Danse macabre

November 24, 2019, 2:01 PM · So I searched online for performances of danse macabre, and was surprised to see that the soloist always remained seated. Is this normal?

Replies (18)

November 24, 2019, 2:31 PM · Yes.
It's a LEADER (CONCERTMASTER) solo.
And written like that in the orchestral parts.
November 24, 2019, 3:19 PM · The awkward part here is that our first violin section for that piece is reduced to only two players. The way we have rehearsed it is with the third chair 1st moving forward to share the first desk with the second chair first, and I have been standing. We also had to un-divide the parts at letter G because it sounds awkward with only one instrument on each part there.
Edited: November 24, 2019, 3:23 PM · Yes. What Malcolm said. It's the same sort of solo as Scheherezade, Heldenleben (although definitely shorter and easier than either of those), or the solo in the slow movement of Brahms 1. It's a concertmaster solo printed in the parts, played by the concertmaster in the course of the orchestral performance, not by a special soloist. It isn't a concerto.

Editing because of cross-posting. The awkward aspect of your performance is that your orchestra is evidently trying to perform a piece written for a full string section with only three violinists. Why would you do that?

November 24, 2019, 3:22 PM · Re Malcolm not sure what you mean by it being written that way. The solo violin part I'm reading omits the first violin parts, and the first violin part omits the solo.
November 24, 2019, 3:33 PM · It's a community orchestra. We do a lot of stuff like that. Last season we played Jupiter by Holst, if that tells you anything.
November 24, 2019, 4:56 PM · The nature of the solo violin part (the E string is tuned down to E-flat) means that the typical orchestra parts for this (including the Kalmus which is available on IMSLP) separate the solo violin part from the violin 1 part (and remind the solo violin to play notes that would normally be on the E string, on the A string, due to the scordatura). There are plenty of long rests that facilitate turning pages, though, so it's feasible to put two parts on a single stand in order to not require giving the concertmaster their own stand. But the way this seems to commonly be done is that the concertmaster gets a stand to themselves and the alignment of the first violin section is slightly altered to accommodate fitting in more "horizontal" space for the extra stand.

I agree with Mary Ellen that if you don't have a string section large enough for divisi parts, though, your music director probably shouldn't choose pieces that also pull the concertmaster out of the section. You might need to recruit some extra players for this concert. Many community orchestras do not have enough string players, and this restricts the feasible repertoire.

This is neither a violin concerto nor a concert work for solo violin with orchestra. It's a symphonic poem. Says so right there in the title at the top of the music. So the concertmaster plays the solo and stays seated.

I dunno about your community orchestra, but mine (and all community orchestras I've played with over the years) normally does full works, like a professional symphony would, not just excerpts the way that student orchestras do -- i.e. we did The Planets (in its multiple movements), not just Jupiter.

November 24, 2019, 6:17 PM · Thanks, Lydia. Looks like I have a puzzle to figure out now. Separating the two 1sts doesn't seem like it would work, so perhaps I should plan on setting up camp next to the 1sts. 1sts in the front with me and 2nds behind us.
November 24, 2019, 6:38 PM · Form a semi circle slightly larger than the usual semicircle formed by the front desks. You, the pair of first violins, seconds, violas, cello. Additional stands lined up behind the front desks. Very simple.
November 25, 2019, 4:41 AM · You can actually play that solo part also with a normally tuned violin, and then play along when it is tutti. When you have only 3 violinists, this may make sense.
November 25, 2019, 8:02 AM · Or you can do the solo tuning and simply shift up for the tutti parts. There's an IMSLP rendition that conveniently puts both the solo and tutti parts in a single combined part.
November 25, 2019, 8:04 AM · Yes, Jean, but it changes the tone colour totally
It's stopped E flat and A instead of two open strings
Edited: November 25, 2019, 10:02 AM · Malcolm somehow I expect the loyal audience of the 3-violin community orchestra under discussion not to be too scandalized about getting served the stopped-string version instead of the open-string version of the danse macabre ;-)

Actually, as a side remark, Simon Fischer has suggested the tone-production exercise where you try to make your open string sound as close as you can to a stopped string, and also vice versa.

Lydia: I seem to recall there are passages with string crossings there, is it really that simple?

November 25, 2019, 12:58 PM · Actually, for each violin solo, the violinist arises from a coffin placed next to the conductor.
November 25, 2019, 1:33 PM · Oh, yeah, you're right. There's the four-string bit. The soloist could drop out for it, or reach up half a step for the E string note. The violins aren't divisi there, so you'd still have two on the part even without the soloist.

I think part of the intent here is to deliberately get the stridency of the open E string. You can mask that stridency, but you can't really get equivalent stridency when the note is stopped on the A string. I assume the intent is to get a "fiddler from hell" sound, rather than more of a refined classical sound.

November 25, 2019, 3:17 PM · The intent is absolutely "fiddler from hell." The violin was traditionally considered the devil's instrument and Saint-Saens is making reference to this in the instrumentation. The diminished fifth in the scordatura tuning is another reference (the "devil's interval"). I can't imagine this piece without the scordatura tuning.
November 25, 2019, 6:20 PM · I think the last time I did that one I used two violins, regular and scordatura. We used two stands at the front desk, and I did both the solo and tutti parts.
December 3, 2019, 6:24 PM · Thought Danse MacAbre was a Highland Scottish dance.
December 4, 2019, 7:22 AM · "Thought Danse MacAbre was a Highland Scottish dance. "

It is-- we just call it the Sword dance. :)

(Can you tell Sword isn't exactly my best dance? LOL)


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