Saturday, July 11, 2009

Musical markings

This post was inspired by amusing emails I received. But be warned: unless you are now or have ever been an orchestra musician you're probably not going to get it.

For some reason Gustav Mahler wrote instructions in his symphonies in the German language. Many American musicians need these translated into American. This is a letter to members of some orchestra with a list of Mahler's markings and equivalent English versions. (There's one really good viola joke. Here is an exhaustive compendium of every other viola joke.)

(Following the Mahler is sheet music to Faerie's Aire and Death Waltz (from "A Tribute to Zdenko G. Fibich") a famous opus by the mysterious John Stump, who sells authorized copies of his music here. Other stuff too, if you make it that far.)


Several weeks ago, we sent you a list of translations of the German markings in the Mahler. We now realize that this list contained many serious errors. These sheets contain the correct versions. So we don't waste valuable rehearsal time on this, copy these corrections into your part immediately.

German in bold type (English translation in parentheses)

Langsam (Slowly)
Schleppend (Slowly)
Dampfer auf (Slowly)
Mit Dampfer (Slowly)
Allmahlich in das Hauptzeitmass uebergehen (do not look at the conductor)
Im Anfang sehr gemaechlich (in intense inner torment)
Alle Betonungen sehr zart (with more intense inner torment)
Getheilt [geth.] (out of tune)
Von hier an in sehr allmaehlicher aber stetiger Steigerung bis zum Zeichen (From this point on, the spit valves should be emptied with ever-increasing emotion)
Hier ist ein frisches belebtes Zeitmass eingetreten (Slowly)
Haupttempo (Slowly)
Noch ein wenig beschleunigend (slowing down but with a sense of speeding up)
immer noch zurueckhaltend (with steadily decreasing competence)
sehr gemaechlich (with indescribably horrific inner torment)
Etwas bewegter, aber immer noch sehr ruhig (Somewhat louder, though still inaudible as before)
Alle Betonungen sehr zart (with smallish quantities of fairly mild inner torment)
Gemaechlich (Intermission)
Ganz unmerklich etwas zurueckhaltend (Slowly)
Etwas gemaechlicher als zuvor (Slowly)
Zurueckhaltend (Gesundheit)
Von hier ab unmerklich breiter werden (as if wild animals were gnawing on your liver)
Ohne cresc. (without toothpaste)
immer noch etwas zurueckhaltend (Slowly)
vorwaerts draengend (Slowly)
Hauptzeitmass (Slowly)
Allmaehlich etwas lebhafter (screaming in agony)
Ohne Nachschl[age] (without milk [sugar])
Kraeftig bewegt (Slowly)
Alle (second violins tacet)
mit dem Holze zu streichen (like a hole in the head)
mit Parodie (viola solo)
sehr einfach und schlicht, wie eine Volksweise (Slowly)
daempfer ab (eyes closed)
ploetzlich viel schneller (even more ploddingly)
Den ersten Ton scharf herausgehoben (Do not play until the buzzer sounds)
Am Griffbrett (as if in tune)
aeusserst zart, aber ausdrucksvoll. (radiantly joyful, despite the itching)
wieder zurueckhaltend (increasingly decreasing)
noch breiter als vorher (better late than never)
Nicht eilen (no eels)
Allmaehlich [unmerklich] etwas zurueckhaltend (much faster [slower] than conductor)
Lang gestrichen (heads up)
Lang gezogen (heads back down)
Die werden allmaehlich staerker und staerker bis zum (fp) (In the event of a waterlanding, your seat cushion may be used as a flotation device)
Am Steg (Slowly)

Want to know what the German really means? Copy a phrase and click here.

Click on the picture to see all the spiffy little details.

Fairie's Aire and Death Waltz by John StumpFairie's Aire and other similar notational nightmares (some of them intended seriously by the most important and impressive of important, impressive composers) may be found here, at a blog called Dark Roasted Blend.

(I guess this is my Tribute to Fairie's Aire and Death Waltz)

I probably created this in the eighties when my work was still done with cheap, reliable pens, ink and straightedges instead of with expensive, bug-ridden computers. Judy Green, proprietor of Judy Green Music, had changed vellum suppliers (that's the translucent paper onto which music was copied). She wanted me to test the new paper.

So I sat down one day with the sample sheet of vellum and proceeded to write this, er, piece of music. There's no real title so I'm calling it by the first tempo indication Moderato non troppo ("not too moderately"). My principal consideration as a composer was whether the paper held the ink well. I wanted to know if it would smear and other similar musical things. (As always, click the pic for enlargement.) Notice Judy's logo and address in the lower left.

Moderato non troppo by David Ocker - hand music copying example
The original of Moderato non troppo hangs in my office to this day - attached to the side of a bookcase with a piece of scotch tape.


Has anyone ever heard of the Doctor Schmutzig Method for Holzblasinstrumente?

I remember a small, comedic musical-instruction pamphlet which I probably saw in college. The woodwind instrument it teaches looked suspiciously like a vacuum cleaner. I cannot find any reference to this online. It's possible that I remember it imprecisely.

Once, after I mentioned the pamphlet to Leslie, she started calling me "Doctor Schmutzig". Not because I know how to play a vacuum cleaner but because I'm so good at making a mess.

I'd like to reacquaint myself with this little "gem". And I'd like to prove to her that I didn't just make it up. (Maybe I did.) Any help in this quest will be gratefully received.

Read Mixed Meters' rant about Mahler Me and Mahler, Me and Iowa.

Notations 21 is a website which has many examples of "innovative notations".

Thanks to David Avshalomov and John Steinmetz for sending the inspirational emails.

Music Marking Tags: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


Elaine Fine said...

I'm so happy you are a Schumtzig fan! I made a post about the woodwind method a while back. Unfortunately the link to buy the music no longer works, so a library copy is your best bet.

David Ocker said...

Thank you, Elaine. Thank you. I was searching for "Doctor Schmutzig" but his proper title is "Professor" "Professor Schmutzig" only gets 11 hits on Google.

Thank you on behalf of Leslie as well.

David Ocker said...

It still seems available. Click here

David Ocker said...

My booklet arrived last week. My memory of it was more amusing than the thing itself. Or maybe I'm just more of a sophisticate now.