "one, or at least three" playing the line. It is harder for two players to play the line in tune. That said, I have violated this rule numerous times with no ill effects. It's just a handy suggestion, like most stuff in music.
 

JohnG

Senior Member
In my score I have the violas playing the V1 part down an octave. I wanted the trems to be more prominent given that there are more V2 players than violas. Maybe that's not something I should even worry about
Without seeing the whole passage I hesitate to insist on advice. But remember that a single viola in this register (medium/high for violas) will make more sound than a violin (or maybe even than two).

My main point is that, typically, you will want as many violin players as you can on those high parts, and relegating even one to a tremolo B seems like squandering what I assume are scarce resources. If you have 30 violins you can do whatever you want, but if you have 9, or 6, or 5 I would use a viola, even if it's a solo part.

If you're worried about hearing it, you can always mark it a louder dynamic (mf instead of mp, for example) or, on the day, just ask the player to play louder if you can't hear it.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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Trust me. :) Not a big deal.

This was written for a high school orchestra (Outdoor Overture, Aaron Copland). I played it in high school too. Still very popular with youth orchestras. 122 on, that lick is 8va.

View attachment 26651
That’s fantastic news. So great you found that Copland example. It did lose some impact when I tried in my mock-up to drop V1 an 8ve so I’m relieved it will be doable. Cheers very much for your advice.
 
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Zedcars

Zedcars

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@JohnG Wow, great detailed replies. I’m going to need some time to absorb what you’ve said but it’s definitely helped me a great deal. :emoji_thumbsup: