Dvorak Piccolo Solos
LET’S TALK PICC January 1994 DVORÁK’S PICCOLO SOLOS Antonin Dvorák’s piccolo solos vary in length from four measures to only one note, and the piccolo player has to sit through the rest of the performance without playing. Although the resting evokes humorous remarks, the solos can be quite tricky. However, Dvorák knew and wrote exactly what was necessary musically. Dvorák incorporated the entire range of the piccolo in the eight Slavonic Dances, Books I and II, Opus 46, written in 1878. Excepting number 4 in Book I, all dances use the piccolo extensively in soloistic passages. Scored for two players, one flute and one piccolo without a second flute, Dvorák was well aware of the piccolo’s color in the orchestral texture. Because all eight dances are orchestrated similarly let us examine number 8 in Book II. This dance is a furious fast movement in 3 with a heavily accented, tied-over third beat that syncopates each four-bar motive. (Example A) Each eight-bar phrase is repeated, and the four different musical ideas are interrupted by a lyrical interlude. The piccolo plays almost continuously throughout the piece, resting only during two short sections, which makes this an endurance test. Remarkably, no other instrument plays as much music as the piccolo, whose color adds to all the other instrumental melodic lines. At A the piccolo part doubles the flute and oboe; and eight bars later the piccolo doubles the flute. In each case the color changes are quite noticeable, yet the piccolo is the only constant. (Example B) In the last theme Dvorák doubles the piccolo with the flute and oboe, but this time he uses the lower octave of the piccolo and the second octave of the flute, creating an unusual unison, a unique sound and beautiful timbre. (Example C) In all the dances of opus 46, Dvorák not only knew the range and color of the piccolo, but also used its special timbre innovatively. Five years after he composed the Slavonic Dances, Dvorák wrote Symphony #6, opus 60 in 1883. He scored the piccolo only in the trio of the scherzo third movement. (Example D) The most difficult aspect of this exposed solo is the intonation of the octave Es, and usually flat B needs to be higher than expected. Added to the difficulty of tuning, the oboe sustains an E, which creates a perfect fifth with the B. Six bars later the same music occurs, but here it is written down a whole step. For the difficult D3 use the fingering T234 234; to insure that the F#2 is not sharp, use the fingering T123 2 4. Here the oboe sustains an F, so be sure to check the intonation with the oboe before rehearsing with the orchestra. (Example E)
In Symphony #7, Dvorák again uses the piccolo in only the scherzo third movement. Here the piccolo continues the flute line up to C, making the line more smooth and less awkward than if played by the flute only. (Example F) The solo in Symphony #8 is the famous 12-measure sustained note which follows the beautiful flute solo. Here the problem is tuning to the flute’s D and entering very softly without attack, and making a slight swell into A. Because the most critical intonation problem is the octave D, finger the D3 T234 234. Having enough air to sustain the D without taking a breath is challenging, so start the solo softly and use very little air. Make only a small crescendo to letter A and save air until the ninth measure of the solo; then make the crescendo to forte. Use vibrato during the entire solo. Even though it is only one note, this is a solo and should not sound weak or tentative. Then sit back and enjoy the rest of this beautiful symphony because the piccolo has no more to play. (Example G) Probably Dvorák most famous piccolo solo occurs in Symphony #9 “From the New World.” Because the E2 is flat on most piccolos, try to play this note sharper by leaning on the first trill key with the middle finger of the right hand to vent the tone hole slightly. Opening the key too much distorts the sound. The B at the end of the solo is also a notoriously flat note, so use the alternate fingering T1 3 12 4. Although this fingering sounds slightly [like a] harmonic, practice it so it is clear and in tune. Use the vibrato in the entire four-measure solo as if playing the flute, and sustain the last B for the full one and one-half beats, making a slight diminuendo. (Example H) In each of the piccolo solos Dvorák used the instrument sparingly but innovatively to create a new, exotic color in the orchestral texture. Be sure to practice them soloistically to add special colors to these great romantic symphonies.