Monday, January 03, 2011

The Demands of Mahler's 6th Symphony

(This posting is in light of the upcoming concert of the CCM Philharmonia on March 11, 2011 honoring the 100th anniversary of Mahler's death.)

The 6th Symphony of Mahler (the Tragic) provides for trumpeters the ideal forum to display the full range of skills. The work is a four-act drama of extremes. Your playing will be bold, joyful and triumphant only to be followed by strains of throbbing melancholy. One teacher speaking of the Mahler temperament said that "his moods ranged from the depths of Dante's Inferno all the way up the the Third Heaven and back again." Such is the Mahler journey with lots of louds, softs, highs, lows and all points in between. Rather than getting spooked, eager trumpeters salivate at this kind of challenge. Consider the 6th symphony a colossal marathon or better yet, one of the trumpeter's triathlons!

Movement 1:

You get only one warm up note followed by that bold in-your-face entrance that tests both your diminished seventh skills and your fearlessness. Your part demands repeated sweeps of intense passion emerging beautifully out of nowhere. Sing, dominate, and then disappear gracefully into the winds. A prominent feature throughout the symphony is the use of low to mid-range notes. You must sound like a fine third trumpet player shooting out the low stuff with no loss of presence. If you need to, brush up on F and B flat transpositions, and be alert to the frequent changes.

Are you secure with strong high note diminuendos to pp? And how about those muted spiky militant march snippets that must penetrate through the entire orchestra regardless of dynamic markings?

Another fun item for practice - massive slurs of more than an octave. No cheating allowed on the articulation. Pound the valves and jerk the air slightly right in time. Very cool and impressive! Keep in mind your purpose: giving the audience many magic moments to take home.

Don't forget to prepare for those chorale-style soaring, sumptuous and expressive lines both soft and loud. They must be able to happen at any time.

Observe the large amount of dynamic and articulation instructions. They are not printed for the beauty of the score. They are there by design. Make sure they are evident. Obey the print. Don't soil the picture with bland colorless playing.

Movement 2:

Find related etude material to prepare for what is required in this movement: slow, long, smooth, sustained lines, both loud and not. Here's a good movement to really focus on well-centered intonation and sound quality. All the great playing you can do is useless if it is out of tune.

Movement 3:

In this Scherzo movement you will be busting in all over, with and without your sword. Have an attitude! Don't try to be pretty. Our roll here is largely percussive. Show snappy accurate rhythms. This is about focused sordino control. Prepare for this by sticking in the mute and practicing articulation studies. Lead the brass with your very steady and precise playing. Scherzo is the character. Short and clear is the technique. Volume, clarity, and accuracy rule the night.

Movement 4:

You get to announce your presence with a Zarathustra-like muted explosion landing on a high C sharp! Hold it until you turn purple. Be careful, it's a long one.

Again we have great interval leaps to command and control. With Mahler no interval is safe. Prepare! Three slow poignant trumpet calls linger in the upper range. Control the notes and the intonation and you will have partially earned your solo bow.

Again, rhythm is king. Give your utmost attention to this! Bad rhythm ruins everything.

The finale is a race to the finish. Stay strong throughout. Keep in mind what's ahead. Be ready, get set. Now bring it on. You live for this, so practice accordingly!

1 comment:

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