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String Harmonics in Ravels Orchestral Works

by

Leonardo Lebas

Written in partial fulfillment of his Masters degree at Penn State.


Available exclusively to members of the Conductors Guild
with permission by the author.

2006

String Harmonics in Ravels Orchestral Works


Preface
Ravel used string harmonics extensively in his original orchestral works as well as
in his orchestrations of his piano pieces. In some cases, it is a difficult task to realize the
actual sounds for Ravels string harmonic notation. The most difficult cases occur when
Ravel asks for third, fourth, fifth, and sixth natural string harmonics. He indicated them
writing a diamond-shaped headed note in the position of the nodal point to be touched,
but he very seldom specified on which string he wanted the harmonic to be played. This
paper is a practical guide to finding solutions for all of Ravels orchestral string
harmonics. The text is divided into four parts:

1) Introduction
In this preliminary section, I briefly address the essentials of natural and artificial
harmonics, stating musical parameters to understand the third part of this text, I describe
Ravels string harmonic notation, and I describe the classification used to examine
Ravels string harmonics cases

2) Use of Harmonics in Orchestral Bowed String Instruments Overview


In the second part of this paper, I offer a comprehensive view of the use and
appreciation of strings harmonics from the 18th to the 20th centuries. I mention
composers who used string harmonics in their works, as well as theorists who described
this device in their orchestration treatises.

3) String Harmonics in Ravels Orchestral Works


In this section, I present the actual sounds, commentary, for all the string
harmonics in the following orchestral works by Ravel: Rapsodie espagnole (1907-8),
Pavane pour une infante dfunte (1910), Ma mre l'oye (1911-12), Valses nobles et
sentimentales (1912), Daphnis et Chlo (Suite no. 2, 1913), Alborada del gracioso
(1918), Le tombeau de Couperin (1919), La valse (1919-20), Tzigane, rapsodie de
concert (1924), Concerto pour le main gauche (192930), and Concerto pour piano et
orchestre (1929-31).

4) Conclusion
I present possible reasons that led Ravel to use string harmonics in specific
orchestral excerpts, as well as I state final ideas about Ravels orchestral use of string
harmonics in bowed string instruments.

Introduction

String Natural Harmonics1


Every orchestral bowed string instrument can produce natural harmonics by
lightly touching at the different nodes of any open string.
Reference Table of Natural Strings Harmonics for the Orchestra

For a full explanation of natural and artificial string harmonics, I recommend the reading of
Walter Pistons Orchestration, Stringed Instruments (p. 29 31), and Samuel Adlers Study of
Orchestration, Bowed String Instruments (p. 42 48).

Artificial Harmonics
On the violin and the viola, the securest way to produce artificial harmonics is by
stopping a pitch with the first finger and sligthly pressing a node a fourth above the
stoped note. On the cello, artificial harmonics are produced by stopping the fundamental
with the thumb and touching lightly one fourth above it with the third or fourth finger.
The actual sound is two octaves above the stopped pitch. The "touch fifth" artificial
harmonics are possible and their actual sounds are one octave above the note that is
slightly pressed. Double bass orchestral artificial harmonics are not recommended. The
orchestral higher limits for violin, viola, and cello artificial harmonics are:

In this paper, I have used the following octave-designation system:

In string divisi situations, the higher voice is named by the instrument name plus
divisi 1, even though its notation as a harmonic is below the following lower voice. The
following lower voice is named by the instrument name plus divisi 2, and so on as
needed.
All the instruments are written in C, I wrote actual sounds for all the transposing
instruments including double-basses and piccolo.
In cases where an instrument alternates harmonic and natural sounds, I wrote the
sign o above the harmonic sounds to differentiate them from the natural sounds. In this
paper, the abscence of the o sign above string bowed instrument pitches throughout an
example means that the instrument plays only harmonics. However, the sign o above a
harps note always indicates a harmonic sound and it sounds one octave higher than
written.
For Ravels orchestral works examples, I have followed Editions Durand & Cie,
Paris.

Ravels String Harmonics Notation


After doing an in - depth study of all string harmonics in Ravels orchestral
works, I arrived at conclusions regarding his notational decisions for string harmonics.
Even though Ravels manner of indicating orchestral string harmonics has been critiziced
as imprecise, I find that he followed the practice of his times. Moreover, in spite of some
inconsistencies, I believe that Ravels string harmonics notation is clear, logical, and
predictable.

1) Second natural string harmonics: In his orchestral works, Ravel used the sign
"o" to indicate the second natural string harmonic. The only three exceptions to this rule
are in m. 37 of Prlude la Nuit from Rapsodie Espagnole, first violins divisi 1, where
the sign "o" indicates the fourth natural harmonic of A string, in Alborada del Gracioso,
m. 130, where Ravel used a diamond-shaped note to indicate the second natural harmonic
in cellos divisi 1, and in the same work, where the composer used the sign o to indicate
a third natural harmonic (see Example A; 1 h, p. 32; 6 g, p. 63).

Example A
Valses Nobles-VII, m. 34

2) Third, fourth, fifht, and sixth natural harmonics: Ravel indicated all the other
natural harmonics in three different ways;
(a) He wrote as a regular note the open string where the harmonic has to be
played. Above it, he wrote a diamond -shaped note indicating the pitch where the node
producing the desired note is found on the string. At the top, he wrote the actual sound in
bracket (see Example B).

Example B
Rapsodie Espagnole, Prlude la nuit, m. 41

(b) Ravel wrote a diamond-shaped note and the actual note above it (see Example
C).
Example C
Ma Mre LOye, Les entretiennesm.m. 21-23

(c) Ravel wrote only a diamond-shaped note indicating the pitch where the node
producing the desired harmonic is found on the string. These are the cases that cause
more confusion because, most of the times, Ravel did not indicate in what string to play
the harmonic, as Koechlin stated in his orchestration treatise (p 188, v.1). In theory, there
may be more that one interpretation for this string harmonic notation but in fact, the
actual sounds are clarified by the harmony or by the orchestral context (see Example D).

Example D
Ma Mre LOye, Laideronettem.m. 44-45

In only a few occasions, Ravel used notation (c) indicating the string where he
expected the harmonic to be played (Alborada del Gracioso: m.m. 14 - 15, m. 133, 136,
140, m.m. 164 - 169; Tombeau de Couperin, Forlane, m.m.76 - 78, Minuet; Tableaux,
Cum Mortuis, m. 13, and Cabane, from rehearsal number 106 to 108).

1) Artificial Harmonics: Ravel indicated string artificial harmonics by writing a


diamond-shaped note above a fundamental note stopped as a normal note. Mostly, the
lower note has a regular rhythmic value (see Example E).

Example E
ValsesVIII, m.m. 21-24

However, we find a slurred quarter note in 2/4 meter indicating the fundamental
for an artificial harmonic in Ballet Des Pousins Dans Leurs Coques from Tableaux dune
Exposition, from m.m. 39 - 45. In other occasions, we see a quarter note as the

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fundamental, even though the duration of the harmonic within the bar is longer than one
beat. An example of this instance can be seen in m. 90, 92, and 94 of Feria from
Rapsodie Espagnole: second violins divisi 2 are playing a third artificial harmonic, and
the fundamental note is a quarter note instead of a half note, which is the duration of the
harmonic. In few instances, Ravel added the actual sound in brackets (cellos divisi 2 in
the last two measures of Prelude a la nuit from Rapsodie Espagnole) or without brackets
(Concerto pour piano et orchestre, first violins, last measure of the second movement).

In order to analyze the string harmonics in Ravels orchestral works, I divided the
different cases in three categories:
a) String Harmonics in string ensembles: I include in this class the string
harmonic occurrences that involve two or more different string sections playing
harmonics simultaneously. Some of them are complex and deserve explanatory
comments that clarify the harmonic and/or the orchestral context.
b) String harmonics in string sections: I consider in this group the string
harmonics that occur in only one string section. Usually, they are self-explanatory and I
offer only the actual sound.
c) String harmonics in solo instruments: I include in this category instances of
string harmonics played by a soloist or a group of soloists of bowed string instrument.

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Use of Harmonics in Bowed String Instruments - Overview


Jean-Joseph Cassana Mondonville (1711-1772) was the first composer to use
violin natural harmonics in an instrumental work. He had an immensely successful career
as virtuoso violin player and composer, and he was "considered the equal of Leclair and
Guignon as violinist, or Lalande as a producer of grands motets, or Rameau as a
composer."2 He was the director of the Concert Spirituel, the biggest, most important
public concert series in the 18th century. He composed operas, oratorios, Grands Motets,
and instrumental music. His set of violin and continuo sonatas Les Sons Harmoniques
(1738) are remarkable because "the work is the earliest known in France to use
harmonics in the violin, and the introductory instructions (with a chart) for the
performance of harmonics on that instrument was the first anywhere."3 In this work,
Mondonville asked mostly for natural harmonics nos. 2, 3, 4, and 5, even though in his
preface he described how to obtain harmonics nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8. Regarding to
notation, he created a symbol ( ) for harmonics, which is curiously introduced in his
preface at the end of a list of embellishments. In these sonatas, we will see octaves or
bigger intervals, written as if they were double stops, with the symbol ( ) above the
lower note and under the higher note. The upper note is the sound he expects to hear, and
the lower note indicates the node where the finger must slightly press. However, he is not
consistent: there are many instances where his symbol shows only the actual sound
without its respective node, and on the contrary, there are cases where the symbol
indicates the node that the performer has to slightly press but the composer does not write
2

Gabriel Banat, Sonatas for the Violin / Jean-Joseph Cassana de Mondonville, vol. 5, Masters
of the Violin (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982), 1.
3
Ibid. , 3.

