Percussion, Harps & Piano

One of the surprising things about the Jami Symphony is the very limited part the piano takes. One of the least used instruments in the symphony with only an occasional flourish usually as part of a full texture and hardly at all as the principal instrument. The untuned percussion is limited to base drum, side drum, tambourine, castanets, two sizes of triangle and two sizes of cymbal and are used fairly traditionally.

The timpani are listed as one chromatic octave 4 players. In fact the 1st part has a range of F2 to F#4 and the 2nd part Eb2 to E4 both two octaves and a semitone. The part goes way above the standard timpani range which is to C4. There are several sections where there are 4 rolling parts and therefore requiring the 4 players. The parts are very chromatic with some quick passages that look more like a marimba part! The tuned percussion is glockenspiel, xylophone and celeste which look fairly traditional to my unproffesional eye. The score also calls for 4 harps although there are only 2 written parts. There is also an important melodic part for tuned gongs which in the first movement ranges from Bb2 to G4 and sounds beautiful played by the VSL gongs (but don’t appear in this extract – but did appear briefly in the first blog entry).

For the passage I have worked up here is the PDF and here is the MP3.

This extract is from the 1st movement bars 167 to 197 in my typeset score and starts at around 8′ 24″ of the current full performance. The climax of this passage is huge for the whole orchestra. I have however started it at fairly modest dynamics and only ratchetted it up at the end.

With the range of the VSL timpani to C4, which I can pitch bend to D4, I have put the few notes in this passage higher than that down the octave. Two, three or four part harmony in rolled timpani is nonsensical really as, even listening to the timpani on their own, I certainly would struggle to make out the individual notes and when it’s mixed in with a full blowing orchestra it just adds to the noise (but a most exciting noise).

The technical aspect of making the notated untuned percussion play back properly in VSL is tricky and laborious as the various playing techniques (LH RH short notes, rolls, different sticks etc etc) is triggered by specific notated pitches so that a minim C7 will trigger a minim roll but singe hits is C4. So I have to copy and rewrite those parts onto a treble clef stave (the PDF shows the actual notation). The tuned percussion, harps & piano are thankfully straight forward although I will have to write out any harp glisses in full. I’m not conversent in harp playing to know whether the written parts are well written or not.

Balance with just these parts was a problem and so much is lost in the noise. The full orchestra in this passage will of course make that exponentially more difficult. The virtual performance however enables tricks of balancing to be done that you just couldn’t do live.

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