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Musical Questions Answered

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Make your questions short and to the point.
Questions regarding particular pieces, metronomic markings, etc., not likely to be of interest to the greater number of ETUDE readers will not be considered.

Q. Should the notes of a cadenza be divided off into measures and played in strict time?—S. E. F.
A. No, not unless the composer has done this expressly. The very idea of a cadenza is that the notes are without fixed or definite value. The player settles the matter of the speed of playing the notes himself, unless the composer has attempted to give an idea of approximate length, as did Chopin in many instances.

Q. Has any great symphony orchestra ever played works from memory as conductors now conduct from memory without score?— L. M. J.
A. We do not know of any orchestra making a practice of this. Of course, many of the big orchestras could doubtless play some of the shorter masterpieces that have been done time and again from memory. Von Bulow when he was conductor of the Meiningen Orchestra in Germany had his players memorize their parts for the sake of additional security. Whether they made a practice of playing without parts in public, the writer does not know. Von Bulow had such a marvelous memory himself that he had little sympathy with the player who had a poor one.

Q. Please explain to a layman interested in music what is meant by the following terms: Tracker organ, pneumatic organ, electric organ.—S. E. D.
A. The terms refer to the mechanism employed whereby the pallet or valve admitting air to the organ pipe is opened when the key or the keyboard is pressed down. In the tracker action organ this is accomplished by a series of levers, rods and rollers. The pneumatic organ is provided with air tubes running from the key to the pallet or valve opening of the pipe. When the key is depressed the air condition in the tube is changed and the valve opens. In the electric organ, the pallet is opened when the key is pressed down through an electric contact. In large organs the tracker action often called for enormous pressure at the keyboard—but in the pneumatic and in the electric organs the touch is often as light as a feather, even when the full organ is being played.

Q. Please explain the trill, and also why pianists use three and four fingers sometimes, instead of two, as is usual.—K. L. F.
A. The above question is printed as received. The Etude desires to be as accommodating as possible within the limitations given at the top of this column, but our readers must realize that the first half of this question could not be answered in such a department as this. We take this opportunity to ask our readers who use this department to place their questions more definitely. In other words, in such a case as the above, the second half of the question is excellently presented, but the first half could only be answered by referring the reader to such a pamphlet as How to Play the Trill, where definite information can be secured upon all of the significant phases of the trill. The object in using three and four fingers instead of two, in trill playing, is to secure evenness and endurance. The writer finds that he can trill for a very long period when using such a combination of fingers as 1324 or 2435.

Q. What is a force trill? How is a vanishing trill played?—K. L. F.
A. A force trill is a trill played with two hands, alternating. The wrist or hand touch is employed. Some virtuosi, notably Siloti, Rosenthal, d’Albert Carreno, Bachaus, Grainger, Bauer and Hutcheson, achieve startling results through the use of this powerful and effective trill. A vanishing trill is little known. It is attributed to Franz Liszt, who at the end of a long decrescendo trill would hold the lower note of the trill while the upper note was played ever so softly. The effect is, of course, a kind of aural illusion, but it is sure to make a somewhat impressive effect upon the audience, if properly done.

Q. Is it true that Raff wrote some of his compositions in jail?—X. Y. Z.
A. Yes. Raff was a very impecunious person, who had no idea whatever of the value of money and ran in debt frequently. His whole thought was to be able to compose. There is little doubt that his great talent was much hampered by the fact that he was forced for many years to write pot boilers. He did the best he could under the circumstances. In his young manhood he possessed a broken-down metronome, with which he attempted to put on the metronome marks on his compositions. The result was that they are marked far too fast and much faster than they should be played. When Raff was in jail, it is said that he fared much better than many times when he was out. That is, he had better food and better quarters. William Mason and Franz Liszt took it upon themselves to see that he was supplied with paper, pen and ink so that he could compose to his heart’s content.

Q. What is the meaning of “comodo” ?— J. M.
A. Comodo is the Italian musical term for quietly—with composure. This term will be found defined in any good musical dictionary, and musicians who are likely to encounter such terms should not fail to be without one. It is a mark of musical inefficiency not to have such a book. That of Dr. H. A. Clarke is a good one. (Note: The word is more commonly spelled “commodo,” although the above spelling is allowable.)

Q. What is meant by a double sonata?—F. C. D.
A. A sonata composed for two instruments, such as the piano and the flute. The term appears more frequently in connection with the concerto such as the Double Concerto of Brahms for violin and violoncello.

Q. What is meant by “partitur”—B. T. N.
A. The word is a German form of the Italian partitura, meaning full score. The “score” is the manuscript used by a conductor, including in parallel staves the parts played by all performers in an orchestra, as well as the vocal parts in the case of an opera or oratorio. An ordinary modern score has from 20 to 25 staves on each page.

Q. Have the churches abandoned having precentors?—B. II.
A. Quite generally. There was a time when precentors were very much in vogue. In one fashionable New York church four lusty singers sang in unison in a choir loft. The custom of having a precentor is by no means confined to the so-called dissenting churches. It is indeed a very old custom. In the religious street processions on the European continent the precentor always goes ahead and lines out the hymns. Possibly the success of “Billy” Sunday and Community singing may lead to the revival of the precentor plan in many churches.

Q. Are there scales in which the seventh degree is entirely omitted ?—F. H.
A. Yes. In the pentatonic scale both the fourth and the seventh are omitted.

Q. How are groups of three or four notes in smaller type in arpeggio form preceding a melody note played? Is the time taken from the melody note or the preceding note?—S. R. M.
A. The best modern authorities concede that the melody note should come upon the time beat and the arpeggios in the form of fine notes take up a fraction of the time from the preceding note. Such arpeggios are played so rapidly that their time value is very slight.

 

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