October 2018 rehearsal and practice wiki archive

Mahler – Symphony No. 3

Here’s a link to the rehearsal schedule.

Rehearsal Days 1 and 2 – Saturday 22nd and Sunday 23rd September

Mel writes:


Wow what a feat of stamina that needed to run the entire thing!

Despite the difficult notes in the first movement, the second movement might be more tricky because it has so much push and pull, plus it generally seems to be more exposed for a lot of people. Andrew adds – check out this performance of the second movement. It pushes and pulls without being frenetic, and especially listen to how much sound and colour the large string section makes, even when playing pp. We should all definitely play up and out in this movement, using articulation and phrase to create the lightness, just like the LSO!

There’s a lot to take in when using parts that haven’t been played from before. Here are a few crucial translations for string players:
– geth. or getheilt – divisi
– am steg – on the bridge
– Griffbrett – fingerboard
– Doppelgriff – double stop
– mit dem Bogen geschlagen – col legno (to be discussed!!)

Bowing will be sent out after the Sunday 23rd rehearsal (today). Some areas of parts are unclear on notes – 1st violins please see the attached which has clarifications and divisi instructions! Other string section leaders have worked these out too and will have their own way of communicating them 🙂

Andrew writes:

I echo Mel’s comments. What a fantastic effort to sight-read the entire piece in an afternoon. Once that initial hurdle was over, we were able to make some really good progress. I’ll transcribe the content from the white sheets (WS), below, along with my own comments/suggestions. I’ll add to this as more come in, perhaps in different colours for stuff that’s from different rehearsal days.

Here’s the glossary of terms that Mel refers to, above (click on the thumbnails to open the image, then click on the photo to zoom):






1st movement

  • Horns at 5 before 1 (and equivalent place later in the movement), don’t rush down the scale.
  • Figure 2 (and everywhere else!) – full crotchets!
  • WS – 10 before Figure 5 is in 3 (as the bar is organised into 3 triplet minims)
  • 9 before Figure 5 is in 2 (against Mahler’s wishes!), but the overall speed only notches up slightly (‘Bewegt’ or ‘Animated’), which allows a bit more rubato. Sometimes I’ll show the 4th crotchet beat in a bar, especially from the upbeat to Figure 5, when the cellos and basses have their crazy upward scales, Mahler lets me hold back the downbeat to the next bar so they have time to fit all the notes in. Keep an eye on the beat to make sure you’re not early!
  • WS – Figure 7, glissandi towards the end of the bar, mostly on the last crotchet beat (or even later if that’s the way you need to make it work on your instrument).
  • Bar before Figure 8, horns, treat the first 3 quintuplet quavers as a triplet on the first (minim) beat, then I’ll show the last two crotchet beats, pausing on the last one. Those who’ve got glissandi, don’t start them until the upbeat to the next bar.
  • Figure 10 – horns 5-8, don’t be caught out by the a tempo after the accelerando in the two bars before. Wait for the second beat and make your triplet crotchets quite portentous!
  • Figure 11 – in 4 crochets, with shakes, trills and minims, all very light, fading off to each half bar.
  • Figure 13 – starting off in crotchets, but moving into minims (l’istesso tempo)
  • General note about dotted rhythms (do I really need to say it?!) – leave the short notes later and shorter – don’t close the gaps.
  • Figure 18 – in 4 crotchets
  • 7 before Figure 29 – suddenly much slower – watch for the third beat!
  • Figure 29 – back into minim beats.
  • 5 before Figure 35 – back into 4 crotchets (but l’istesso tempo)
  • Figure 36, as instructed by Mahler, all grace notes before the beat.
  • Figure 43 – cellos and basses, don’t make life difficult for yourselves by rushing. A good practice tempo is crotchet = 108.
  • Good practice speed for the horrible bit at Figure 50 is around crotchet = 138.
  • Figure 55 – horns, please don’t forget that we’re back at the original tempo. Don’t hurry!
  • Bar before Figure 59 – back into minim beats (without altering the tempo)
  • Figure 62 – back into crotchets.
  • Upbeat to 2 before Figure 73 is held back, so keep ’em peeled in the bar leading up to it.
  • Figure 74, same deal as before Figure 29 – wait for the 3rd beat. Then we push forward from 2 before Figure 75, then a kick forward at Figure 75, the 5th of Figure 75 and Figure 76. Whilst it’s exciting, don’t push the tempo forward between these points, too much. We need to be able to play the notes!