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the actual sound. Besides the inconsistency in his notation, characteristic of the string
harmonics notation until the second half of the 20th century, Mondonville is a relevant
author not only for having introduced string harmonics in bowed strings literature, but
also for having "produced works that remain unique in the history of music and which
are still exciting to play and to hear."4

According to Franois - Auguste Gevaert (1828-1908), the first composer to write


orchestral string harmonics was Franois - Andre Danican Philidor. At the end of the
Supplement for the first chapter of his General Treatise On Orchestration (1863), he
mentions the air from the opera comique Tom Jones (1765, revised in 1766) as the older
usage of orchestral string harmonics, even though he thinks Philidors use of string
harmonics is not the best one. Gevaert affirms that after Philidor, as far as he knows, no
one used this effect extensively.5
Gevaert mentions again the string harmonics Philidors Tom Jones in his New
Treatise On Orchestration (1885), reproducing this time the pertinent excerpt and
criticizing its orchestration problems more accurately: (string harmonics) are lost, so
to speak, in a noisy flourish of the Horns and Oboes, and cannot have produced a very
striking effect. In fact, the French musicians innovation seems to have attracted no
notice whatever.6 We will have to wait until the mid-19th century to see another French

Gabriel Banat, Sonatas for the Violin / Jean-Joseph Cassana de Mondonville, vol. 5, Masters
of the Violin (New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982) , 1.
5
Franois Auguste Gevaert, Trait Gnral DInstrumentation (Gand: Gevaert, 1863) , 213.
6

Franois Auguste Gevaert, A New Treatise On Instrumentation (Paris: Henry Lemoine & Co.
1900) , 41 42.

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composer, Hector Berlioz (1803 - 1869), using string harmonics in orchestral works as
well as praising their artistic expressiveness.

During the second half of 19th century, theorists and composers highly regarded
the section about string harmonics in Berliozs Treatise On Instrumentation (1843).
According to Gevaert, Berlioz was the first composer that showed to what uses
harmonics can be turned in orchestral music7(A New Treatise On Orchestration, p. 42),
and in his Instrumentation (1876), Ebenezer Prout (1835-1909) asks students to look for
full information on harmonics in Berliozs Treatise On Instrumentation8
In his treatise, Berlioz explains in detail how to obtain natural as well as
artificial harmonics in the violin, and recommends those that work best in score writing.
Moreover, he states his aesthetic impression about the use of string harmonics in
orchestral works: he describes the flute-like character of the violin fourth string harmonic
and recommends its usage for a cantabile execution of a slow melody. Berlioz considers
higher string harmonics' crystalline sound "especially appropriate for those chords
which may be called fairy-like: harmonic effects which will fill our imagination with
radiant dreams and conjure the most delicate images of a poetic, supernatural world." P.
29. He quotes his Romeo and Julietas Queen Mab Scherzo as a clear example of the
latter statement. We will see later that Berliozs usage of high string harmonics to
describe fairy-like text instances will exert an enormous influence on his colleagues and
on future composers including Ravel.

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8

Ibid. , 42.
Ebezner Prout, Instrumentation, (London: Novello, Ewer and Co., 1877) , 18.

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Regarding notation for natural and artificial harmonics, Berlioz considers it
absolutely necessary to indicate by notes of different size and shape, placed one above
the other: the note for the finger touching the string and that of the actual harmonic (on
open strings); and, the note for the pressing finger, the touching finger and the actual
harmonic (in the other cases). Even though this may result in writing three notes for a
single tone, this precaution avoids confusion, according to Berlioz. However, in the
enlarged and revised edition of Berliozs Treatise On Instrumentation, Strauss adds a
small paragraph indicating that in his days the sign "o" above the note (the actual pitch) is
sufficient to indicate the execution in harmonics. Strauss says that the older notation
makes the score too complicated.9

We observe in History of Instrumentation from XVI Century to Our Days


(1878), by Henri Lavoix (1846-1897), the impact that Berliozs aesthetic ideas about
orchestral string harmonics had in other musicians.
Lavoix divided the history of orchestration into two eras: from 16th century to
Haydn (1500 - 1750), and from Haydn to "our days" (1750 - 1878). In Chapter XIV.The Symphony in France: Berlioz , Felicien David, Onslow, Reber, he praises Berliozs
orchestral genius to depict dramatic or programmatic situations. Among many other
instrumental achievements, Lavoix mentions twice the use of first-violin harmonics in
Queen of Mab Scherzo associated with the creation of a fairy-tale effect: " violins
harmonics answer harmonic voices from woodwinds and at the end of the scene the

Hector Berlioz, Treatise On Instrumentation, trans. Theodore Front (New York: Edwin F.
Kalmus, 1948) , 32.

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auditor finds the fanciful goddess who has led this ball."10 , and "for the Scherzo from
Queen of Mab, Berlioz achieved charming effects with string harmonics. He is the first
composer who used harp harmonics, joining them to those of first violins The effect of
this association is really enchanting."11
Moreover, other composers use of orchestral string harmonics gains Lavoixs
attention: In the Conclusion. - Contemporary instrumentation in Italy, France and
Germany (Richard Wagner). The French School Lavoix mentions the violins divisi
of the Lohengrin Prelude as a "very curious" case: they are divided in eight parts, four of
them playing harmonics and the rest playing natural sounds.12 Later, the author of History
of Instrumentation specifies that the first orchestral use of violas playing harmonics
occurs in Siegfried, when the hero, after drinking Fafners blood by accident, is able to
have a conversation with birds (p. 462).13 Once again, we see the use of string harmonics
associated with a magic instance of a text. The link is very suggestive in this particular
case: as we will see, Ravel wrote violins harmonics to depict birds singing in a
mythological context (Daphnis et Chlo second suite - See Example 2 b, p. 36) and in the
frame of a fairy-tale (Petit Poucet from Ma Mre LOye - See Example 3 b, p. 39).

