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The Weekend Vote weekend vote: bowing Don Juan

August 11, 2007 at 6:51 AM

It's the bane of our existence, yet so irresistable, the first-violin part from "Don Juan" by Richard Strauss. Audition committees seem to love it; it's a must in every orchestral rep class the world over. But how to start the thing? Tell us which bowing you have marked over the very first note!

From Charlie Piccione
Posted on August 11, 2007 at 12:42 PM
I will sustain from the vote as I do not play "Don Juan". Although I wish I could, I am just a fiddler.
From Dessie Arnold
Posted on August 11, 2007 at 3:55 PM
When our university orchestra played it, we started upbow, but a few years later, I was on an audition committee for our local symphony, and when a player started it upbow, the conductor requested that she start downbow and play it again. The subsequent times I've played it (under a couple of different conductors, they've all wanted it downbow. Although I am interested to see that currently more than a third of your respondents have answered upbow. It is a good question, and I'm glad you chose to ask it! If I could play it any way I wanted? - I'm not sure. I go back and forth on the question.
From Nate Robinson
Posted on August 11, 2007 at 2:55 PM
Starting down is reverse bowing in my opinion. I usually start a figure like this with a 16th rest followed by 16ths up.
From Alise Svoboda
Posted on August 11, 2007 at 11:21 PM
I def. use a down bow for a stronger attack. just me though...
From Corwin Slack
Posted on August 11, 2007 at 11:28 PM
My down bow answer really doesn't count. I played through it sort of once in college. I don't run with such crowds but I wanted to read the comments so I voted.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 11, 2007 at 11:39 PM
Clearly we need a fiddle survey for next week! Send me suggestions!

I start it downbow, but have been on occasion forced to do it up-bow in orchestra.

From Catherine Johnson
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 12:32 AM
I just don't get doing it downbow. It's a pick up. Up bow!
Up bow allows me to hit the first beat, the C, with a strong clarity that I don't get if I start down.
From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 5:53 AM
no no no. ;) It's loud as heck. And the string crossings are all wrong up-bow. I'm just sayin'.

I know it seems counter-intuitive at first. But try it's strangely addictive....

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 6:09 AM
Ah, notice: the C is not the first beat. It's not even the second beat, as the piece is in cut time. The C is just part of an incredibly fast run, which occurs all after a blank downbeat, and before the second beat. The second beat is on the E.

The first "first beat" that anyone gets to play on is actually on the F sharp. Starting the piece down bow places that F-sharp on a down-bow, which helps greatly with orchestral togetherness.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 12:40 PM
I know that down bow is more popular. It gives a stronger intial jump-kick to the thing, and it's easier to sustain, and even crescendo that first long resulting up bow E. But I personally prefer starting up bow, as the initial fast string crossings lie more naturally that way.

However, in view of what Dessie said, it would be a good idea for an audition to practice it both ways.

From C. F. Nieweg
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 2:16 PM
This comment will not help with the bowing question which is played by major orchestras both way but will help you see the correct notes.

A critical edition of Don Juan proofed from the manuscript in the Morgan Library, NYC and 3 other original sources was published in 1993.
Edited by Nieweg and Bradburd, Kalmus A2119 -- Score $55.00, Set $135.00, individual parts $4.00 each. Available from any music dealer or by calling Kalmus 1-800-434-6340.

From Jose Leonardi Reyes
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 2:38 PM
I start it down bow for a better attack and articulation although when that figure repeats the third time on D# I feel more confortable playing it up-bow. I think it also depends on the fingering used to play it.
From Albert Justice
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 4:37 PM
The numbers mimic shoulder-rest(less) numbers. Interesting.

Always being at a loss if I'm doing good bowing beyond Suzuki, this is also insightful in other ways too. hmm.

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 6:11 PM
BTW, I see from looking up my old part that I've gone both ways with this. If I would start up-bow, I'd land on that first half-note E down-bow, and with hardly the most imperceptible stop, simply continue the down-bow for the next note, F# at the beginning of m2.

Is it going too far afield to go beyond the first bowing and get into a little more of this redoubtable piece? I'm wondering if most people at an audition would play - or auditors expect to hear - the repeated notes B and F# together in m 17f? I think the trickiest passages on the first page are the more delicate triplets, starting 3 bars after C. Do most people play them off, on, brush, etc.?

From Laurie Niles
Posted on August 12, 2007 at 10:28 PM
Good point about the fingering. I go to third position on the C.

Thank you for the info about where to get the music. It's daunting, when you first discover that most major orchestras don't provide the audition music and you have to track it down yourself. Luck's music is also a good source for individual orch parts.

From Megan Chapelas
Posted on August 14, 2007 at 12:09 PM
Hi Raphael, good question. I've always played those triplets off the string. I suppose I would characterize the stroke as something between a spiccato and a brush - with enough sound quality that you are aware of the notes and not just the stroke.

Another set of triplets surprised me recently: the ff runs in the third and fourth lines. I'd always played them quite on the string and in the middle/upper half, as many well-known orchestras do. Then, I got a hold of a copy from one of the top orchestras here in Germany - they play the passage off, with a kind of heavy spiccato! Completely different effect - and you never know who's looking for what...

From Raphael Klayman
Posted on August 15, 2007 at 12:39 AM
Yes, you really never know. I actually had this dream two nights ago: I was invited as a last minute thing to audtion for a major orchestra. There was only one thing they wanted to hear - Don Juan, of course! I had no time to set up my stand, or even warm-up. I decided to wing it, and play what I could recall of it from memory. I actually played it very well, till my memory broke down, and I couldn't go on. I asked if they would give me a chance to get my music, and they said yes. But this time I didn't play it quite as well - too careful, no flair. I didn't make it!

If issues are getting into my dreams, I'm really in trouble!

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