2nd movement

  • With a couple of exceptions, there’s usually a lot more time and most players can usually make a lot more sound in this movement. Pianissimo does not mean play timidly (which will kill the line) and Tempo di Menuetto does not mean a Viennese Waltz (crotchet = 80 is a good place to start)!
  • Take care to mark in a pair of glasses for the various pull backs. Again, as a general rule (there are a couple of exceptions noted below), most of the pull backs happen on the crotchet upbeat directly before the a tempo that follows. Mahler usually marks them a bar or two earlier, which aligns with my theory that before you actually do a pull back, you need to be preparing for it a few beats ahead. In other words, don’t put the brakes on too hard when you see the rit. or rall. marking – save it for the upbeat!
  • Figure 3 is marked L’istesso tempo and that’s the aim – the only reason it will skip along a bit is if we choose to rush it. This will probably happen – it’s the nature of the music, so a good practice speed is crotchet = 88.
  • The quintuplets after Figure 3 in the violins, with the 1st flute added some bars later, were always rushing. Set your metronome and get used to how slow it feels to play them in time. There’s plenty of space to fit them in and your fingers will move a lot slower than you think! Be aware that oboes and clarinet stay in straight semiquavers during the first part of that passage, so there will be a bit of conflict.
  • Mahler is meticulous in marking Figures 4 and 5 l’istesso tempo (sempre l’istesso tempo at Figure 5!). Practice tapping the quaver beat between the duple and triple time (the beat stays the same, so the quavers/semiquavers get a bit quicker at Figure 5, but not by much). Oboe and clarinets, please sort the notes out at Figure 5 before the next rehearsal.
  • Probably the hardest section we came across was Figure 12. It really needs to be play with aggressive dynamics (especially the crescendos) to be effective, so please be familiar with the notes and go for it. Most of it is an effect.
  • Figure 14 is an exception to the rit rule, above. The upbeat is suddenly back in the opening tempo – there is no warning. So maybe a pair of glasses and an exclamation mark in the parts at that point.
  • Figure 16 is another exception to the rit rule. We’ll get really slow here, to the extent to which the last semiquaver upbeat, played by Caroline on 1st flute, will be super-late and super-slow. Caroline did this brilliantly at Rehearsal 2, so please don’t bust the downbeat!
  • Five before Figure 18, Mahler writes nicht eilen, which as you all know from the glossary above, means ‘don’t hurry’. This is particularly for the 1st violins, so we’ll take a nice little bit of time here.
  • The end – every time we played it on the first weekend (2 or 3 times), I had to say, ‘Come off after the second beat, don’t hang on!’ (as per Mahler’s instructions). I even indicated it very clearly. I understand that everyone was sight-reading, but once you start playing the last note, and there’s no more notes, surely it’s possible for everyone to look up? Please! (Violas – to be fair, you have a dotted minim printed in your parts, incorrectly – and this may be in other parts. If there’s a dot, please cross it out and watch.)

3rd movement

  • A reminder that ‘Ohne Rücksicht auf dem Takt’ means, ‘Without reference to the beat’. Have a listen to some recordings to get the impression of what you should be doing, if you have this instruction.
  • WS The bar before 24 has 2nd and 3rd trombone playing, but it’s not in the part (it is for 3rd, maybe in 4th). Andrew responds: it should be in the 2nd and 3rd parts.
  • Figure 28 – Mahler actually marks this passage to be done, ‘Through listening’. In other words, he doesn’t want the conductor to micro-manage it in 6 quaver beats, even though it’s quite slow. So, I’ll get out of the way and you’ll all just have to listen really hard!
  • Figure 31 is suddenly very held back. From the seventh bar, I go into 1 beat in the bar (and the tempo gets even slower at this point). If you’re counting bars rest, don’t be put off by the 3 beats I’m indicating in the 5th, 2nd and last bars before Figure 32. These are to help the horns keep their triplets together. The upbeat to the ‘original’ tempo at Figure 32 should be clear enough.
  • WS A note from Tom about how to cover the muted/open changeovers near the end of the 3rd movement. Please could the affected players download & print the relevant pages from IMSLP (link was in the part allocation email you received).
    • Fig.31: horns 4,5 & 6 fade off after 2 bars, take mutes out ready for bar 5.
      Horns 7&8 double horn 6 for 5th-8th bars after 31 (1,2&3 omit these bars while removing mutes)
    • 11th bar after 32, until end of the movement:
      • Bumper and horn 7 double 1st horn part
      • Horn 8 double 4th horn part
      • Horns 1 to 5 join back in once mutes removed

4th movement

  • Here’s a link to the text and translation, so you know what Harriet is singing about.
  • Starts in (slow) minims beats.
  • Figure 1 – cellos, don’t worry about being too precise with your septuplets. Mahler stipulates that they’re an effect, and that he doesn’t expect (nor want) them to be played together.
  • Two before Figure 2 will be in 5, colla voce with the mezzo and horns.
  • I will show the triplet minims on the second beat of 4 before Figure 4, and the third beat of the bar before Figure 4.
  • Figure 5 will be in (4) crotchets. It’s a touch slower than previously, but more importantly, I show all the violin and horn septuplets and triplets. For the septuplets, imagine the first 3 quavers are in fact triplet crotchets, and the last 4 quavers are straight quavers. I’ll show the triplet in the first half of the bar, then crotchet beats (getting slower) in the second half of the bar. This is how we keep the septuplets together.
  • Back into minims 4 before Figure 6.
  • 3rd of Figure 8 will be in 4, but I won’t show the 3rd beat until Michael has reached his second pause. The third beat then allows Tom to come in off it, with the fourth beat where Michael begins his triplet. Hopefully the downbeat to the next bar should be clear for the violas, cellos and basses! We’ll then stay in 4 for the time being.
  • There is a breath comma at the end of the sixth bar before Figure 9 (we’ve held back towards the end of the bar, so there’s plenty of time for the last note, then the comma).
  • Four before Figure 10, same deal as Figure 5, above, with one important difference: in the third bar of ten, change the rhythm in the second half of a bar from triplet crotchets, to quaver (coming off the tie), crotchet, quaver (tied to the quaver at the start of the next bar). That way, you can simply react off the beats, which I’ll pull around to create the effect of the triplet, as we then move up the syncopated scale with some urgency, anyway.
  • SINGERS – you’ll stand at the third bar before Figure 11, as quietly and subtly as humanly possible.
  • Second of Figure 11 – back into minims.
  • Movement V follows without a break, so please sort out any page turns so as not to disturb the quiet at the end of the movement.