We can appreciate the increasing interest among musicians in the use of orchestral
string harmonics by observing the different treatment that this topic deserved in two of

10

Henri Lavoix, Histoire de linstrumentation depuis le seizime sicle jusqu nos jours ( Paris:
Firmin-Didot et Cie, 1972) , 436.
11
Henri Lavoix, Histoire de linstrumentation depuis le seizime sicle jusqu nos jours ( Paris:
Firmin-Didot et Cie, 1972) , 436.
12
Ibid. , 460.
13
Ibid. , 462.

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Gevaerts works separated by a twenty-two-year gap: General Treatise of
Instrumentation (1863) and New Treatise On Instrumentation (1885).
In his General Treatise of Orchestration, Gevaert dedicates to orchestral string
harmonics one small paragraph in the first chapter. He describes their sound as very
sweet and, in some cases, extremely high. Moreover, Gevaert states, "The effects that
have been tried to the present in the orchestra have had few results.14 He considers the
string harmonics technical issues very complicated, devoting one page of the Supplement
for the first chapter to explaining them.
The space devoted to orchestral string harmonics increases dramatically in
Gevaerts New Treatise on Orchestration. Instead of relegating instructions for obtaining
string harmonics to a Supplement at the end of the book, he explains in a general way this
technical issue in the first chapter of his Classification of the Instruments15 (page 7,
section 11, IV). In the Third Chapter, Bowed Instruments: the Violin, the Viola, the
Violoncello, the Double-Bass, the Viola dAmore, Gevaert shows accurate fingerings to
obtain natural and artificial harmonics from each instrument of the strings section, though
he clarifies that such tones are little employed in the orchestra. He quotes the second bar
of Wagners Prelude to Lohengrin as an example of violin harmonics. Gevaert criticizes
Wagners notation of harmonics in this passage because the German composer only
writes the actual pitches he wants to sound as harmonics, leaving the choice of the
fingering to the performer. Gevaert affirms: This presupposes on part of violin-players

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15

Franois Auguste Gevaert, Trait Gnral DInstrumentation (Gand: Gevaert, 1863) , 28.
Franois Auguste Gevaert, A New Treatise On Instrumentation (Paris: Henry Lemoine & Co.

1900) , 7.

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more knowledge than they usually possess; even in the best orchestras only a few have
the requisite acquaintance with acoustics.16
Gevaert illustrates the orchestral use of double-bass harmonics with the first
measure of Verdis Aida Act III, the scene on the banks of the Nile. According to
Gevaert, the harmonics of the cellos and double-basses forming a pedal in three different
octaves are part of a texture wishing to reproduce the mysterious whir of nature at
night in a tropical climate. 17

During the last decade of 19th century, string harmonics were still considered an
uncommon orchestral issue. Frederick Corder (1852- 1932), in The Orchestra And How
to Write for It (1895), places string harmonics in the Appendix to Chapter I, along
with other effects such as Sul ponticello, Col legno, and Unusual Tunings. He briefly
indicates how to obtain string natural harmonics, which he names "harmonics" and
describes as sounding "in a curious flutely tone".18 He also explains how to obtain
artificial string harmonics, which he calls "false harmonics". Corder mentions the
diversity in the methods of indicating string harmonics notes and the rarity of their
employment in the orchestra. Finally, he recommends trusting in "good violinists, who
will not need instructions in the matter."19 Corder cites Wagners Prelude to Lohengrin as
a well-known and striking example of string harmonics use. Furthermore, he quotes what
he considers two equally remarkable passages of string harmonics: Wagners Siegfried, II

16

Ibid. , 41.
Franois Auguste Gevaert, A New Treatise On Instrumentation (Paris: Henry Lemoine & Co.
1900) , 72.
18
Frederick Corder, The Orchestra and How to Write for it: a Practical Guide ( London: R.
17

Cocks & co., 1894) , 13.


19

Ibid. , 14.

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Act, and Verdis Aida, Act III. As we have seen, the first two examples are the same than
Lavoix had mentioned in his History of Instrumentation. Furthermore, Gevaert in his New
Treatise of Instrumentation had considered noticeable the originality of Verdis excerpt.
In general, orchestration treatises from the end of 19th century do not present new
examples of string harmonics. However, Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908) is the exception
to this rule. His orchestral works reveal considerable originality in the use of string
harmonics, as we can see in the excerpts of his compositions that he included in his
orchestration treatise.
Rimsky-Korsakovs first drafts for a full treatise on orchestration date from 1873
and 1874. He went back and forth to this project, interrupted by compositional projects,
until his last day. He finished the first chapter of the treatise on the afternoon of July
20th, 1908; the same night the composer was seized with a fourth attack, which proved
fatal. Except the first chapter, what today is known as Principles on Orchestration (1912)
was prepared for publication by Russian composer Maximilian Steinberg (1883-1946)
based on the rather large amount of notes left by Rimsky.
In the first chapter, Rimsky-Korsakov addresses briefly the usage of string
harmonics in the orchestra. The composer affirms that they were frequently used in his
day; however, he judges them not to form a fundamental part of orchestral writing,
considering them as an ornament. Rimsky describes them as "cold and transparent in soft
passages, cold and brilliant in loud ones, and offering but little chances for
expression"19 His advice is to employ harmonics on sustained notes, tremolando, or
here and there for brilliant effects. He considers strings harmonics to be a link between
19

Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Principles of Orchestration, trans. Edward Agate (New York:


Dover Publications, 1964) , 10.

