ein heldenleben fig 9


There is little doubt that this excerpt is at the top of most bass players practice list before and audition. It is one of the most popular choices for a bass audition list and in my view it is the hardest in the repertoire, along with the last movement of Mozart 40.



Fig 1 - my version of the infamous Fig 9 passage


I have found very few versions in the literature, which is a surprise considering how this comes up in auditions and how difficult it is. There is an old printed book of Richard Strauss orchestral excerpts, which has a few fingerings but no strings marked, and there are many ways to play these passages, on a number of strings.


There are a number of issues the player needs to consider before deciding on how to play this passage:-
1 string crossing vs shifts. the age old dilemma is present in just about every bar, for example some players play the B natural (3 before 10) and the F (bar before 10) across on either the D or even the A strings, I shift back on the G.
2 Left hand - this is a fiendish passage that requires extreme LH techniques, covered in the exercises below
3 Right hand - the bass player who focusses on the left hand and ignores the right is in peril in the passage (if not all passages!). The arpeggios cover a two octave range, from the bottom string to the top and the bowings normally used required uneven distribution, eg two bows in bar 3, one in bar 4. Successful combinations of weight, speed and position on the string are crucial, as well as smooth string crossings and bow changes.


How to prepare (long term) - I believe that this passage, and the last movement of Mozart 40 are the hardest in the repertoire, and cannot be brought up to speed a week before an audition. The prep is much longer, for me at least. The first issue for me is to develop a thumb calous for the E flats on the D string. He help do this, and to overcome other technical issues, I do the following exercises:-


Fig 2 - exercises 


Ex 1 is good for helping develop a calous, as well as fixing the shift to the E flat and switch from neck to thumb position. When the thumb gets stronger I do scales up the D string, with thumb alone, to build it up further. The strength of the thumb required to do this fingering is one reason why this passage cannot be learnt in a short timeframe. The other exercises break up the difficult arpeggios, 4 and 2 before 10, which I consider to be the hardest technical passages. And Ex 5 is a bit of fun!


When doing these exercises, dont forget about the Right hand - the start of the upward, up bow arpeggios should have more weight, less speed (lower string has more mass), and the end should be the opposite, more speed less weight (need to build towards to the top of the arpeggio, so need more bow). This should be practiced using the exercises above.


Semi breves - I do not split 5 and 3 before fig 10, but I do split 1 before 10 to help make the cresc to fff. A balance needs to be struck between demonstating a big sound with not overplaying, so I start at Fig 9 under ff, to give me somewhere to go at 10 without overplaying. Bow speed - the bow is moving quickly at the end of the arpeggios 6 before 10, and it needs to be slowed for the semi breve 5 before 10, as the breve is more than twice the length of the arpeggio up bow. Bow position on string - I allow the bow to move towards the bridge on the arpeggios, eg 6 before 10, then keep it there for the semi breve 5 before 10, to maintain the sound with a slower bow.


Long term prep:-

do the exercises above, dont move to next one until the first is mastered. Start slowly, go easy on the thumb calous, as it may take some time to build up

run each two bar phrase at crochet = 84, go thro each one until mastered, increase tempo marking til eventually reach performance tempo of crochet = 100


Short term prep - in the audition warm up room:-

play each two bar phrase under tempo - fix any problems slowly (eg shift from C to E flat 2 and 4 before fig 10)

increase tempo of each two bar phrase

whole passage at tempo


Notes written on the part - I put reminders to myself to read in the audition just before I play:-

Bow speed - wt at start arpeggio, speed at end

space out triplets, dont rush

count thro white notes, dont drag
Relax and breathe
Extension - E flat (if playing onto the 5th of fig 11, or else E nat)


Tempo - crochet = 100 is slightly under tempo, but that is what I play

© 2016 Stuart Riley, all rights reserved