5th movement

6th movement

  • All the beginning, all the string parts have the marking, Sehr gebunden, which means very legato. 1st violins also have sehr ausdrucksvoll gesungen, which means ‘sung with great expression’. i.e. Everyone needs to plan to play with a lot of expression and sound – don’t be fooled by pp (as per my comment on the 2nd movement). All the little hairpins need to be used to create wonderful broadness.
  • SINGERS – you’ll sit during the sixth bar of Figure 2, as quietly and subtly as humanly possible.
  • Figure 4 moves on a bit (Nicht mehr so breit – ‘not quite so broad’)
  • Figure 5 moves on some more.
  • Before Figure 7, there are some instructions worth noting:
    • Etwas zögernd – means somewhat hesitant. Use the accents for this (violins), watch and listen.
    • After Figure 7, there are a couple of instructions to move the music on (initially Etwas drängend (somewhat urgent), then Vörwarts gehen – leidenschäftlich (move forwards, passionately), then accelerando, then a full on molto stringendo. So, lots of awareness needed, and also noting that I’ll break into minim beats at some point (Mahler indicates it should be from 9 before Figure 9, but it may be before that).
  • After the pause the bar before, Figure 9 is back in crotchet beats.
  • Figure 10 a touch held back (Nicht eilen – don’t hurry)
  • Figure 14 is marked a tempo, but Mahler also indicates that it should be ‘somewhat agitated’. We’re going to move it on quite a bit.
  • The four bars before Figure 20 move on very urgently, such that Figure 20 itself is beat in minims.
  • The string entries starting 7 before Figure 21 (2nd violins, with cellos in the next bar, then 1st violins in the next) need to be searingly aggressive.
  • Figure 22 gets broader and broader (Immer breiter), until the 9th bar, when it starts to get ‘imperceptibly more urgent’ (unmerklich drängend). This actually moves on a fair bit. Mahler marks that I should beat in minims from Figure 24, but I’ll probably move into minim beats from the second bar of Figure 23.
  • Back into crotchets at Figure 25, then two before Figure 26, where it’s marked Sehr zurückhaltend, Mahler instructs me to beat this in 8 quavers (i.e. a split four pattern). At Figure 26, it goes back into crotchets, but we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking the beat stays the same speed. The crotchets are still very slow.
  • Figure 28 to Figure 29 gets increasingly broad, then Figure 29 clicks back into a slightly more flowing tempo.
  • Please mark in the comma at Figure 31. It’ll be at least a (slow) beat long.
  • The crescendo leading into Figure 32 should be led by the 1st trumpet. Watch and we’ll grade it together.
  • We talked a little about how Mahler gives a specific instruction for everyone not just to play ‘blastissimo’ at the end of the symphony: Nicht mit roher Kraft. Gesättigten, edlen Ton (Not with crude strength. With a full, noble sound). This is particularly apt for the Great Hall, where the sound does not need to be forced, and especially when forcing it may be at the expense of tuning. With that in mind, we’ll add just a little more brightness to the last three chords – but there is no need to try to play any louder on the last chord (Mahler ‘completes’ the sound by adding the bottom octave via the bassoons, tuba and double basses).

More general white sheet comments

  • Tuning – re-establishing a bit of discipline when tuning. Wind and brass – please don’t play ‘concertos’ during tuning. Stick to the A or other useful notes for tuning. Quite a few players have more than one instrument to tune. Strings – Mel will stand up until everyone has finished on their A string, so please don’t move to other strings until she sits down.
  • A plea from the floor, obviously not applicable to the Mahler, but where letter in the music are being referred to, please could we have a word to go with the letter, e.g. “B for Breakfast”. For my ears, various letters on their own sound the same: B, C, D, E, T; F and S, etc. (I sometimes don’t even catch the number in time to find them). Sorry, but my ears aren’t what they used to be! Andrew responds: ‘Of course – you don’t need to apologise! I do try to use words to reinforce letters, and repeat them several times, and speak slowly. Sometimes, in the cut and thrust of the rehearsal, I forget. Do forgive me and keep reminding me. :-)’
  • Mahler marked one of his scores:
    • Movement 1
      • Figure 44 – The Rabble
      • Figure 49 – The Battle Begins
      • Figure 51 – The Southerly Storm
    • And Mengelberg marked the violin solo at 39 as “Declaration of love”. He studied the score with Mahler, so it may have come from him.