by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov

Chapter IV

Lesson Notes:
This lesson discusses artificial effects, the use of percussion instruments for rhythm and color, and economy in orchestral color. This is the last instructional lesson for the course and the next lesson will be a wrap up and conclusion of the course.

Artificial effects.

I apply this name to some orchestral operations which are based on certain defects of hearing and faculty of perception. Having no wish to specify those that already exist or to foretell those which may yet be invented, I will mention, in passing, a few which have been used by me in my own works. To this class belong glissando scales or arpeggios in the harp, the notes of which do not correspond with those played simultaneously by other instruments, but which are used from the fact that long glissandi are more resonant and brilliant than short ones.

Score References & Musical Examples Using GPO:

No. 275. The Golden Cockerel, Section 3 - (replaces Pan Voyevoda Section 128);

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References :
Pan Voyevoda Section 128);
Snegourotchka Section 325 (cf. Ex. 95)
Pan Voyevoda Section 128.
Sheherazade, 3rd movement Section M, 5th bar (cf. Ex. 248).
Russian Easter Fête Section D (cf. Ex. 248).
Enharmonic glissando in the strings should also be mentioned.
The Christmas Night Section 180) - cello glissando

No. 276. Cellos Glissando Example - (Replaces 'The Christmas Night', Section 810).

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Use of percussion instruments for rhythm
and color.

Whenever some portion of the orchestra executes a rhythmic figure, percussion instruments should always be employed concurrently. An insignificant and playful rhythm is suitable to the triangle, tambourine, castanets and side drum, a vigorous and straightforward rhythm may be given to the bass drum, cymbals and gong. The strokes on these instruments should almost invariably correspond to the strong beats of the bar, highly-accented syncopated notes or disconnected sforzandi. The triangle, side drum and tambourine are capable of various rhythmic figures. Sometimes the percussion is used separately, independently of any other group of instruments.

The brass and wood-wind are the two groups which combine the most satisfactorily with percussion from the standpoint of color.

Professor Belkin Comments: For rhythmic passages, brass, especially trumpets and trombones, remain the instruments of choice, due to their crisp attack. Strings, pizzicato, are also excellent with rhythmic percussion. On the other hand, percussion used for COLOR, with strings (e.g. vibraphone, bells, etc.) is now very common.

The triangle, side drum, and tambourine go best with harmony in the upper register; cymbals, bass drum and gong with harmony in the lower.

Professor Belkin Comments: The principles here is that the percussion should be in the same register as the music around it; high instruments can sound strange with very low percussion and vice versa, unless the effect desired is deliberate contrast.

The following are the combinations most generally employed: tremolo on the triangle and tambourine with trills in wood-wind and violins; tremolo on the side drum, or cymbals struck with drum sticks, and sustained chords on trumpets and horns; tremolo on the bass drum or the gong with chords on trombones or low sustained notes on 'cellos and double basses. It must not be forgotten that the bass drum, cymbals, gong and a tremolo on the side drum, played fortissimo, is sufficient to overpower any orchestral tutti.

Professor Belkin Comments: Trumpets and timpani are a classic combination as well.

* The reader will find instances of the use of percussion instruments in any full score, and in several examples of the present work.

Sheherazade pp. 107-119, also many passages in 4th movement:
Antar Section 40, Section 43 (cf. Ex. 73, 29).
Spanish capriccio Section P (cf. Ex. 64); the cadences to be studied in the 4th movement, where they are accompanied by various percussion instruments.
Russian Easter Fête Section K (cf. Ex. 217).
Legend of Kitesh Section 196-197 - "The Battle of Kerjemetz".
Pan Voyevoda Section 71-72

Economy in orchestral color.

Neither musical feeling nor the ear itself can stand, for long, the full resources of the orchestra combined together. The favorite group of instruments is the strings, then follow in order the wood-wind, brass, kettle-drums, harps, pizzicato effects, and lastly the percussion, also, in point of order, triangle, cymbals, big drum, side drum, tambourine, gong. Further removed stand the celesta, glockenspiel and xylophone, which instruments, though melodic, are too characteristic in timbre to be employed over frequently. The same may be said of the piano and castanets. A quantity of national instruments not included in the present work may be incorporated into the orchestra; such are the guitar, the domra, zither, mandolin, the oriental tambourine, small tambourine etc. These instruments are employed from time to time for descriptive-aesthetic purposes.

These instruments are most frequently used in the above-named order. A group of instruments which has been silent for some time gains fresh interest upon its reappearance. The trombones, trumpets and tuba are occasionally tacet for long periods, the percussion is seldom employed, and practically never all together, but in single instruments or in two's and three's. In national dances or music in ballad style, percussion instruments may be used more freely.

After a long rest the re-entry of the horns, trombones and tuba should coincide with some characteristic intensity of tone, either pp or ff; piano and forte re-entries are less successful, while re-introducing these instruments mezzo-forte or mezzo-piano produces a colorless and common-place effect. This remark is capable of wider application. For the same reasons it is not good to commence or finish any piece of music either mf or mp. The scope of the musical examples in this work does not permit of illustrating by quotation the use of economy in orchestral color, nor the re-entry of instruments thrown into prominence by prolonged rests. The reader must examine these questions in full scores.

Professor Belkin Comments: This simple piece of advice by RK is one of the most useful: FRESHNESS of color is more important than exotic color. Even an oboe, silent for a few minutes, can be superbly effective, just because it is fresh.

RK also touches an important principle of composition here: aim for clarity of definition of effect. Badly crafted music inevitably sounds tepid.

Choir and Voice.

Rimsky-Korsakov included some material on opera and voice. However, this course will not cover the last chapters dealing with opera and voice although we may add this material at a later time later when the choir library is complete.

Next Lesson: Course wrap up.

Copyright 2006