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Emily Grossman

Going Home

September 30, 2010 at 9:16 AM

There we sat, holding C for 28 measures.

Second violins are underrated, by the way. After all, we were the ones assigned  to cradle the C, the most important note in all of Beethoven's fifth symphony, in transition toward the finale.  Here, C became the birth of idea--an orb, a focal point, the very origin of species. Upon this C, the entire symphony would spawn its new revelation, the first violins modulating from minor to major, as though enlighted by the steadfast security of the seconds. Drums tolled the measures as we sat there on C, and then it dawned on me: if you want to find the point of it all, you must return to the tonic. You must go home, and wait. ...In this case, we wait for 28 measures. I tightened the laces of my running shoes. The conductor was about to take off, and I was not about to be left behind.

C, E, G...

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on October 4, 2010 at 11:46 AM

Let's hear it for the seconds! If the second violins didn't turn up, the conductor and the firsts would be a right panic, I can tell you  I've been told, on good authority, that the second violin part is frequently technically more difficult than that of the firsts (I can believe it), and, from my own experience in the section it is just as interesting as the firsts.

Historically, I suppose, the seconds have been viewed as less important because, in schools, there is, or certainly has been, a tendency to put the less technically able violinists into the second violins.  The music played in schools is likely to have been arranged to reflect this tendency. Hence the view, too often held, that the seconds are somehow second-class.  In reality, of course, the firsts and seconds are, or should be, just one body of equal violinists, but divided into two sections for musical reasons.  In my chamber orchestra it is standard practice to swap players between the two sections - the only ones who are never swapped are the two leaders. 

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