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string and woodwind instruments. The example 246 (from Rimskys Servilia) of
Principlesillustrates this transition from a complex to a simple timbre: we see a chord
in oboes, first clarinet, and bassoons closing a phrase eight measure after rehearsal
number 228. In the same measure, first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double
basses play natural harmonics holding the chord left by wood-winds. First violins prolong
the higher note with a tremolo.
Even though excerpts 14, 15, 67, 77, 80, 81, 90, 106, 126, 130, 195, 222, 229,
233, 260, and 267 from Principlesare not illustrating the use of string harmonics in
Rimskys works, their orchestral texture include this technical device in a very original
and coloristic way. However, there are other examples that show explicitly remarkable
cases of orchestral string harmonics: first, example 227, a fragment from Mladas Second
Act, shows a special instance of a double-bass solo accompanying the character Lumir by
playing natural harmonics on its first string tuned one half-step down. This particular
color is reminiscent of the double-bass solo line from the beginning and from page 124 of
Ravels LEnfant et les Sortileges. Second, example 230 reproduces an excerpt from
Rimskys Russian Easter Overture illustrating two solo violins doubling with artificial
harmonics a long melody in the first and second violins. Finally, the most interesting case
appears in example 276, a passage from Rimskys The Christmas Night (rehearsal
number 180, 13th bar). In this instance, Rimsky wrote a natural harmonics glissando for
cellos, clearly foreshadowing Ravels use of this device in Feria from Rapsodie
Espagnole (see Example 1 d, p. 26) and in his Concerto pour la Main Gauche (see
Examples 10 a and 10 b, p. 77 78), as well as Stravinskys Firebird and The Rite of the
Spring. As we advance in the 20th century, we observe in orchestration treatises an

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increasing acceptance of the use of string harmonics in orchestral works. Cecil Forsyth
(1870-1941) in his Orchestration (1914), in its time the most comprehensive treatment of
the subject, describes extensively string natural and artificial harmonics. The English
writer and composer supports strongly to indicate natural harmonics placing a little round
"o" above each note that is to be taken as a harmonic. For artificial harmonics he
considers already conventional the use of a diamond-shaped note a perfect fourth above
the stopped note: "Conductors and players who do not know the meaning and effect of
these little diamond-shaped notes are now extinct."20 Regarding to harmonics notation for
double-basses, Forsyth recommends marking clearly the notes as harmonics and as
"actual sounds", using either treble- or tenor-clef for higher notes.
On the other hand, Forsyth introduces interesting cases of orchestral string
harmonics. He mentions instances of violin harmonics in the transition between the
Sanctus and the Benedictus from Stanfords Requiem, and in the beginning of the
movement of Dvoraks New World Symphony. He cites two cases of viola harmonics:
mm. n to n from Strauss Sinfonia Domestica, and the gradual quintuple divisi from
Stauss Also Sprach Zarathustra in rehearsal number 18. He cites Humperdincks Forest
Scene (Act II) of Hnsel und Gretel, where two solo cellos play a chord in artificial
harmonics. The well-known passage in Act III of Verdis Ada reappears in this treatise
but this time to illustrate the inconvenience of the old-fashioned notation for doublebasses harmonics (the bottom note indicates the string; the middle note the fingering; and
the top note the actual sound).

20

Cecil Forsyth, Orchestration (London: Macmillan and Co. , 1935) , 333.

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Forsyths insistence in notational issues is symptomatic of discrepancies among
beginning of 20th century musicians regarding to the correct interpretation and annotation
of string harmonics.

The next three authors of orchestration treatises, Charles Koechlin (1862-1950),


Walter Piston (1894-1976), and Samuel Adler (1928), consider the use of string
harmonics a common feature of orchestration, though Piston and Adler associate them
with effects of color.
Composer, theorist, and teacher Charles Koechlin enriched the information about
string harmonics in his Treatise On Orchestration (1955). This treatise is divided into
four volumes: Volume I - (a) Study of the instruments, (b) Balance of sonorities; Volume
II Scoring for diverse groups (Strings-Voice-Woods-Combination of groups); Volume
III Orchestration (Study of the Sonority-Scoring with Thorough Bass-Orchestration of
Melodies, Accompaniments, Basses); Volume IV Suite of the Precedent. Diverse
Formations of Orchestras-Orchestral Color. These volumes include musical examples,
most of them from works written by Koechlins contemporaries (Schoenberg, Debussy,
Ravel Strawinsky, Casella) and others from his own works.
Koechlin addresses extensively the orchestral use of string natural and artificial
harmonics in Volume I (pages 186 200) and II (pages 14, 68 73). The Orchestration
Treatises author offers natural harmonics tables for all the string instruments. He
describes two different notations for natural harmonics: 1) By writing a little circle above
the note, which sounds one octave higher, leaving to the performer the fingering choice;
2) By writing a small diamond indicating the place where the finger has to press slightly

