HELP WITH SIBELIUS 2ND MOVEMENT >How to count to four, the hard way< *not clickbait*

Edited: January 20, 2019, 5:36 PM · Sorry about the title - I couldn't resist.
Anyways, I'm learning the 2nd Movement of Sibelius's Violin Concerto (such beauty) and all was going well, the first 32 measures were fine, until... I hit measure 33.
(The rhythm is normal quarter notes and eighth notes over quarter note triplets.)
I can do the double-stops, I can play them (not in rhythm, however), but I don't understand the rhythm. I mean, I understand the rhythm on an intellectual level, I know where the notes are supposed to be played and at what time in relationship to each other, but when I grab my instrument, I'm having difficulty keeping the triplets even without messing up the top line. I think the issue is that I'm not keeping the two voices separate. Any suggestions on how to practice and learn this passage? Should I play the voices separately, and then together, or should I use two metronomes (I have plenty, don't worry) and have one set to triplets and one set to eighth notes, or what?
Please help.

Replies (16)

Edited: January 20, 2019, 3:18 PM · Thank you Nina for asking this question :) The truth is, most people (including a large number of soloists) do not play this section accurately, and it really irritates me. A lot.

The best way to play this section is to divide each beat in the top line into triplets (so time signature is now 12/8) and play the bottom in the exact same time signature. If we look at the bottom line from a broader and simpler perspective, an easy way to play this passage more or less correctly is to make sure the second note of the bottom line (F#) is played very soon after the second note of the top line (D), and that the 3rd note of the bottom line (Eb) is played very soon before the 3rd note of the top line (C).

Here is a diagram:

Hope this helps!

January 20, 2019, 3:16 PM · James, could you try to embed the link? It's not working on my computer.
Edited: January 20, 2019, 3:31 PM · hm when I try to embed the picture, it doesn't seem to show up here...

Here is a video instead

Edited: January 21, 2019, 9:58 AM · The link worked for me. Note that the hyphen at the end of the first line is part of the link.

James's picture describes a "three against four" scenario. You can get such poly-rhythms into your head better if you tap them with your left and right hands, then say 1-2-3-4 while tapping 1..2..3 with your hand on the table and vice versa, or walking one rhythm while saying the other. This is the kind of stuff college music students often have to do until they can do four or more things at once. The key is that once you've basically "got it" mathematically by tapping on the table with two hands, you want to learn to listen carefully to the set-of-three -- are the hits really even? And then listen to the set-of-four -- are the hits really even, and do they feel like you are tapping them independently of your other hand?

January 21, 2019, 10:25 AM · I'll probably get some blowback for my answer, but it's the simple, effective one. And it doesn't involve counting and driving yourself nuts. I don't think the cross rhythms here have to be metronomic. To me, it's more about the harmony: dissonances and resolutions.

Here's how to cheat: Listen to someone who knows how to do it and just do what they do.
Yes, I know it's kind of a lazy way to do it, but life is short.

January 21, 2019, 10:40 AM · I'd love to follow your advice, Scott, but I think I'd get bashed during my lesson for that. Oh well.
But I do understand your point, and I guess your last two statements do make sense.
I mean...
"Mediocre artists borrow; great artists steal."
- I forgot who said this. Might've been either Picasso or Bartok.
EDIT: It was Picasso.
January 21, 2019, 10:42 AM · However, I think I'll follow James's advice. My teacher is usually quite firm rhythmically.
January 21, 2019, 12:06 PM · 3 against 4 - aim for the next down-beat and play 3 or 4 notes.
A drummers trick; the composite sound of 3 vs 4 sounds like " pass-the-god-dam-butter" (sorry for the vernacular). Notes do not always have to be played mathematically exactly equal. Singers don't do it, early music specialists don't, fiddle styles don't.
January 21, 2019, 12:27 PM · I don't know that I could do these weird counts in my head while simultaneously holding onto the melody and harmony. I record myself playing both lines individually then play the other line with the recording until I'd internalized how it fits together, both rhythmically and musically.
January 21, 2019, 8:45 PM · Yeah it's tough but nobody said the Sibelius VC was Suzuki Book 4 material. I want to point out that my method does not differ from James's. His starting point would be the same as mine. I only suggested a way of internalizing once you have visualized it. If you don't have a "visual learner's" bone in your body, this method may not work for you.
January 22, 2019, 7:09 AM · What I'm starting to do is playing the passage on the piano. (Top line, right hand, bottom line, left hand.) I also record it and listen back because it's hard to evaluate your playing while you're playing.
Edited: January 22, 2019, 3:34 PM · Scott: yes at the end of the day when we perform, we don't want to be furiously calculating. What I suggest is simply the first step. Once mastered, then of course we just feel then music. There is still a beauty to the complexity of this rhythm and the evenness of the bottom triplet, so I think it's worth it to spend a bit of time on it.

Your suggestion of listening to someone doing it properly is great and I completely agree, but that brings with it the prerequisite of being able to identify what is correct or not in the first place.

To help, here is an example of what NOT to do. Starts at 20:36

Here is a further list of people whose rhythm you should NOT imitate: Ehnes, Ferras, Ray Chen, Perlman, Mutter, Oistrakh, Batiashvilli, Szeryng, Kavakos, Heifetz, Zukerman.

On the other hand... believe it or not, the following is the ONLY video on youtube I can find of someone playing it properly. Starts at 21:04

Good luck :)

January 22, 2019, 1:10 PM · I had a feeling it would be Hahn.

I'm not really bothered by the difference, and in this case, Mutter sounds better to my ear than how Hahn plays it. More organic, and the line actually makes sense to me more as a listener, whereas it sounds a little stilted with how Hahn plays it. I'm not sitting here with a stop-watch, and I haven't seen the music, but it could be a limitation in the notation. Of course, it coooould be some deficiency with me...

Speaking of Hahn, the way she plays the staccato passage in thirds in the third movement blows everyone else out of the water.

January 22, 2019, 3:46 PM · James, maybe that list of performers suggests it's not as important as you think it is.
Edited: January 22, 2019, 8:02 PM · Well yes it's not really that important in the grand scheme of things. This rhythm literally never occurs in any other violin piece, so understandably 95% of people are going to be screwing it up because they've never had to do it before/will never have to do it again. But I mean why allow those couple of bars to be wrong? For example no one ever plays the rhythm of the opening few bars of the movement wrong, and if they did, there would be uproar. To me this feels like double standards. Sibelius chose such an amazing texture with this 3 against 4. The intensity and struggle is simply not captured if the rhythm is not right, and it's a shame no one cares/people are saying it doesn't really matter. Of course some freedom is allowed, but the above mentioned soloists aren't even close to correct! I am a composer too, and I would appreciate if the performers actually tried to play my notes and rhythms, rather than simply do what is convenient and easy... which is why I appreciate that Nina wants to play this the right way.
January 23, 2019, 11:19 AM · Interesting to see with Mutter how the "shoulder napkin" goes on and off.

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