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Scordatura tuning?
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New Hampshire
March 14, 2019 - 3:06 pm
Member Since: July 26, 2018
Forum Posts: 34
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I recently came across the Biber Mystery Sonatas and fell in love with them. I did a little reading and discovered that for many of the pieces the violin must be tuned differently than the normal tuning. The performer even goes so far as to have 5 or 6 violins already tuned and ready for each piece in the performance. I've never heard of this and was wondering how common it is to change the tuning of your strings for a performance and the challenges this creates. Why can't you play the piece on a normally tuned violin? I listened to the Rachel Podger recording which is wonderful btw.

Brora, North-east Scotland
March 14, 2019 - 3:22 pm
Member Since: March 22, 2014
Forum Posts: 2775
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As a specific technique in classical violin pieces, I can't really comment, but a similar "alternative" or "cross" tuning is often used in fiddle tunes - thereare many variants - here are some - 

  • FCGD = Cajun Tuning (one whole step down from GDAE)
  • GDGB = Open G Tuning
  • GDGD = Sawmill Tuning or "Cross G"
  • GDAD = "Gee-Dad"
  • DDAD = Dead Man's Tuning, or Open D Tuning, or Bonaparte's Retreat Tuning, or "Dee-Dad"
  • ADAE = High Bass Tuning, Old-Timey D Tuning
  • AEAE = Cross Tuning, "Cross A", "High Bass, High Counter" (or "High Bass, High Tenor"), Cross Chord; similar to Sawmill Tuning
  • AEAC = Black Mountain Rag Tuning, Calico Tuning, Open A Tuning, or Drunken Hiccups Tuning
  • AEAD for Old Sledge, Silver Lake
  • EDAE for Glory in the Meeting House
  • EEAE for Get up in the Cool

I've "messed around" with a few of those - and generally (well, specifically) in certain fiddle tunes you get "different" sympathetic resonances, and different forms of double stop leading to a different overall sound - but that's just from a fiddle tune perspective - excuse my ignorance about its use in classical pieces

I seriously recommend not copying my mistakes. D'oh - guntohead.JPG

Please make your own, different mistakes, and help us all learn :-)

Sacramento, California

March 14, 2019 - 5:11 pm
Member Since: November 5, 2017
Forum Posts: 385
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In classical music, it's occasionally seen in Baroque music, and Paganini used it some, but rare otherwise.

Post-Baroque examples I know of:

* Mozart, Sinfonia Concertante for Violin and Viola: the piece is written in E-flat major, and Mozart apparently intended for the viola soloist to tune up a half step and play as if in D major. Most violists prefer to play in standard tuning, in part because the string tension gets too high in scordatura with the modern A.

* Schumann, Piano Quartet: the cellist has to quietly tune the C string down to B-flat for the end of the third movement, then tune back up to C for the fourth movement.

* Saint-Saens, Danse Macabre: the solo violin's E string is tuned down to E-flat to create a tritone on open strings.

* Richard Strauss, Don Quixote: there is a principal viola solo passage where the principal violist tunes the C string down to B for that passage, and then tunes back up to C in the next long rest. Often the principal violist has a second viola already tuned and set aside for that passage, and switches during the rests. When my semipro orchestra played it, our principal violist didn't use a second viola, but installed a fine tuner on her C string just for that one concert.

* Richard Strauss, Ein Heldenleben: the second violins have to tune their G strings down to F-sharp for a passage.

* Stravinsky, The Firebird: the first violins are instructed to tune their E strings down to D for the introduction, in order to play a series of natural harmonics. Typically this is ignored and the violinists play the harmonics an octave lower on the D string, with much the same effect.

* Stravinsky, The Rite of Spring: at the end, the cellos tune their A strings down to G-sharp in order to play a quadruple stop using that open string.

Most of these tunings are used either to play a note below the instrument's normal range, or to play chords that would be difficult or impossible without scordatura.


March 14, 2019 - 6:13 pm
Member Since: December 23, 2017
Forum Posts: 951
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Back in the 1930s, Lionel Tertis wanted to do a transcription of the Elgar cello concerto for viola.  The composer wanted a run through because he was concerned about a low note in the third movement that he knew was beyond the range of the viola, and wanted to hear The Tertis choice for an alternate passage.  Tertis lowered the C string before the start of the third movement and played the passage as intended by Elgar.

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