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on the string. Koechlin illustrates the ambiguity of the latter kind of notation showing
excerpts from Ravels Rapsodie Espagnole, and the solo violin part of Tzigane, and
LEnfant et les Sortileges.
In the second volume of his Treatise on Orchestration, Koechlin mentions the use
of harmonics in two instances: First, he shows cases of string harmonics in string quartets
(end of Ravels string quartet, and the Scherzo of Koechlins string quartet). Second, in
the section General Advice, he explains different ways to use string harmonics
effectively in the orchestra. In doing so, he quotes excerpts from Berliozs Queen Mabs
Scherzo, Rimskys Concerto for violin, Debussys Pelleas et Melisande, Stravinskys
Poemes de la Lyrique Japanaise, LOiseau de Feu, and Histoire du Soldat, Ravels
Concerto pour la main gauche and Chansons Madecasses, LEnfant et les Sortileges, and
Soupir (3 Poemes de Mallarm) Halffters Sinfonietta, where harmonics are written for
one, two, three, four or five sections of the strings. On page 70, there is a typing mistake:
Koechlin quoted the end of Ravels Pavane de la Belle au Bois dormant from Ma Mre
Lye, where double basses play on the E string the fifth natural harmonic. The solution
for Ravels notation (see Example 3 a and 3 b) is B3, instead of the G3 indicated in
Koechlins treatise.

Walter Piston published his Orchestration in 1955. This treatise, along with his
Principles of Harmonic Analysis (1933), Harmony (1941), and Counterpoint (1947),
were translated into many languages and were among the most esteemed and widely used

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books of this kind. 21 Piston addresses string harmonics in the Effects of Color section that
closes the Stringed Instruments chapter.
According to Piston, natural and artificial harmonics are indicated by (a) placing
a small circle above the note intended to sound as a harmonic, or (b) writing a diamondshaped note. In the second case, if we are writing a natural harmonic, the diamond shaped note will indicate the pitch where the node producing the desired note is found on
the string; if we are writing an artificial harmonic, the diamond-shaped note will be one
fourth above a fundamental note stopped by the first finger as a normal note. The latter
may add the actual note intended above, with the sign "o" without brackets.
In each of the chapters devoted to violin, viola, cellos, and double basses, Piston
illustrates the orchestral use of string harmonics by citing excerpts of Coplands
Symphony no. 3 (p. 151, ed. Boosey and Hawkes), Milhauds Symphony no. 2 (p. 21, ed.
Heugel), Stravinskys LOiseau de Feu (p. 12, ed. Broude Bros.), Le Sacre du Printemps
(p.10, ed. Russe), and Concerto en R (p. 17, ed. Boosey and Hawkes) Ravels LHeure
Espagnole (p. 121, ed. Durand), Piano Concerto (p. 29, ed.Durand), Rapsodie Espagnole
(p. 11, ed. Durand), and Le Tombeau de Couperin (p. 38, ed. Durand), Schoenbergs
Serenade (p. 40, ed. Hansen), Stravinskys, Mahlers Symphony no. 1 (p.3, ed.Universal),
Casellas Pupazzetti (p. 19, ed. Philharmonia),

In his The Study of Orchestration (1984), Samuel Adler (1928) addressed general
issues of string harmonics in the second chapter, Bowed String Instruments, under
Coloristic Effects. He explains what natural and artificial string harmonics are and how
21

Howard Pollack: Piston, Walter', The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. S.
Sadie and J. Tyrrell (London: Macmillan, 2001) , xix, 791 793.

23

24
to obtain them. Adlers suggestions for notation of natural and artificial harmonics are the
same as those given by Piston in his Orchestration. Furthermore, Adler adds a quick
reference table of natural string harmonics practical for orchestral scoring. In the third
chapter, Individual Bowed String Instruments, he treats string harmonics separately for
each bowed string instrument. He quotes two extended passages with harmonics: SaintSaens, Violin Concerto, (second movement, last 13 measures), and Borodin, String
Quartet No. 1 (third movement, Trio, m.m. 1 - 20), plus three examples of violin
harmonics from Coplands Symphony No. 3 (fourth movement, 3 - 8 measures after
rehearsal number 128), Weberns Six Pieces for Orchestra, Op. 6, No. 5 (m.m. 20 - 26),
and Stravinskys Le Sacre du Printemps (rehearsal number 101)

24

25

String Harmonics in Ravels Ochestral Works

Rapsodie Espagnole (1907-08)

A) String Harmonics in Ensemble


I.-Prlude la nuit
1) The first string harmonics ensemble occurs in cellos, violas, and first violins
divisi, m. 37 and m. 38. Cellos and violas divisi 1 play on the A string second natural
harmonics A4 and A5 respectively. First violins divisi 2 play on the E string second
natural harmonic E5, and first violins divisi 1 play on the A string fourth natural
harmonic A6. Considering m.m. 37 - 42, I see a three-octave descending gesture
beginning in A6 (first violins divisi 1, m. 37 and m. 38) going to A5 (flute 1, m. 39 and
40), and descending from A5 to A4 (double bass divisi 1, m. 41 and m. 42). See
Example 1 a.

