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 Beethoven 8th 3rd Movement Solos
Author: Ken Shaw 
Date:   2000-08-20 18:12

This began as an answer to a question and became larger, so I thought I'd make it a new topic.

Dennis wrote:
I am practicing the first clarinet part to the Third movement of Beethoven's Sym. #8. The part calls for the High G (4 ledger lines above the staff) to be played PP. I was wondering if anyone knew an alternate fingering to
make this note just pop out. I have checked the charts on this site but haven't found anything. Thanks for reading my problem and helping.

Dennis -

Your question has a (fairly) simple answer. Most people use the following fingering, particularly for the leap from B to high G in the second solo:

TR 1 - - | 4 5 - Eb

That is, use your left index finger rather than your left middle finger. This is actually a better note than the standard fingering -- more stable, better in tune, better tone, easier to get to from the G below, and not that
much harder to get to from the altissimo D below.

If that fingering is too bright, a more covered alternative is:

TR 1 - 3 | 4 - 6 Eb

If these are too hard to get to from the D in the first solo, try:

TR - 2 - | 4 - 6 Eb or

TR - 2 3 | 4 5 - Eb (though this tends to be loud) or

TR - 2 3 | 4 - 6 Eb (doesn't work on all instruments)

See Tom Ridenour's altissimo fingering book, which has over a dozen fingerings for high G, with excellent descriptions of the sound, tuning and stability of each.

However, your question is like pulling a thread that unravels the whole garment. I know you just want to get out those high Gs reliably, but there's a lot more you need to understand to play the solos well, and I'll have to go
back to the very beginning to start the explanation. So, here we go.


You need to have the full score in front of you when you practice this movement. You simply can't understand what's happening if you don't. If you play out of an excerpt book, or even off the complete 1st Clarinet part, you miss essential things. In particular, you see a bunch of solos,
some 3-4 measures long, and some only 3 notes long. The impulse is to neglect the short ones and think of each of the longer ones separately. Nothing could be further from what's actually going on.

Get the full size score. Really! It's cheap in the Dover edition, and you can't do without it. The miniature score is too small to read off of as you play. Turn off your computer and go get it, now!


So. You're back. With the score. REALLY!

The first thing to do is listen to a recording of the complete symphony, following along in the score. When you do, you will recognize the most important thing about the Beethoven 8th:


The Beethoven 8th is a giant, rather elephantine comedy.

The first movement is jolly and outgoing.

The second movement, with its tick-tick opening, is a tribute to Maelzel's metronome, which had only recently been invented. When done right, it's laugh-out-loud funny, with rat-a-tat-tat repeated chords and bits that double, then triple, then quadruple in speed, ending with frantic 32nd-note scrubbing in the strings.

The third movement is marked "Tempo di Minuetto." That is, it's not a real minuet, but only the speed of a minuet. The first part is a sort of anti-minuet, full of cross-beats and false entrances. There's no "dance" here -- just snarling trumpets and banging timpani. It's gruff and vigorous -- a match for the second movement.

A minuet, of course, has a "trio" section, which is always more relaxed and usually a bit slower than the first part. And that's what happens here. The trio begins with a horn duet, sweet and velvety. Then you join in. After that, it goes back to the beginning. (More on this later.)

The fourth movement finale is a mad dash, with short phrases ricocheting around, bassoons blatting, trumpets screaming and the free for all at the end.

Thus, the trio section of the third movement is the only place in the whole symphony where things relax, and it's up to you and the horn players to make this happen.


When you look at the excerpt book, or even at the 1st clarinet part, you see a bunch of solos, some of them just 3-note ascending scales. It's easy to play them as if they mean nothing, and when you look only at the part, or practice them alone, it's nearly impossible to do anything more. However, all those solos are part of a single line and must be played that way.

You are one of 3 soloists -- you and 2 horns. And it's the horns that take the lead. Your job is to both match them and contrast with them. Only by listening to and playing with the horns can the 3 of you do your job of knitting all those little bits into a coherent fabric.

The best possible way to work this out is to get together with a couple of good horn players. (They also practice the 3rd movement trio from their own excerpt books.) Work it out so the three of you play as a unit.

To do this, you will have to teach yourself to do things you're not used to doing, particularly if you tend to practice by yourself in a practice room.


