Mahler 3

Posted In: How To Play

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    Victoria on #232549

    Hi everyone, I’m currently preparing the Mahler 3 and have a couple of questions.

    1. Harmonics, are they written where it sounds or where it’s played? Also did he mean both notes are harmonics?
    2. With the huge chords, (e.g. rehearsal no 72, 75 in the 1st mov), which notes to we eliminate?

    Any other tips for playing this piece?

    Thanks a lot in advance.

    leisesturm on #232569

    Hi Victoria,
    I have no idea why your post arrived in my e-mail last night but … well I don’t play harp (yet) but I think I know the answers to your questions.
    1. Harmonics are not written where they sound. The note written is the note played and is not itself a harmonic. The correctly executed harmonic will sound one octave higher than the written (played) note.
    2.Not having a score myself I have no reference for ‘huge’ in this context but I imagine all the notes written are expected by the composer. If there are more notes written than the harpist has fingers, then there must be some expectation that the chord is to be arpeggiated (rolled)?

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by leisesturm.
    Victoria on #232613

    Thanks so much for your reply Howard 🙂

    I was just wondering about the harmonics because I think Salzedo writes them where they sound, not where they are played (as usual)…and some of the notes are very high (like 1st octave), so that makes me question this.

    About the huge chords, they are like 12 notes and spans 4 octaves. It can be played of course by doing LH-RH-LH arppegiated as you suggest, but at that tempo I am not sure I can manage. So I am just curious as to what other harpists do 🙂

    leisesturm on #232736

    Hmmm. Again, consider the source (me), but … Salzedo is pretty contemporary and should not, as far as I know, be one to go that much against convention as to write harmonics where they sound. Is it really impossible to play a harmonic of a 1st octave note? That is the question I would want an answer to before I accept that Salzedo wrote harmonics where they sound. Not doubting you, just suggesting a possibility to explore.

    I am fairly certain that other harpists do their darndest to get every note of the arpeggiated chords and don’t stop working on the passage until they do. When I play a piano accompaniment or instrument part that is what I do. sometimes a page turn makes that impossible but that is the only thing that does. Page turns should not be an issue in an orchestral harp part. But, between us, if it were a … … lesser ensemble than say, the London Symphony Orchestra, and I was having trouble getting in all the notes of a four octave arpeggio I would focus on the top two octaves at least. Those are the notes that are going to be heard (missed) and I would want them prominent. I might even use the time I’ve saved not worrying about the lower octave notes to fill in the three note per octave standing notation. Is there any way for you to put the passage in question as a link?

    Tacye on #232744

    Harps 1 and 2 both have those chords – look at tactical coordination.

    Howard, as a pianist you have the luxury that most composers are moderately competent at knowing what is playable on your instrument or how hard the things they are writing are. Harpists regularly encounter things that range from impossible to ineffective. You might find it interesting to compare the score of the Nutcracker or Sleeping Beauty cadenza to any recorded version…

    carl-swanson on #232755


    “Harpists regularly encounter things that range from impossible to ineffective.” Tacye is absolutely right. Orchestra harpists, be it symphony, opera, or ballet, spend a great deal of their time trying to figure out two things when they look at the harp part. 1) How to play an unplayable part, and 2) What DID the composer want to hear in one spot or another, because what he wrote is certainly not what he wanted to hear. As far as Salzedo is concerned: He ‘invented’ the idea of writing the harmonics where they sound rather than where they are played. The idea is idiotic. Harp music functions much like a tablature, meaning that it ideally tells the player where to place his fingers, what strings have to be played. So for a harpist, double flats and double sharps are ridiculous. A harpist is going to have to place his finger on the B string in order to play A##. Or he may even have to place it on the C string, and play the note as C flat. Whatever string the harpist has to place his finger on is the one that should be notated. So the traditional way of writing harmonics, where the harmonic is played on the string that is notated, is the correct way of writing harmonics. In all of my Carl Fischer editions, I spent a great deal of time figuring out the clearest way of notating the music, so that any harpist working from one of my editions, the first time they glance at it, knows exactly what strings to put the fingers on, and which hand plays which notes.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by carl-swanson.
    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #232996

    Salzedo, being the artistic genius that he was, unparalleled except perhaps for Bochsa, was anything but “idiotic.” For one, he followed the custom of other instruments where harmonics are notated where they SOUND, and when you are editing printed music, then of course, you are notating a harmonic as it sounds. He made many improvements in the “traditional” notation for harp, which was anything but consistent. I have no doubt that once he adopted that improved notation, he discovered that everyone was playing harmonics better, because they were focused on the result and not the execution, which is so often faulty. I know that I find my harmonics are always better when they are notated as sounding, not as played. And that is why I maintain use of Salzedo’s notation in my music.

    Of course, a pianist is not at all qualified to talk about harp notation. It takes a lot of expertise to do so.

