Thursday, 6 June 2019

More on Russian cymbal notation.

Last week I wrote THIS article. While investigating other issue which keeps me bussy, I found more music that proves what I wrote there: that "+" means suspended cymbal with a soft mallet and "o" means crashed cymbals.

Rimsky-Korsakov wrote an opera titled "Mlada", and he selected some music from the third act, which became a symphonic poem titled "Night on Mount Triglav". I found the score at that gold mine named Petrucci Music Library. We can find this in the performance notes:





Observation I. Le signe |-| dans la partie des Piatti indique un coup avec une baguette molle (Colla bacchetta da Timpano); le signe o un coup sur les cymbales.

"Observation I. The symbol |-| in the cymbal part indicates a stroke with a soft mallet (Colla bacchetta da Timpano); the symbol o a strike of cymbals".




This opera was composed between 1889 and 1990, exactly the same time frame as Glazunov´s "La Mer" (1889).

There´s a small graphical difference between "|-|" and "+", but that´s something I attribute to Rimsky and Glazunov being published by different editors. In both cases "o" means crashed cymbals.









So, we now have even more clues proving the Russian notation explained in my previous article. For two geniuses like Glazunov and Rimsky-Korsakov, both professors at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, having influenced the next generations of Russian students and composers and transmited them their cymbal notation, can be considered nothing but the normal thing.

No more worries when playing Russian repertory! 😉


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Friday, 31 May 2019

Russian cymbal notation.

Russian cymbal notation (late 19th-century and 20th-century works) has been driving percussionists mad for quite a long time now... Cymbal parts feature a couple of funny symbols ("+" and "o") no one knows for sure what they mean. These examples are taken from Glazunov´s "La Mer":






Suspended, crashed, holding a cymbal with one hand and sticks with the other, very little time (or none at all!) to switch between instruments... Doubts, doubts, doubts because the meaning of those symbols is explained nowhere, and even Russian conductors and percussionists don´t agree on this matter. 

Why? This is a constant through Music History... Most of the times, composers themselves conduct their own works, are present during rehearsals and work hand to hand with the musicians who are going to play and premiere their works. So, there´s a direct communication between composers and musicians that, most of the time, is not kept on written records, thus, it gets lost as time passes and the work gets "mature and independent" from its own composer. This notation was clear for the percussionists who played these works at that time and, because it was clear and was directly communicated to them by the composer himself, there was no need for it to be written. As time passed and the works began to "expand geographically", the meaning of this notation became more and more obscure, as percussionists did not have that first hand information. There are also temporary trends, local traditions... Is there a solution? Can we know what those symbols mean? Luckily, yes.

The previous examples were not shown at chance... Glazunov was a great composer and orchestrator who wrote wonderful percusion parts (do yourself a favour and study his music and parts). He was a professor at the Saint Petersburg Conservatory, where he taught and influenced people like Shostakovich and Prokofiev

While investigating some other issues I will tell you about soon, I got to know Glazunov´s already mentioned "La Mer" (sadly, not very often played nowadays). The score includes some performance notes that clarify this matter for once and for all:



Point 3 explains the cymbal notation:

3. Cymbal strokes are of three types: a) Stroke given with a sponge headed stick on one of the cymbals "colla baccheta" indicated with +, b) Stroke given with the wooden part of a stick "col legno" and c) Cymbals stroke, one against the other, indicated (after the preceding types of stroke) with o.

When a note features the indication "+" and "colla bachetta", it means suspended cymbal struck with a soft mallet (strictily speaking, a sponge headed one. See THIS article). The indication "col legno" means suspended cymbal struck with a wooden stick. No other special symbol is used. "o" means crashed cymbals, but almost always as a reminder, as previous strokes may have been "colla bacchetta" or "col legno".

Most of the time (I have checked loads of parts and works... You can´t imagine how many!), the symbols are used once, and it goes without saying that the following notes, unless indicated, are played following the last indication. It is not untill a new indication turns up that we have to change the way we play.

Why can we use this composition by Glazunov as a guide? Because he was an important professor who influenced various generations of Russian students and composers. The normal thing for students is to follow their teacher´s indications, and this notation, so typical of Glazunov, was passed on to his students, who used it with profusion.