All valved brass instruments have intonation quirks. When a horn player opens the second valve, it adds tubing that lowers the pitch 1/2 step by adding a certain percentage to the length of the tubing. However, if, for the example, first and third valves are already open (lowering the pitch by a fourth), opening the second valve does not add the same percentage of length to the total, and in fact lowers the pitch quite a bit less than 1/2 step. That's why you see good trumpet players (and even tuba players) moving
their valve slides in and out, depending on which valves are already open.

Horn players can't do that, except by pre-setting their valve slides to the best compromise position. It's up to you to learn which horn notes go which way. Good horn players can bend the pitch with their lips, or by opening or closing off the bell with their right hand, but as a good clarinetist, you need to talk with them and work it out so that you both do what's necessary to meet in the middle.

And don't even think about the problems when the horn players are using natural (valveless) horns, and you're playing a 10-key clarinet.


One of the really important things about playing in a group is that it's not enough to have a good tone. You must have *many* good tones.

The horns have a brassy but covered tone. The instruments speak slowly. Also, they can play *much* louder than you can. They're constantly holding back.

The clarinet is naturally bright in the altissimo register. Thus you have to put some velvet in your sound to match what the horns have begun. You also have to put a gleam of "brass" in your sound, once again to match the

The most important part of the process is mental. You need to form and hold an intense image of a horn sound in your mind and then match it.

Physically, you do several things to change your tone: change the vowel shape in your mouth; roll your lower lip in further over your teeth, or pull it out; increase or decrease lip pressure; pucker your lips out or pull them in tight; vary your breath pressure; vary the tension in your throat; and vary your jaw position and pressure.

Some of these things are anathema to clarinet teachers, particularly doing things in your throat or with your jaw, and beginners or intermediate players shouldn't try them until they can do the basics right and reliably make one consistently good sound. But to get beyond that stage, you
have to know when to break the rules and do what's necessary.

Listen to the trio section on recordings over and over, and play along. Pretend that you're actually playing a horn and learn to make it sound as if there were 3 horns playing, rather than 2 horns and clarinet.

Finally, when the horn players adjust their intonation by opening or closing the bell with their right hand, this brightens or dulls their tone. Good horn players adjust for this with their lip pressure or by playing a little louder on the dull notes. Still, as with the intonation, it's part of your job to meet them halfway. And, once again, the problems are multiplied with old instruments,
where some of the notes have to be played "stopped," so you have it easy.


You also have to lift and put down your fingers quite slowly. The horns don't (and can't) "click" from one pitch to the next. Part of "sounding like a horn" is slowing down your movement from pitch to pitch - "floating" your fingers up and down as if you were trying not to break a soap bubble.


Also, you have to match the "affect" (i.e., the emotional temperature and feel) of the horns. Once again, you have to get yourself in the same mood, and phrase the same way. Physically, this is complicated. You have to play fairly loud to balance the two horns, and they have to play quite soft to balance with you. You can't give the impression of having to play really loud and put out a lot of effort. It always has to stay sweet and liquid. Fortunately, you're much higher in pitch, so you can play the altissimo notes pretty softly without having to worry about being covered up. As before, you need to "hear" yourself playing horn and match what they're doing.


Then, of course, once you can sound like 1 of 3 horns, you have to go back to playing clarinet. You both play with the horns and balance off them, as if you were on opposite sides of a seesaw.


Think you've got it down now? Fagetaboudit! You still have to put it in the context of the orchestra. That's another reason you're reading from the full score.

Look at the cello part. They're playing continuous arpeggios, up and down. That's a variety of Alberti bass, named after a composer who made it his trademark (though the pattern is usually broken arpeggios). The bass creates a continuous rippling, "nervous" motion underneath you. Also, it's in triplets, so it continuously goes in and out of phase with the duplet motion of you and the horns. The contrasting motions and energy levels play off of one another. You and the horns need to play particularly smoothly, with long, singing lines, to contrast with the jumping, non-singing bass line.

Imagine the bass line as a pond, with a breeze rippling the surface. You and the horns are like 3 swans, gliding along, buoyed up by the water. The 3 of you don't simply play alone. You're sitting in and on top of the water. You're floating without effort. It takes no effort to stay on top of the water. All you do is use it to push against to move over the surface. You have to feel the cellos carrying you in their arms, so that all you need to do is glide along. Just as it takes a conscious effort to make yourself part of the trio with the horns, the 3 of you (and the cellos) must make a conscious effort to become a single entity.