    As for Mahler, his harp writing is clearly not literal. It is approximate. You are free to play the chord notes you can reach. I hope you know that you can omit any note that is played in a lower octave. The harmonics are indicated as sounds he wants, not how they are played, just as the chords are not. The ones in thirds I would say are definitely both harmonics, and since they cannot be played as written, they definitely have to be played one octave below. Use your ears, listen to the context and think of the time in which it was written, and Mahler’s music, which was lush in tone color. I’m sure the massive chords are meant to be divided. I hope you have a second harpist playing. I would actually suggest four harps, since he was apparently dreaming of a massive, masculine sound.
    My favorite puzzle in a Mahler part was when he wrote “mediator” in the harp part, apparently calling for a plectrum/pick.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #232997

    Tournier loved to write the musically correct pitch, and not the enharmonic that was played. Writing the enharmonic pitch prevents one from following the harmonic flow of the music.

    leisesturm on #233007

    >Of course, a pianist is not at all qualified to talk about harp notation. It takes a lot of expertise to do so.<
    Was that really necessary? Despite being a pianist I happened to be correct! Salzedo’s conventions haven’t made it to general adoption and independent authorities on harp notation do not concur with your opinion. You scorn is unwarranted. Nor was I even in a position to know about Salzedo let alone make any characterization about his practice. That was another poster. A poster who showed a lot more grace and diplomacy in educating a pianist about harp matters.

    wil-weten on #233018

    Howard, you received the first mail of this thread as by default every member of this forum receives the first mail of a thread (and the rest of the rest only after subscription to that thread).

    You may like to know that harp notation is a world on its own and I’m sure that Saul Davis Zlatkovski didn’t mean to say anything nasty. Also, writing for the harp requires a thorough knowledge of the sound of the harp and the way the harp sounds. Music that works fine on the piano is often less suitable for the harp (e.g. the harp sounds muddy when full chords are used in the bass position; and playability for the harp is another important question). So, if you like to play a certain piano piece on the harp, the piece usually needs to be specially arranged for the harp to sound well.
    You may like to google some articles written by harpists on composing and arranging for the harp by non-harp playing composers.

    carl-swanson on #233060


    Welcome to the harp column forums!! You have just survived your first trial by fire from one of our regulars! Two things you need to know about him: 1) He believes that Salzedo was not simply the last word on anything to do with the harp, but the ONLY word. Anyone who does not believe the same thing is wasting their and everybody else’s time. And 2) he absolutely has to have the last word on any thread here. So you haven’t heard the last of him yet!!

    The forums are, for everybody else, a wonderful place to collect information, exchange ideas, and learn something. For him, it is the place where he has to lay down the law and have the final word, and anyone who doesn’t agree with him is simply wrong. Poor souls!

    I won’t go into my own feelings about Salzedo here. I will however credit him with two very important innovations that have made harpists lives much easier. First, I believe that he was the first composer/arranger to include ALL of the pedal changes in a piece for harp. I can’t think of anyone before him who did that, and that is major. The other thing that I believe he did was to invent the pedal diagram, which is the lifeblood for any harpist. It tells you instantly what the pedal positions are at a given point. You have to understand that in most harp pieces, including all orchestra, opera, and ballet parts, as well as chamber music, pop music…everything we play, the pedals are almost never in the key of the piece being played, and its extremely important, especially in an orchestra part, for the harpist to be able to start where the conductor wants, and know what the pedal setting is at that point. I believe I’m correct that Salzedo did that.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 8 months ago by carl-swanson.
    Victoria on #233266

    Thank you Tacye and Saul about the advice on how to play the piece.

    Howard, I suppose in terms of acoustic physics, it is possible to play harmonics on any note no matter how high, we just need to pluck the string at half length. But in practice, I find that as I get up to 1st octave it is increasingly difficult to do without my hand hitting the soundboard and/or the neck…maybe it is just me, I don’t know. I also find that it is close to impossible to coax the harmonics out of some (not so good) harps at this register. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

    》Harpists regularly encounter things that range from impossible to ineffective《
    While this statement is entirely accurate, convincing people (the conductor, other instrumentalists, the composer, etc) of it is an entirely different matter. More often than not, people will take this statement as your inability to play it, i.e.your lack of skill and/or willingness to even try. Howard’s first reaction as a pianist to my questions was exactly along this line, although he was being extremely polite in saying it. His reaction is perfectly understandable, of course.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Victoria.
    • This reply was modified 1 year, 7 months ago by Victoria.
    balfour-knight on #233304

    Victoria, harmonics are much more difficult to play up near the top of the harp, as all of us know. I have found that the situation can be helped by using just the edge of my right thumb nail to actually pluck the high string while “damping” with my index finger in the normal way to make a harmonic, usually makes the note louder and clearer. Try it out, and I hope it works well for you!
    Best wishes,

    Tacye on #233336

    Not all composers are hard to convince, I think it was Vaughan Williams who on being questioned about a passage responded ‘You are a musician, Miss Goossens, please just play what I should have written.’

    In my experience other people very seldom comment on what my first teacher called the noble art of editing. As Carl expressed it, you are playing what they want to hear. I benefited hugely from playing 2nd harp a lot to a more experienced friend who passed on tips of the trade after the more formal tuition of youth orchestra.

    Saul Davis Zlatkovski on #233340

    It’s always amusing to be accused of doing what others are already doing.
    How generous of you, Carl, to admit that Salzedo had some useful innovations. But never presume to speak on my behalf or to know what I think, because you don’t.
    His innovations were, in fact, widely accepted by many great musicians, and inspired a great many compositions, such as the Concerto by Ginastera, to name just one. The only reason Dewey Owens did not continue using Salzedo’s harmonics notation was, as he personally told me, because a certain teacher in the Midwest had stated there is a complete ban on any music using his harmonics for her and all of her students; so he didn’t want to give up the sales, or was pressured not to by his publisher, and that is why you may not find them notated so in his music. Not for any artistic reasons.

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