A very famous example of this is Prokofiev´s Symphony #5. I think it may be a good idea to analyze, following Glazunov´s notation, its cymbal part. This is the first page:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Before and after figure 2, the indication is suspended cymbal with a soft mallet. Figure 5 is a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets (it can´t be anything else: Russians didn´t use Bartok rolls on cymbals), ending also with a stroke on suspended cymbal with soft mallet ("+" is cautionary. Changing technique/sticks/cymbal at the resolution makes no sense).

Page 2:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Bar 5 of figure 15 is, again, suspended cymbal struck with a soft mallet (despite the hand written indication by some percussionist 😉, who has obviously not read Percusize Me! 😃). Same at figure 17. See that there´s no indication, but it goes without saying: the last indication was "+". Third bar of figure 19 has already been covered: a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets, where "+" is, again, a reminder. Any change between the roll and the resolution makes no sense.


Page 3:



© Sergei Prokofiev


Bar 9 of figure 23 is, again, suspended cymbal struck with a soft mallet. There´s no "+" because that´s the last indication in the part, so it goes without saying. The following crotchets (around figure 24) are played on suspended cymbal with a soft mallet, and they feature the indication "+" because the last crotchet, five bars before figure 25, is marked "o", meaning crashed cymbals ("a 2"). This movement ends with a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets (we´ve covered this same thing before).

Page 4:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Figure 42: suspended cymbal struck using brushes ("verghe"). The rest of the movement is played on suspended cymbal struck with soft mallets.


Page 5:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Figure 71: rolls on suspended cymbal using soft mallets. Bar 6 of figure 71 is indicated "o", so crashed cymbals ("a 2"), and back to suspended cymbal with soft mallets for the next two crotchets ("+").

Page 6:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Nothing special: roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets.

Page 7:


© Sergei Prokofiev


Every stroke in this page is on suspended cymbal using soft mallets ("+").

Lastly, page 8:


© Sergei Prokofiev


All notes before figure 111 are to be played on suspended cymbal using soft mallets. Bars 4 and 5 of figure 112 feature no indication, but I´d go with crashed. Figure 113 is suspended cymbal with brushes ("verghe"), and the last bar is a roll on suspended cymbal using soft mallets (thus the indication "colla bacchetta di timpani", as Prokofiev wants the last roll with mallets, not with brushes, as we have been doing in the previous bars). When Prokofiev wrote this symphony, sponge sticks were already dated and old fashioned. For the previous generation (Glazunov), soft mallets were made of sponge. For the next one (Prokofiev), soft mallets were timpani mallets. For us, soft mallets tend to be yarn ones (think vibraphone/marimba), but we start to see new designs like those by Ron Vaughn.

As you can see, Prokofiev never indicates what kind of sticks/mallets should be used on rolls. Why? Because it´s pretty obvious mallets have to be used to get a roll and, as I said before, Russians didn´t use "alla Bartok" rolls on cymbals. He indicates "+" on resolutions. Bizarre, I know..., but having the indication on the resolution makes what stick to use on the "preparation" (the roll) obvious. Juggling trying to play the roll like this and the resolution like that is against any logic.

These performance notes by Glazunov put an end to the many missunderstandings and complications we can find in the Russian repertory. The final bars of Prokofiev #5, for instance, tend to be played in a too over complicated way: a crashed cymbal in one hand, the other cymbal, a brush and a mallet in the other hand (crazy!), playing the brushes part (while holding the rest of the other stuff!), rolling with the soft mallet (still, while holding to much stuff!) and ending with a cymbal crash (while still holding the malett and brushes!). Crazy. It doesn´t make any sense at all... The easiest explanation tends to be the correct one, and that final passage is clearly done all on suspended cymbal, the only change being the switch from brushes to soft mallets for the final bar.

Thanks to the indications Glazunov wrote for "La Mer", we now understand much better how Russian cymbal notation works, and I´m glad I found the key which will save us many headaches. Do you think this will make your percussive life easier?


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Friday, 24 May 2019

Do it yourself historical rope drum (IV)

Today is the last instalment of the making process of my own historical rope drum. You can see the first part HERE, the second one HERE, and the third one HERE.

