Ballet music and the piccolo by Lois Schaefer

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April 1991


By Lois Schaefer

In the seven movements of the Ballet Music of Faust by Gounod, the piccolo shines as an important voice in the orchestra in both lyrical and technical passages. The first movement, “A Dance of the Nubian Slaves,” is a waltz with a rather short but beautiful section for the piccolo doubling the flute at the octave.

(Example A)

The second movement, an adagio, is titled “Cleopatra and the Golden Cup,” which also includes a short section for flute and piccolo. Both of these excerpts require a round, soft tone. In the following excerpt, a very precise staccato is also required.

(Example B)

The third and fourth dances can also be used for studies on articulation. The theme of the “Dance Antique” is played by all of the woodwinds, except for the oboe; because the piccolo is the highest voice, it will predominate. Every effort should be made, however, to achieve a good blend.

(Example C)

The tempo marking is Allegretto, and Trevor Wye suggests a metronome marking of [quarter note]=112 in his Piccolo Practice Book, which seems about right because there is no indication in the score. Anyway, this dance is a good double-tonguing exercise and also tests your expertise handling the tied notes.
Let us consider the technique of double tonguing, supposing that everyone has his favorite syllables to say while playing. I have found not for speed, but for openness of sound and immediacy of attack, it is best to use the vowel sound ah after the consonants T and K. Don’t be tempted to use an eee sound, which moves the T and K closer together in the mouth for faster playing; it leaves little room for the air to pass smoothly over the tongue and thereby making a tight closed sound, especially in the high register.
Play the first measure lightly with little or no emphasis. Do not accent rhythmically the first note of the second measure, as the G is longer and therefore the more important note. Please forget everything you have been taught about first beats being the heaviest in a measure. One must consider the direction of each phrase or segment: does it go up or down? What are the lengths of the notes, and which notes should be stressed? Look at the third measure. Do you wish to stress the first E, or should the sixteenths lead to the next measure, with emphasis on the first beat? Yes, sometimes you should accent first beats. In the next three measures, aim for the tied eighth to sixteenth notes because the sixteenths lead to them; the tied notes are the highest and the longest. Bear in mind these are subtle terms and you should not pounce on these notes.

(Example D)

Near the end of the complete excerpt is the beginning of a triplet pattern. If the tempo is too fast for regular triple tonguing, use a double-tongue pattern with a misplaced accent: Tah, Kah, Tah, Kah, Tah, Kah. You can start the single triplets with Kah so that you land on a Tah. Once you have control of your articulation, you may find that using middle finger F# makes the passage smoother.
The fourth dance is “The Dance of Cleopatra and Her Slaves.” The tempo marking calls for moderato maestoso in [cut] time, and [half note] = 76-80 might be appropriate. This is a fairly brisk tempo for single tonguing, but it allows the attack to be clear and therefore will be well worth the effort. Play the first note lightly, but be slightly heavier on the second note. Don’t anticipate it, and be careful to play the correct rhythm, which is a dotted eighth and sixteenth, not a lazy triplet. You will find that your tongue will go much faster from sixteenth to dotted eighth if you use the syllables Tah Dah, instead of Tah Tah. At the end of the fourth measure is the beginning of a much longer sequence of dotted notes. Try to keep the consonant sounds light as the melody line ascends to the high G. Keep the tempo by feeling it move forward rather than dragging. Measure 8 is the culmination of the crescendo, followed by a short diminuendo.
The next two dances do not include any passages, but the final movement is fast and furious and everyone in the orchestra is involved. This movement is good for practicing fast double tonguing. Now is your chance to be King of the Mountain, riding high above everyone else and insisting they listen to you.

(Example E)

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