Monday, December 07, 2009

High C fingerings & Mahler's 5th Symphony

Dear Flutists, there was a question this week about good fingerings for high C4 for use in Mahler's Symphony No. 5, the second mvmt. at rehearsal number 24. Here it is:

As I checked over all four flute parts for this symphony I see that it's four flute playing high C in unison. I immediately think: Danger Will Robinson, DANGER!!!. hahahhaa. :>D

But here's how one goes about figuring these things out prior to the first rehearsal.

Firstly there's a great Alternative Fingering Chart online for free at the Woodwind Fingering Guide.

Using their chart for high C (which flutists call C4 as it is the fourth C ascending on the flute), I tested all the fingerings there. Result?
For my open-hole B-foot flute, at a piano to mezzo piano dynamic, and aiming upward in angle with fast blowing speed, I found that the final fingering from the WFG chart (outlined in pink below) worked best for me.

But none of these fingerings is particularly easy for community flute players without the requisite embouchure and high register practice, and as all four flutists are playing it simultaneously and in unison, it appears that it is going to be quite an ear-clanger if every flutist used a different fingering.

So I tried all B-foot open hole fingerings in the Mahler second mvmt., playing the C3 to C4 octave leap and using the dynamics piano crescendoing to mezzo-piano, and came up with the results that I illustrate below.

click on diagrams to enlarge

The above high C fingerings were tested with the tuner at A-440 and again, using a B-foot open hole.

John Rush of the Tulsa Symphony also commented below, and suggested this fingering:

Thanks so much John, and will try it out. So appreciative for your input!

You know....great bonding time could be spent at a flute sectional over this. But do take ear plugs! :>) All four flutists would have to have b-foot open-hole, and use the same dynamic, the same upward blowing angle, and the same fingering if they were to survive. hahhaha! Danger Will Robinson, indeed!

Finally, being the thorough researcher that I am, having watched this portion of the Mahler 5th on youtube to make sure I didn't see some piccolo shots at minute 6:00 where this passage occurs, I copied the passage in sound on a tiny mp3 clip for your convenience - 10 second clip listen here.
As you can hear, if there were four screaming high Cs that clanged together horribly, would not be the best idea to let the conductor know that. It would be far better for two piccolos or just Fl.4 alone to play it one octave down on piccolo, thus blending beautifully with the strings and lulling the entire orchestra into a sense of its own beauty (grin!). Flute 1 and Flute 2 could play in unison down two octaves at the correct dynamic which is, I reiterate again, piano to mezzo piano.

Afterall, if Mahler wanted his work faithfully interpreted, why did he also write impossible things like low B-flats below low C in the first flute part of this symphony? Ha! He must have needed our expert re-interpretation.

So there you have it.
I know some players might consider it a worthy challenge to have all four flutists play a perfectly in tune high C at mezzo piano, but as you can hear from The Berlin Phil's filmed performance, even the professionals are not likely to have taken that risk.
I say: make beauty not ear-splitting horror noises, yes, that's what I say. hahahahha! :>D

But this also serves as a good example of a question for which there are several answers. You now know a good place to look up fingerings at Woodwind Fingering Guide, and, may I also recommend that all flutists, especially those who play at a high level in community ensembles, get ahold of an excellent fingering alternative book like Nestor Herszbaum's.

I think all flutists should own the Herszbaum Alternative Fingering Guide and print out the additional free fingering charts found on the net, and keep them in their orchestra folders.
And of course, my advice always tends toward in tune piccolo substitution in really difficult cases such as this.
Opinions welcome.

Jen Cluff
Comments (4)
Anonymous John Rush said...

Hi Jennifer, We performed this fantastic symphony two seasons ago with the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra. We had a wonderful Mahler Scholar and conductor Benjamin Zander.

The fingering that I really liked for this passage is one that you have not put up on your webpage. It is one that I use quite frequently for this lovely C4.

I use the traditional C4 fingering with a few things extra.

Left hand - 1234

Right hand - 1 3(ring only) low c

It is easier to play than many of the fingerings that you have listed and by adjusting the angle of air slightly down, only slightly otherwise it will not speak, this helps greatly to play in tune with all of the flutes playing this pitch!

All my best,


Tuesday, December 08, 2009 9:31:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Thanks John,
That's a great fingering, by the sounds of it. I'll add it to my charts.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009 10:02:00 AM

Blogger Sheila said...

I honestly can't imagine having to play a bunch of C4s without the gizmo key. Eek! Seems to me I only ever learned one fingering for C4, and that's the one you say here is best. (Funny that!)

Miss you!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009 10:18:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

Dear S. Miss you too! I know Galway plays C4 without gizmo, and one can, just with very fast air, and it's fine for "ff", but not terribly good at mezzo-piano.
Gizmo sure makes it speak easily, but sharp? Sheesh. See you soon. J.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009 10:40:00 AM


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