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26

Rapsodie Espagnole, Prlude la nuit


Example 1 a

2) The second instance of string harmonics in an ensemble occurs in double bass


and violoncello divisi at the last two measures of this movement. Double basses divisi 4
and 3 play on the A string second natural harmonic A2 and third natural harmonic E3
respectively. Double basses divisi 2 and 1 play on the A string fourth natural harmonic
A3 and fifth natural harmonic C#4 each in the order given.
Cellos divisi 4 play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E4, cellos divisi 3 play
on the D string third natural harmonic A4, cellos divisi 2 play a fourth artificial
harmonic* C#5, and cello divisi 1 play on the A string third natural harmonic E5. Cellos
divisi 2 should play without vibrato to blend with the rest of the ensemble, wich plays

26

27
natural harmonics. The final result is a closed A-major chord that ranges from A2 to E5,
which is a point of arrival for the four notes ostinato beginning in violas and violins in
measure 56. See Example 1 b . Piston mentions this example in his Orchestration ,
Cello, p. 87.

Rapsodie Espagnole, Prlude la nuit


Example 1 b

III.-Habanera
The only case of string harmonics in ensemble occurs in muted first violins
divided in three parts and muted seconds violins divided in two parts, m. 1, 3, and 5.
Second violins divisi 1 play on the D string a fourth natural harmonic D6, first violins
divisi 3 play on the D string a third natural harmonic A5 in the up-beat of the second beat
and fifht natural harmonic F#6 on the first sixteenth note of the second beat, first violins
divisi 2 play a fourth artificial harmonic* D7, and first violins divisi 1 play on the A
string fourth natural harmonic A6. As we see in Example 1 c, violins first and second
divisi play a D7 chord octave leap from the last sixteenth note of first beat to the first
sixteenth note of the second beat. Two harps, two oboes, and two flutes double the

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28
strings in this melodic-harmonic design. Clarinets one and two play a dominant pedal
with the characteristic rhythm of the Habanera. This sonority of VI going to a IIb7 under
a dissonant dominant pedal resolves to a dominant chord in m. 7 and it is typical of
Ravels harmonic language. See Example 1 c and 1 c.

Rapsodie Espagnole, Habanera


Example 1 c

Rapsodie Espagnole, Habanera


Example 1 c

28

29

IV.-Feria
1) In m. 6, violins divisi 2 play on the G string fourth natural harmonic G7, and
violin divisi 1 play fourth artificial harmonic* G6. Violas and cellos play a natural
harmonic glissando on C string in the first and second beat respectively. Ravel asked this
to be played sliding the finger over the string near the bridge. These instruments add
color and movement to the harp ascending and descending glissando. See Example 1 d.
This original effect in violas and cellos foreshadows Stravinskys scoring for violas in
The Rite of the Springs Introduction, m.m. 62 - 66.

Rapsodie Espagnole, Feria


Example 1 d

29

30

2) From m.m.137 - 140, strings, second harp, celeste, and horn are the
harmonic accompaniment for first clarinet and first bassoon melody. In m. 136 and 137,
cellos divisi 2 play on the C and the G string fifth natural harmonic E4 and B4, cellos
divisi 1 play on the C and the G strings fourth natural harmonic C4 and G4; viola divisi 2
play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E5 in the second beat, viola divisi 1 play on
the C string third and fourth natural harmonics G4 and C5; first violins play on the G
string fourth natural harmonic G5. From m.m.139 140 cellos divisi 2 play on the C
string fourth natural harmonic C4 and G4, cellos divisi 1 play on the G string third
natural harmonic D4 and G4; violas divisi 2 play on the C string natural harmonic third
G5 and fourth C5; violins divisi 2 and 1 play on the G string fourth natural harmonic G5
and fifth natural harmonic D5 respectively. See Example 1 e and 1 e.

Rapsodie Espagnole, Feria


Example 1 e

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31

Rapsodie Espagnole, Feria


Example 1 e

3) Ferias last case of string harmonics ensemble occurs in m. 162 and 163.
Double basses divisi 1 play on G string second natural harmonic G3. Cellos divisi 2 play
third artificial harmonic* B4 (m.m. 162 - 163) and, in m.163, fifth natural harmonic A4
and E4 on D and A string respectively. Cellos divisi 1 are doubling one octave below in
natural sounds cellos divisi 2s line. First flute and first clarinet double at unison cellos
divisi 2 and 1 respectively. See Example 1 f.

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32

Rapsodie Espagnole, Feria


Example 1 f

B) String Harmonics in Solo Instruments


I.-Prlude la nuit
In rehearsal number 8, first violin solo 1 plays a natural harmonics arpeggio ad
libitum over a cadenza ad libitum by bassoons. Cellos and double basses divisi hold a
harmony of Bb7 with diminished ninth. Along with the first violin solo playing the
arpeggio, three more solo first violins play a major second thrill on the third, fifth and
seventh of the chord hold by the low strings. First violin solo 1 plays on the G string fifth

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33
natural harmonic B5, on the D string fourth natural harmonic D6, on the A string third
natural harmonic E6, and on the E string third natural harmonic B6. See Example 1 g.
Rapsodie Espagnole, Prlude la nuit
Example 1 g

IV.-Feria
In m. 78, 80, and 82, two solo cellos play a glissando from natural
sounds D#4-A#4 to D4-A4 fingered as second natural harmonics of the D and the A
strings. In m. 84 and 86, two soloist violas echo the solo cellos by playing a glissando
from natural sounds C#4-G#4 to C4-G4 fingered as second natural harmonics on the C
and the G strings. See Example 1 h.

