Piece which starts with casual tuning?
I am beginning to write a piece for string quartet, and I had this strange idea to start the piece with the musicians casually tuning, then slowly morphing that combination of sounds into something comprehensible. I think it would be a really cool and interesting start to a concert, but am wondering if this idea has already been taken by a famous composer? It just seems too good to be true that I'm the first to use this concept, as interesting/silly as it is...
The beginning of the Berg violin concerto comes to mind. I wouldn’t call it casual tuning but it was intended to evoke that idea.
Haydn did something similar in one of his symphonies if I remember correctly. Before the last movement the violins had to tune their G down to F (sharp?). Then, after a fermata, they all retuned before the music resumed.
Made me think of the Wieniawski Dudziarz. I wouldn't be surprised to hear that it's been done before, considering all the different kinds of extended technique I've heard in contemporary music.
Some banjo players have outfitted their instruments with "Scruggs tuners", which enable them to quickly tune a string down a half step and back up again. This is used in tunes like
Careful what you call casual—in 50 years, they may play your piece in the greatest halls with penguin tuxedos and stone-cold faces.
I wrote a piece in the mid-80s that began with an apparent sound check, for a group that used sound reinforcement. "Check, test, can you hear OK?" With claps and other sounds associated with sound checks until people just started to figure out that something was going on, and then the sound come together in a rhythm. It was pretty effective. If you can ride that edge between it seeming awkward and seeming intentional, I think it has promise. Other aspects of my piece dealt with technology in interesting ways, so the ideal path, IMO, would be to figure out what you are intending to say with it, since it will be a powerful device. As a gimmick, it seems less appealing, I think. But I say, go for it!
You could specify in the score that the music must not be played wearing penguin suits. You could maybe specify dashiki shirts or purple Nehru jackets.
James, check out Corigliano's Oboe Concerto. The first movement, called "Tuning Game," does what you are describing (although the "comprehensible" requirement is up to the listener's taste :) ).
The ball scene in Mozart's 'Don Giovanni' has three little orchestras on stage which simultaneously play different dances that reflect the social classes of the characters. The dances begin with simulated tuning.
@Albrecht - It's Haydn's symphony No.60 "Il Distratto". After a very short introduction to the tiny finale the violins for some reason decide to play double open strings and discover their G's are all tuned to F. Exactly why that should be defeats me. The retuning is supposed to happen in tempo which is prestissimo so that gives them about 5 seconds. It would be considerate of him not to ask the violins to use their G-strings for the rest of the movement, but the seconds are supposed to play a few C's. Another difficulty in performance lies in everyone tuning their G-strings down between movements without the audience twigging that a "joke" is coming up. It probably works best if you really do it slickly in tempo without making a great deal of fuss, which is what usually happens.
Are you thinking of this piece? Varese - tuning up. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z0z19ZVBybM
How about Miles Davis?
@James - that's hilarious! The only thing missing is the second violin who breaks a string and has to dash offstage for a replacement - as happened to me in the same place, 40 years earlier...
James Woodrow - yes something like this!! My goodness, I'm reading that it was conceived already in 1946.. I guess it's really hard to be original these days...
Re the Varese, it was completed by Chou Wen-Chung (his student). It's not completely clear how much is original or a completion. It has lots of material from Ameriques in it though, and sound distinctively like Varese.
James D, the concept reminds me of a community orchestra rehearsal I once had the misfortune to deputize in. The "conductor" didn't notice - or just didn't care ;)
The Danish composer Rued Langgaard has a tuning imitation in his 6th string quartet. Not in the beginning though. The quartet is in one movement and consists of variation episodes over a Swedish folk tune. In one of the transitions the first violin plays a series of open string fifths as if tuning.
I, like Mary Ellen, thought of the Berg concerto
Copland's Hoedown (from Rodeo) begins with simulated tuning.
There’s a cute little piece by Mussorgsky, an arrangement for violin and piano called “Hopak” with a similar idea. Makes a nice encore. Milstein and Rosand liked to play it.
Steve, about that Haydn symphony and its practical difficulty: Couldn't you play the whole symphony with the G down a second? You'd just have play in "scordatura", nothing will be unplayable. I also think Haydn wouldn't force you to be sticking to that presto while the joke is ongoing.
Seems a lot of trouble to go to for a joke! At the end of the first movement exposition the seconds play a GDF chord which would be kind of awkward...
On one of Eric Idle's albums they did a band tuning up and then breaking into song:
Any middle school fiddle piece.
I can't give the details, but years ago I heard a BBC broadcast in which, after mentioning Haydn's Farewell Symphony, they played a symphny by a not very prominent composer of that period, in which. at the beginning, players came on stage at different times, tuned, and then played with everyone else already present. Anyone with the time to trudge through years of BBC archives can probably find it.
Steve, I played that Haydn piece in my orchestra, once.
I think it’s a really good idea!
Saint Saens Danse Macabre - the solo violin entry is sort-of tuning noises, though whether they count as 'casual' or not......
An example of something like this in musical theater is the opening of A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim. The musical opens with 5 singers of the chorus doing warm-up exercises for about 30 seconds.