A tempo of ♩. = 120-126 is common for this section of the piece, though in many recordings there is a noticeable relaxation at Rehearsal 32. The melodic line at the end of this excerpt is a variation of the opening theme in the solo horn.
A Misprint for the Last Note?
In his orchestral excerpt CD, David McGill remarks that the last note of this excerpt, an F3, should actually be a C4. McGill’s former teacher, Sol Schoenbach, believed that a tenor clef sign had been erroneously omitted from both the score and part, and thought that the bassoon line should actually be identical to the violas, ending on a high C. However, Strauss’s autograph score—with the bassoon written in tenor clef instead of bass clef—clearly shows that the F is correct (Example 17.1). Also, if the note was indeed meant to be a C (the fifth in a V7/IV), then we might also expect it to resolve down a whole step to a B♭ (the root of IV) as it does in the violas. Schoenbach was such a prolific performer and important teacher that many in the bassoon community continue to regard this story as fact, but hopefully this resolves any lingering questions about this passage.1
Example 17.1. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 6 to 8 of Rehearsal 33, facsimile of autograph score
The first half of this excerpt is essentially an exercise in finger technique, and our fluidity greatly depends on understanding how the notes should be grouped together. Example 17.2 shows the groupings David McGill discusses in his book and orchestral CD.
Example 17.2. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 6 to 4 before Rehearsal 32, David McGill’s note groupings
As you can see, these groupings are not overtly apparent in the written music, and if we were to remove the bar lines and re-beam the passage as in Example 17.3, we would see these groupings in a much clearer light. As we discovered in our examinations of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, the composers often do not provide the most accurate beaming, and it is up to us to determine when they can be detrimental to the musical gesture. That said, in this particular instance, the intersecting bar lines gave Strauss little choice with his beaming decisions.
Example 17.3. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 6 to 4 before Rehearsal 32, re-beamed music with omitted bar lines
To develop a familiarity with these groupings, try practicing this segment at a slow tempo with the hairpins and fermatas from Example 17.4. Once these inflections have been ingrained, move on to practicing the line with various rhythms such as dotted-eighth-sixteenths and sixteenth-dotted-eighths. The truly adventurous can even try using similar rhythmic patterns and metric displacements like the ones Christopher Weait suggests for the third movement of Ravel’s Piano Concerto.2
Example 17.4. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 6 to 4 before Rehearsal 32, re-beamed music with fermatas and hairpins
Students often put most of their practice energy into the technical figure at the beginning of the excerpt, glossing over the syncopated melodic line near the end. Though not as challenging as the first half of the excerpt, the second half still requires a great deal of attention. The main problem we face is how to play the syncopated melody at Rehearsal 33 without dragging, but like with most technical challenges, the answer can be found through giving the passage a clear musical gesture.The gesture for this figure (a variation of the horn’s opening theme) should lead to and from the G♯3, repeating each time from the C3 (Example 17.4).
Example 17.5. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 1 to 4 of Rehearsal 33, with added hairpins
A helpful way to think of this gesture is to imagine the inflection we would use if it started on the downbeat of the measure (Example 17.5). In fact, I recommend practicing this version first since it removes the variable of the syncopation and allows us to focus on the underlying phrasing.
Example 17.6. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 1 to 4 of Rehearsal 33, re-barred music with added hairpins
Another way to play with the meter in our practice is demonstrated in Example 17.7. I find that having the G♯ tied through a bar line in the original version can cause a mental hitch, and moving the note to the middle of a measure allows the figure to flow more naturally. Also, if we split off the first three beats of the measure at Rehearsal 33 into its own 3/8 bar, it will help bring out the pick-up quality of the C that starts the upward line.
Example 17.7. Strauss, Till Eulenspiegel, bars 1 to 4 of Rehearsal 33, re-barred music with 3/8 measure and added hairpins
Finally, since the tendency will be to play the A after the tied G♯s too late, experiment with actually trying to play it a little early. My guess is that for many players this will actually place the A exactly in tempo.
1 It should be noted that none of the recordings in this project include this error.
2 See Ravel's Piano Concerto.