Just so you can remember, this is how the drum looked like at the end of part 3:


© David Valdés


The first thing I did was making ten leather ears. They tense the rope, and I made them using the same materials and procedures described in "Restauration of a rope drum". This is the result:


© David Valdés


I bought a couple of natural skin heads (the batter one thicker, the resonant one thinner) mounted on wooden flesh hoops at Baena Sonido and, with quite a few metres (around 20) of hemp rope and lots of patience, I started roping the drum:


© David Valdés


Here´s a detailed view of the ears I made:


© David Valdés


Here you can see the pig tail (historically correct. See the iconography in part 3):


© David Valdés


Once the roping job was done, I started working on the snares. For that, I soaked quite a few metres of natural gut I also bought at Baena Sonido:


© David Valdés


Once flexible, I tied a bowline knot to the butt plate I bought at Cooperman:


© David Valdés


I, then, passed the gut through the "J hook" strainer I also bought at Cooperman:


© David Valdés


After six passes, here is the rear part:


© David Valdés


The front part:


© David Valdés


These are the snares on the resonant head:


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


Here´s a detail of the drag rope (used to hang the drum from a shoulder when not playing and to carry the instrument here are there):


© David Valdés


The pig tail. See how the rope was interweaved to add more tension to the heads:


© David Valdés


This is how I secured the drag rope. See the leather thread I used to stop the end from undoing:


© David Valdés


My job could have finished here, but I wanted to add some more details. So, I secured a bronze British style carry hook to the batter counterhoop I bought at Cooperman. This allows the drum to be hung from a sling:


© David Valdés


I also added three bronze legs to the batter counterhoop (which I also bought at Cooperman). Historically, when the drummer was not playing and was resting or doing something else, he would have put the drum on the ground, but always on the batter counterhoop. The snare counterhoop had the drag rope, and it would have been in contact witht the ground (we have to remember these kind of drums were played outdoors, on grass, ground, mud...), and that would have damaged it. Also the snare and the strainer (delicate parts) could have been damaged. Because of that, the drum was always put on the floor on the batter counterhoop, and these legs were used to separate and isolate the drum from the ground. Historically, always three:


© David Valdés


Here you can see the drum on the floor, on the batter counterhoop, and how the legs keep it away from the floor:


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


Here you can see the batter counterhoop with all its "things" (carry hook and legs):


© David Valdés



© David Valdés


Finally, a photo showing the finished drum:


© David Valdés


I think it´s gorgeous, and I can tell you it sounds fantastically well. Thanks to this drum (16"x16") and the other one I own (14"x14"), I have plenty of colours to play early music. I will upload some audio files in future articles. Do you like this drum?


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Do-It-Yourself "baguettes d´éponge".

Berlioz was a composer who showed a great interest in percussion, and his contributions were crucial for the development of this instrumental family. Always trying to improve the sound timpanists could get from their drums, one of his indications was "baguettes d´éponge" ("sponge sticks"). When I had to play his "Symphonie Fantastique", I thought it was the perfect time for me to make a pair of them. 




It seems like historical sponge sticks were made with a variety named "elephant ear", very abundant in the Mediterranean Sea at that time, but because I needed them quite urgently, I wasn´t very worried about being very HIP. So, a normal sponge would do... I sliced it into two sheets and cut two circles to cover the heads.


© David Valdés


As always, I made two tonkin sticks:


© David Valdés


I stuffed and rounded the ends to make them nice in the hands:



© David Valdés


Added two wooden ball heads.


© David Valdés


I sewn the two sponge discs.


© David Valdés


Added some red thread as a cosmetic thing:


© David Valdés


Voilà! I now have a pair of "baguettes d´éponge" so I can play the romantic repertoire:


© David Valdés


What kind of sticks have you used when confronted with this indication by berlioz? Would you like trying some real sponge headed sticks?


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Do It Yourself Turkish crescent.

You already know how much I like historical percussion and early music. I have been wanting a Turkish crescent for quite a long time, so I bought some stuff and decided to go for it. Before going on, I´d like to introduce you to the instrument: a Turkish crescent ("jingle Johnny", "chapeau chinois", "pavillon chinois", "schellenbaum", "cevgen", "capell cinese", "padiglione cinese", "mezza luna"...) is an instrument many centuries old, but Europeans got to know it in the 16th century because of the Turkish elite troops, the jannisaries. It was inmensely popular as a military instrument (both in bands and orchestras) untill the 19th century, falling into oblivion since then. Lully, Haydn, Beethoven and Berlioz were some of the composers who wrote for it, and it was an important member of the sistri, being part of the bassa musica in the Italian opera from the ottocento.


