Friday, November 12, 2010

Tchaikovsky Tremelo Fingerings

Dear Flutists,
Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Ibert; all three composers, although brilliant, frequently compose flute passages that take hours, and sometimes weeks and months of work.

I've given alternate fingerings for the Ibert & Prokofiev on previous occasions,but oh dear, Pyoter, Peter, Petey-dude (!)

What's with the crazy pianistic writing for us poor but happy flute players?


We are not violins, sir. We don't just waggle one finger at a time in the top octave, dear sir.

I once heard that James Galway said that "some of the most difficult orchestral flute bits aren't even in the excerpt books; there are some orchestral parts by Tchaikovsky that can really make you work!".

This week I was asked for a possible fingering for the fast sixteenth notes in the opening of Tchaikovsky's First Symphony, second flute part, just as I was contemplating a blog post on our dear Petrov's gnarled Nutcracker.

Well my friends, I love fingering questions more than my beloved spouse loves crossword puzzles. :>) so let me take you through my fingering puzzle-solving method, and I'll get to the Nut-gnarler later (keep it in mind though :>).

Firstly, to answer a fingering question, the context, the tempo and the orchestration are all important.
So as a first step it's important to go and have a look and listen to the passage in question to find the context, tempo and orchestration in a recording, while reading the score.

(Afterall, if it's only a Tchaikovsky "sound effect" and will be well covered by booming tuttis, dubious harmonic fingerings can be well hidden by the eventual blast-fest. )

So using online public domain libraries, I found that the score, and Flute I & II parts for Tchaikovsky's first symphony are available to download in pdf.

And thanks to modern technology (not like the old days when you had to get an old scratched LP out of the music library)there are also some immediately hear-able performances on youtube (link removed 2017) in order to hear tempo and orchestration. Have a listen. Isn't it just marvellous stuff and worth all the problems?


And now here is the flute II part and below it, a listening extract of just the bars in question: (click to enlarge - backbutton to return here.)

Listen to how exposed the two flutes are (click the play button):

And check out Abbado's tempo (on youtube) at quarter = 132.
I say: Eeek!!! (and I don't say "eeek" lightly.)

So, having assessed the challenge thus far, I immediately came up with a reliably balanced Bb2 to D3 tremelo fingering that uses my favourite stabilizing key, the Bb side key:

Play Bb2 with the fingers marked in black.
When you need D3, put down LH 23, and lift LH1.
The Bb side key is only to keep the flute steady and level.

Providing the tempo taken by your conductor is slower than Abbado's, the above is a great fingering!

Next, to get the tempo up to Abbado's quarter = 132, I reached for my trusty alternative fingering book by Herszbaum, and tried out all the listed fingerings from this excellent major third tremelo pages near the back of the book.

Finally, on the second day, I tested the best fingerings for pitch (using the Tuning CD), for stability at mm=132, and the checked and double checked those fingerings likely to be used by the first flutist, so that the pitch and dynamic would match for both flutists.

So, for those who've followed this adventure so far, here's the grand prize: I have come up with fingering solutions for all the Tchaik 1 tremelos for both flutes I & II.

I've put all the solutions into a printable pdf for you to put on your music stand and try out. Please help yourself:

Jen's Fingering Solutions for Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 1 Tremelos.

I admit that getting RH4 to the C# key is a bit of a finesse technique, but Eb key for the RH4 also works when you're playing ppp.

And do please write back with your comments, suggestions, and additional fingering solutions. I'd love to know that we all can solve Pyoter's mad adventures into contrary finger motions at high speeds! And I'd also love to know that I'll be helping out in advance, the next two flutists who are called at the last minute to play Tchaik. 1. Beautiful music!!

Send feedback.
Best, Jen
Comments (2)
Anonymous J Lawrance said...

Life-saver! I'm so very very grateful. Couldn't believe that a search for 'Tchaikovsky Symphony 1 Flute fingering' came up with the answer. I'd been fiddling about with fingering for days getting more and more desperate!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 5:48:00 AM

Blogger jen said...

So glad to help. :>) Jen

Wednesday, October 15, 2014 10:37:00 AM


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