Turandot

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Finetales
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Turandot

Post by Finetales »

Hot on the heels of my very successful (not) Salome post in this forum, I come to you after just finishing a run of Turandot, curious about the trombone parts and what instruments they were actually written for.

Of course, the conventional wisdom with Puccini and Verdi is that it's always 3 (tenor) valve trombones and a contrabass valve trombone in B flat. But Turandot is a unique outlier in that it not only has a part that is always marked as "Trombone Basso" and another that is always marked as "Trombone Contrabbasso", but also has a so-assumed "tenor" part that goes far below the low E you would expect to find as the lowest note in a part written for tenor valve trombone.

First, the instrumentation in question:

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The two low trombone parts are marked with red dots. At the top we find the brass in the pit, with the expected 3 tenors/1 contrabass. At the bottom we find the additional on-stage brass, with 3 tenors and a bass.

The banda bass trombone part plays insultingly little, even less than the 2 saxophone parts. It stays within F in the staff and Db below the staff.

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That's...pretty much the part apart from a few long notes. Maybe this part was meant for a military bass trombone in F? It would warrant the specific label and make sense with the onstage banda, which is presumably a town band of some sort.

Not much to report about the orchestra contrabass trombone part either, apart from that Puccini was careful to not let the part go below Gb below the staff.

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Starting after the second fermata, the whole orchestra plays this line in unison octaves, and everyone but the contrabass trombone goes down to the F instead of of up in the first measure of the second line. Odd note to set a hard limit at...unless it was written for an instrument with 3 valves in C??

Ok, but all of that isn't too odd. What IS odd is the orchestra 3rd trombone part, not marked as bass or contrabass.

Allow me to demonstrate with score examples:

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(^that note happens quite a few times)

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And before you think "eh, the copyist just put any 3-note trombone voicings in the top staff and called it a day":

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The score is quite explicit with what it wants. There is one noticeable discrepancy between the score and parts, where the 3rd and contra are shown in octave Ebs in the score but both have the low Eb (below the staff) in the parts, in turn giving yet another low note to the 3rd trombone rather than taking one away.

So...being as this was Puccini's last work (which he didn't quite finish before he died in 1924) and decades had passed since things like La Boheme, were the trombonists Puccini was writing for now using slide trombones with (at least in the case of the 3rd trombonist) F attachments? Or were they still on valve trombones but the 3rd trombonist had a 4-valve instrument? Or, did Puccini just write it down and assume the players would figure it out?
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Re: Turandot

Post by CalgaryTbone »

OK - trying this again. The 2nd time in a couple of days that the Chat "ate my homework!"

I've encountered valve notes in some Italian Opera parts (including 1st parts) from that era. I think they were using valve trombones with 4 rotary valves at that time. The low "C" you showed would have presented a tuning issue (but there are lots of those with valve trombones). With all 4 valves engaged, there is a note that approaches low "C" - no worse than on most tenors or single valve basses of our time.

No idea about the lowest part, but these days, an F cimbasso would probably be the best choice, although a lot of pick-up gigs would go to either a bass trombone or a tuba.

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Re: Turandot

Post by LeTromboniste »

Two things I see. One is that yes, there were 4-valve trombones, another is that bass valve trombones in F and Eb existed, and that would not necessarily have been specified in the score. I don't know tons about so late, but in the 19th century it seems pretty clear that the 3rd trombone part was often played with 4 valves, or with a bass. Even long before the invention of the "Trombone Basso Verdi" (I.e. Contrabass in Bb), the bottom trombone often had notes below the staff. The invention of the Trombone Basso Verdi came quite late (mid 1880s), and not to provide a section previously exclusively of tenors with a lower voice, but to replace the non-standardized large variety of instruments that were in use to play cimbasso parts.
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Re: Turandot

Post by Finetales »

LeTromboniste wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 1:23 am Two things I see. One is that yes, there were 4-valve trombones, another is that bass valve trombones in F and Eb existed, and that would not necessarily have been specified in the score. I don't know tons about so late, but in the 19th century it seems pretty clear that the 3rd trombone part was often played with 4 valves, or with a bass.
Makes sense. But why then would Puccini make sure the 4th banda part was specifically notated as "trombone basso" but not the 3rd trombone in the orchestra? Was it just tradition to not specify the normal 3rd part and let it be played on either 4-valve tenor or valve bass, but extra parts needed that specification?
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Re: Turandot

Post by LeTromboniste »

Finetales wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 8:53 am
LeTromboniste wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 1:23 am Two things I see. One is that yes, there were 4-valve trombones, another is that bass valve trombones in F and Eb existed, and that would not necessarily have been specified in the score. I don't know tons about so late, but in the 19th century it seems pretty clear that the 3rd trombone part was often played with 4 valves, or with a bass.
Makes sense. But why then would Puccini make sure the 4th banda part was specifically notated as "trombone basso" but not the 3rd trombone in the orchestra? Was it just tradition to not specify the normal 3rd part and let it be played on either 4-valve tenor or valve bass, but extra parts needed that specification?
I'm honestly more puzzled by the "Trombone contrabasso". As far as I know "Trombone basso" typically refered to the BBb contrabass. Every other Puccini score I can think of has Tromboni I-III (the lowest of which sometimes includes notes not available on a 3-valved Bb instrument) and "Trombone basso" (i.e. Trombone basso Verdi, a BBb contrabass, the replacement for the various instruments refered to as "cimbasso"). Also interesting that for Turandot, the actual parts merely say "Trombone basso", as usual, and "Trombone basso sul palco" for the on-stage part. Only the score mentions "contrabasso".

What might be the case here is that the band being military/fanfare instruments, it for sure didn't include a BBb contra, but should include an F or Eb bass typically in use in those bands, hence the specific "basso". Then to avoid any confusion about the two instruments, the orchestra part is labeled with a more specific term than it usually is (contrabasso instead of the usual mere basso), to clarify that the part is indeed for the usual instrument in BBb, and not for another bass like the one used onstage.
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Re: Turandot

Post by LeTromboniste »

Also keep in mind that Puccini died before Turandot was completed and edited. The end is not fully Puccini's, for instance. It's possible that the unusual labeling of those parts is not Puccini's but changed/added by the editor Ricordi.
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Re: Turandot

Post by Finetales »

LeTromboniste wrote: Tue Jun 11, 2024 4:54 pmWhat might be the case here is that the band being military/fanfare instruments, it for sure didn't include a BBb contra, but should include an F or Eb bass typically in use in those bands, hence the specific "basso". Then to avoid any confusion about the two instruments, the orchestra part is labeled with a more specific term than it usually is (contrabasso instead of the usual mere basso), to clarify that the part is indeed for the usual instrument in BBb, and not for another bass like the one used onstage.
This is what I figured was the case!
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