"Gabinetto armonico" (Filippo Bonanni)












Here we can see a manuscript note stating the percussionists in the percussion section of La Scala during the 1843 spring season. We can see the Turkish crescent was part of the section (it ALWAYS was, and it was ALWAYS played together with the bass drum and the cymbals. The parts were never written, but it went without saying -see Lichtenthal, Picchianti, Dacci and others-). We can also see two different players are assigned for the bass drum and the cymbals, which busts the myth of both instruments being played "alla turca" (by one player) in Italian opera (we also have poster bills, hand bills, payrolls, documents, iconography and letters proving this). As a curiosity, because the date (1843) and the mention of a drummer, we can deduce "Nabucco" was still being played (it was premiered in 1842). "Nota dei professori d´orchestra al servizio dell I. R. Teatro La Scala per la stagione di primavera dell´anno 1843. Timpani: Carlo Antonio Boracchi, tamburo: Augusto Stehle, triángolo: Leonardo Negri, capell-chinese: Antonio Sala, piatti: AntonioTangi, gran cassa: Gaetano Rossi".




My project started with a visit to the local flea market, where I bought a horrendous old lamp. Ugly as hell, but perfect for the idea I had in mind...


© David Valdés


I dismateled it down to pieces, took the cables off, cleaned it...


© David Valdés


The "wings" of my crescent would be the lamp arms, which I attached to the "vases" holding the bulbs. I first marked two diametrically oposed points...


© David Valdés


...and then drilled, first marking with a punch so the bit doesn´t slip. Then I used progresively larger bits untill I got to the desired diametre.


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


Then it was just a matter of screwing the "wings" using the same nuts the lamp already had.


© David Valdés


With the "wings" done, all pieces ready, and using the central rod the lamp already had, I started skewering and combining the different pieces. I also hang sleigh bells from the different "umbrellas". As always, I punched before drilling, and then used progresive sizes of bits. I attached the sleigh bells using leather straps.


© David Valdés


Looking for inspiration I found this crescent. I liked the bottom part very much, so I tried something similar:




How to do it? I had some cymbals laying around. I collected then when I was trying to learn how to weld bronze. One of them was a 10" Sabian Pro Sonix, the only blemish being some cracks around the hole. Perfect for the job! Using an angle mat I marked 20 points:


© David Valdés


I marked and drilled as usual, got rid of the logos to make it look more "authentic" and "historical" and hang the bells around its perimetre using leather straps:


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


This is how it looks on the instrument:


© David Valdés


As you can see, the central rod is visible, as I ran out of lamp parts to cover it, so I paid another visit to the flea market to get another batch of horrendous lamps...


© David Valdés


Here´s how it ended up. You can also see how I finished off the whole thing at the end (using one of the remaining "cups"):


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


I added sleigh bells to the new "umbrellas":


© David Valdés


I also covered the holes the "dome" still had. I got some extra volutes at a scrap yard (which I visited to get raw material for a project I´ll write about in the future 😉). I used a file to shape the arms to the round surface of the "dome", and fixed them using screws:


© David Valdés


I added some more bells, and this is the final result on the "dome":


© David Valdés


As a final detail, I added the horse hair traditionally present on these instruments.





I bought some red tassels at a local haberdashery and hang them from the lower arm:


© David Valdés


Now, a pole was needed to hold the whole thing, so I got a bronze finished curtain pole at Leroy Merlin.


© David Valdés


I also got some door stoppers, which I lightly sanded, to help me put everything together.


© David Valdés


© David Valdés


Now I just had to stuff the "Christmas tree" into the pole:


© David Valdés

Because this instrument is sometimes played hitting the floor, I kept the rubber feet the pole already had.


© David Valdés


I also made some pads using yoga mats should maestri don´t want the stompig noise against the floor.


© David Valdés

I was able to make an instrument which was inmensely popular for some centuries and was abandoned when orchestras increased in size, bass drums and cymbals became larger and larger and their volume covered the sound of the Turkish crescent, making it useless. Nowadays, this instrument is a must if you are into historically informed performance. Would you add it to your section? 😉 Stay tuned, as I will soon upload some video files.


…et in Arcadia ego.
© David Valdés