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5. Swift-Bows

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

Here are two exercises that are very useful for developing the ability to pass lightly and rapidly from one end of the bow to the other. This is an invaluable skill in Baroque interpretation: one often encounters a passage in which a light, unaccented up-bow is necessary, as well as gestures requiring a strong but unforced down-bow.

As I have observed earlier, I define “bow-stroke” simply as the passage of the arm through the air. In the following exercise the complete bow-stroke starts and finishes at the frog:

Practice this exercise playing the quarter-note at the point, turning the corner without accenting it and then returning to the frog through the air, the bow lifted from the string by the pressure of the fourth finger and the elevation of the wrist. To perform this stroke correctly one must elevate the right elbow slightly on the up-bow in order to reduce the weight. It is most important that the arm not return on the same plane. The soft quarter-note should not be played as an upbeat but as though it belongs to the previous dotted half.

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16. Half-Position

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

When playing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, one frequently encounters passages such as the excerpt below, from the final chorale of Cantata 138, that require the use of half-position, or at least fall more readily under the fingers when half-position is used. Here, therefore, are some exercises to help you to become more comfortable with its use—the arpeggiated one is but a sample: you should improvise others. Be sure to sustain the fingers on the string for as long as indicated:

In these rapid excerpts from Bach’s Cantata 138, it is necessary to change to half-position and then back again. Playing in fourth position is not an option due to the need for tonal clarity.

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14. Exercises Starting with the First Finger

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

Use the first finger as the “guiding finger,” keeping it down as long as possible. Play the exercise legato, varying the number of notes under a slur but usually no more than four and at a moderate tempo, slurring over position changes and string crossings so as not to lose contact with the instrument. Avoid the use of open strings.

Major

Melodic Minor

Harmonic Minor

Practice, four notes to a bow, slurring across the position changes. When playing broken thirds it is essential to drop the intermediate (silent) finger simultaneously with the sounding one on a real note, and to be sure to keep all fingers down until the next change of position. In the descending shifts and string crossings, be sure to drop all the fingers on the notes they are about to play. As you go through the keys, you will find it useful to start as low as possible (in C, for instance, start on A). Vary position changes, sometimes shifting between third and first, sometimes fifth and third.

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13. Tuning

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

Intonation is certainly one of the more contentious and complex issues in music- making. Over the centuries theorists have wrestled with the problem of the distribution of the “comma”—the amount by which the octave is exceeded when one tunes only in perfect thirds and fifths. In order to arrive at a pure octave, the comma must be divided into small parts that are subtracted from various intervals within it. A number of different solutions, so-called temperaments, were arrived at in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, which made some keys more tolerable than others, but as composers experimented with increasingly chromatic keys the subdivision of the comma became, of necessity, more and more equal. In equal temperament, the modern solution to the problem, in which the comma is divided into twelve equal parts, no interval other than the octave is pure.

For string players there are two types of intonation: vertical and horizontal. The latter is often referred to as “expressive” intonation, in which sharps are raised and flats lowered in order to produce a particular expressive effect, and is commonly used in solo performance. When playing in a string quartet or orchestra, however, it becomes immediately apparent that this kind of intonation does not work, and it is in these contexts that familiarity with “vertical” intonation, by which thirds and sixths in a chord are pure, is essential. One should first become familiar with vertical intonation in order to understand that when using “expressive” intonation one is playing deliberately, if creatively, out of tune.

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9. Dynamics and Nuance

Stanley Ritchie Indiana University Press ePub

Until the second half of the eighteenth century expression marks of any kind were relatively rare. Dynamics were limited mainly to the indication of echoes or the use in cantatas and concertos to alert the accompanying instruments that the solo voice was entering or leaving the texture. In mid-century, in the spirit of Sturm und Drang, composers began experimenting with the addition of unusual and dramatic effects, asking performers to make dynamic contrasts in places and ways that, because of their training, would be unexpected. This was the genesis of dynamic indications as we understand them.

In the Baroque era, though, most expressive clues were contained in the music, and whereas to the untrained modern eye there would seem to be no dynamics, the performer of the day could clearly perceive the composer’s intention. Here are some of the keys to understanding the dynamic structure of music composed prior to the time when expression began to be prescribed:

a. Harmony: Knowledge of the various types of consonances and dissonances and of the relationship of chords to one another.

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