Lockdown Tape #8


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Olga Neuwirth… risonanze? … (1996/97) for Viola d’amore

Sara Cubarsi, Viola d’amore

Janet Sinica, video
Daniel Seitz, sound design

The Lockdown Tapes is a series which tries to stay connected in times of social distancing. Therefore, Sara Cubarsi recorded in a live to tape – session the piece … risonanze? …  (1996/97) for viola d’amore by Olga Neuwirth. On the blog, Sara talks about the special notation of the piece and scordatura. More background information about the piece can be heard on the last Musikfabrik Podcast!

“There are more mysteries to this piece than I can reveal here.
I can tell you that there is possibly more than one way to interpret Olga’s tablature notation. Historically, the viola d’amore strings are tuned to the key of the piece, ranging from F major to A major, through Biber’s Partia VII in C minor. Although the D major tuning was more usual in the 19th Century (relative to the usualness of this instrument in the repertoire), there is no standard tuning of the open strings. Her two-stave score indicates the finger positions not relative to the viola or violin fingerings, but relative to the “standard viola d’amore tuning,” without specifying what that is. Given the way in which she describes the detuning of the strings into her particular scordatura, I decided (with doubts) to have D minor as the reference tuning. So since there are some strings that remain the same as what I chose as the “standard,” the written pitch is also the sounding pitch on those strings. But the notes which are to be played on a “detuned” string only indicate the finger position as if on the “standard” tuning. It gets confusing if one thinks about it too much, so I ended up writing the notes to be fingered as if on a violin next to every single note. With this notation, one needs to imagine that the fingerboard contains two imaginary violin or viola fingerboards. For example, one can think of the VII-VI-V strings as the G-D-A of the violin, and the IV-III-II-I again as another G-D-A-E of the violin. I think that Olga’s viola d’amore tablature would only be practical if viola d’amore players were fluent in the viola d’amore standard tuning, if a standard tuning really existed. However, the viola d’amore is a scordatura instrument, and is usually (always?) played by a violist or violinist. For this reason, a lot of past viola d’amore repertoire, if not notated at sounding pitch, it is notated in viola or violin tablature, and not in viola d’amore tablature…
Interestingly, at the end of the performance notes, there is a small handwritten scribble suggesting to amplify the viola. The indication was an idea that Olga included after Garth Knox’s suggestion, who used a very personal d’amore model-specific microphone set-up for it. The idea would be to amplify the sound of the sympathetic strings, which are tuned a microtone higher than the melodic strings. However, this is an acoustic version of it, which I have come to accept despite missing a bit of the presence of the resonant strings. All of this is to say that I had many doubts about playing this piece for the Lockdown series. After all, the original idea was to have it heard with the resonances as they naturally speak – rather quietly. Because of these questions (and more) I have the feeling that I will be trying this piece again sooner or later!”

Sara Cubarsi