Therefore, you need to get a good cellist to join your trio, start at the beginning and work it out once again.

This leads into the next area, harmony.


(Of course, since you're playing a Bb instrument, each note sounds a step lower - F instead of G, for example. I'll give your written (transposed) notes in what follows.)

Your skeleton supports your body. It also determines its shape. You couldn't have three arms, because there are no bones for a third arm. Artists study anatomy, beginning with the skeleton, because you can't draw something without knowing what's possible and not possible. Even if you
decide to draw a person with 3 arms, you'd have to imagine what the bones would look like.

Harmony is the basis of phrasing. A chord is like a bone in the skeleton. Changes of chord are like joints. The muscles have a shape and can move parts of the body only because they are attached to the skeleton. To understand how phrases work, you must know what the underlying harmony
is and what it's doing.

Thus, you should take a pencil and look at the harmony in the score. Put in a vertical mark every time it changes. These marks will show you where your phrases begin and end, or at least change direction.

When you do this, you will see that the high G is not the important note in the phrase, either time it appears.

The first time (B-D-G-B-D-F#-G), it's part of a G arpeggio (B-D-G-B), moving to D (D-F#) and back to G (i.e., a I-V-I progression). The important notes are the ones where the harmony changes - the first B, the second D and the final G. Straighten out the notes into a simple rising pattern, beginning on low (chalumeau) B, and ascend to clarion G. When you play it that way, the first G doesn't stick out - it's just part of the arpeggio. That's the way it should be played in the actual solo. You have to play through it and keep it from sticking out.

The second time, you take over from the horns, playing a G chord, move to a D chord on the first three notes (B-A-G) and then finish the section, resolving once again to G (G-D-D-D-G-B-D-B-G). However, the harmony is ambiguous at the end. You and the horns stay in the (clarinet) G chord for the entire two final measures. However, the cellos and basses continue the pattern of a (clarinet) G-G-D, I-I-V7 chord alternation, producing a clash on the third beat of the next-to-last measure. It's difficult to say why Beethoven did this. Maybe it's to make the dynamic get softer by not having the top lines be harmonically the same as the bass line, and thus not having the bass line underpin and reinforce the top lines. At any rate, you have to stay on the same G chord all the way through.

To do this, you must taper the phrase through the entire series of nine notes. You must therefore NOT emphasize the third-note-from-the-end D (since there is no chord change there), but continue your decrescendo, with the final high G the softest note of all.

Practice playing the final G an octave lower, in the clarion. That is, make the final three notes (D-B-G) a downward arpeggio. When you do that, moving down a third rather than up a sixth, you will naturally taper the phrase to the final G. You must produce the same effect when you jump up the sixth. The D must be mezzo forte, the B must be mezzo piano, and the G must be only piano. This isn't easy, but it is necessary. Once again, working with a cellist is essential to understanding what's going on and learning to do it right.


The final high G must be soft for a second, structural reason -- it ends the trio. On the da capo, the orchestra jumps in forte or even fortissimo. It's your job to soothe the audience, singing sweetly all the way to the end to set them up for the big bang on the DC.


Finally, there's the technique stuff. Before you can play those high Gs the way they need to be played, you need to have your breath working right, your embouchure set right, and the vowel shape inside your mouth correct (not to mention having a nearly perfect reed). This is not the place to describe these things in detail. They're essential to playing musically and have to be under your control to let you do what I've been talking about, but you should know about them and be working on them as part of your daily practice.

Basically, you need to have enough breath so that you are "letting it out" rather than "blowing" to get the high notes. Your embouchure needs to have enough strength to support the reed and enough flexibility to let the notes sound without pinching. Finally, you need to keep a warm, open vowel shape to keep the high notes from being too bright. They will carry plenty well by being high. If anything, you need to tone them down.


A lot more than you bargained for? Well, that's why even the best players have to work so hard to make it to the top.

Have fun. Practice with the full score. Always work it out with other people. Mastering an orchestral solo in the practice room is less than half the job.

Ken Shaw

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