Day 21: Suite No. 4 in E flat major, Courante

Pablo Casals. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Miranda Wilson

An experiment in intonation

I outlined the general system I use for intonation on Day 19 when I was recording the E flat major Prelude. However, this system works best on chordal passages, and isn’t so successful for linear ones.

So today in the Courante, which has a mixture of vertical and horizontal, I started using a different system: a kind of hybrid of my own system, where the third of a major triad will be pitched a little flatter than the “objective” pitch (which in effect means you have to make all the E flats and B flats a bit sharp, since the third is G, which sounds best when it corresponds exactly with the open G string), and the Casalsian system that I quoted in the post I’ve linked to above, i.e. where the third degree of the scale should “lead up” to the fourth by being a bit sharp, and the same with the leading tone towards the tonic. I used my system on the more vertical passages, such as this:

and the Casalsian system for the more horizontal, scalar types of passages, such as this one:

This experiment was not unproblematic. For starters, when you’re in E flat, that means your leading tone is a D natural. D, as one of the open strings of the cello, will have a natural sympathetic resonance with that string wherever it’s played on the cello. So the question is, do you monkey about with the D, making it sharper so it “leads” to E flat but isn’t in tune with the open string, or do you play the D in tune with the string but make the E flat flatter, which effectively means you’ll be chopping and changing between two different E flats depending on the texture?

I chose the second option, but I’m not sure it worked. It’s a bit weird to have a collection of different E flats all over the place. I mostly ended up confusing myself and thinking I was out of tune more or less all the time. I worked on the system until I was thoroughly exhausted and crotchety and suffused with mutinous sentiments. Take 3 is what I came up with.

Today’s video.

Today’s practice list: E flat major Courante, Sarabande, BourrĂ©es I & II; C minor Sarabande.


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