Rapsodie Espagnole, Feria


Example 1 h

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34

C) String Harmonics in String Sections


Habanera
Db , m.m. 27 - 30, 59 - 61: natural harmonics (octave C#4-C#5)
Feria
Vl1, m.m. 1 - 6: fourth natural harmonics (octave G5-G6)
Vl2, m. m. 44 - 47: fourth natural harmonic (G5)
Vl1, m. m. 170 - 171: second natural harmonic on the E string (E6) /m.m. 172 174, fourth natural harmonic on the E string (E7)

Daphnis et Chlo, 2me Srie

A) String Harmonics in Ensemble


1) The first case of string harmonics ensemble happens in m. 2, 4, and 6 in cellos
and violas divisi in three and four parts respectively. Cellos divisi 1 and 2 play on the C
string third natural harmonic G3 and C3 respectively; violas divisi 4, 3, 2, and 1 play on
the C string third natural harmonic C4, second natural harmonic G4, fifth natural
harmonic C5, and fourth natural harmonic E4 respectively. This case may be confusing
because cellos divisi 1 is notated below cellos divisi 2, and violas divisi 1 and 3 are
notated below violas divisi 2 and 4 but they actually sound above them. There is a
typograghic mistake in Durands edition. The higher violas should say divisi in four parts
instead of divisi in three parts. Cellos and viola divisi are playing the minor ninth,
seventh, and diminished fifht of F# chord. See Example 2 a.

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35

Daphnis et Chlo, 2me Srie


Example 2 a

2)From m.m. 9 - 13, three solo first violins imitate birds singing. Solo 3 plays on
the G string a third artificial harmonic* A5 as an embelishment for the fifth artificial
harmonic* C#6. Even though the fingering is a descending half step from D4 to C#4, it
sounds an ascending major third leap from artificial harmonics A5 to C#6. Solo 2 plays
on the G string fifht natural harmonic B5. Solo 1 plays on the D string fourth natural
harmonic D6 as an appogiatura for the fourth artificial harmonic* E6. These soloists
must be in the forefront of the orchestral texture according to Ravels dynamic
indications. See Example 2 b.

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36
Daphnis et Chlo, 2me Srie
Example 2 b

B) String Harmonics in String Sections


Db divisi 1, from rehearsal number 175-176: fifth natural harmonic on the A
string (C#4)
Vc divisi 1, 4 after rehearsal number 175: fourth artificial harmonic (C#5)
Db, 1 before rehearsal number 192: fifth natural harmonic on the D string (F#4)
Vc, va, Vl 1, 2 before rehearsal number 211 and 212: natural sounds glissandi
peaking in a fourth natural harmonic

36

37
Ma Mre LOye
A) String Harmonics in ensemble
I Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant
Double basses divisi 2 play on the E string sixth natural harmonic B3 from m.m. 5
- 8 and from m.m.17 - 20. On the second beat of m. 5 and m. 20, double basses divisi 2
play on the A string fourth natural harmonic A3. From m.m. 17 - 19, violas play on the G
string third natural harmonic D5. See Example 3 a and 3 a.

Ma Mre LOye, I Pavane


Example 3 a

Ma Mre LOye, I Pavane


Example 3 a

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38

Ravel changed the orchestration of the last eight measures, which are the variated
recapitulation of the first eight measures. From m.m. 5 - 8, the first flute plays the main
melody whilst the second flute plays a chromatic motive that will recur in movements II
(from m.m. 67 - 74) and III (from m.m. 46 - 55 and from m.m. 179 - 188). The first oboe
holds D4, the seventh of an E minor chord. Harp plays the same pitch than oboe
alternating in half notes a natural pitch D4 with a harmonic sound. In the last four bars of
the recapitulation, the main melody and the chromatic motive are in first and second
violins respectively. Ravel balanced the new orchestration scoring the D4 for violas
natural harmonic instead of assigning the line again to first oboe.

II Petit Poucet
From m.m. 51 - 56, Ravel depicted the moment when Tom Thumb
realizes that birds have eaten the crumbs he had left on the ground to find his path back.
Double basses divisi 1 play on the D string second natural harmonic D3 during the whole
passage. In m. 52 and 54, first violins and cellos play an ascending and descending
glissando that peaks in fourth natural harmonic D5 and D4 respectively. In m. 51 and 52,
first violin solo 1 plays a fourth artificial harmonics* glissando from F#7 to A7
mimicking a bird singing, which is answered by piccolo, second flute, and first violin
solo 2 and 3 in m. 52 and 53. See example 3 b.

38

39

Ma Mre LOye, II Petit Poucet


Example 3 b

39

40
B) String Harmonics in Solo Instruments
Petit Poucet
In the last measure, four solo violas play a C major chord. Solo violas 3 and 4
play on the C string fourth natural harmonic C5 and fifth natural harmonic E5
respectively. Solo violas 1 and 2 play the fourth artificial harmonic* C6 and G6 in the
order named. See Example 3 c.

Ma Mre LOye, II Petit Poucet


Example 3 c

Les entretiennes de la Belle et de la Bte


From m.m. 148 -172, Ravel depicted The Beasts transformation in "a prince
more handsome than Amor, who was thanking her (The Beauty) for having lifted his
spell."22 Ravel assigned The Beasts melody (orchestrated for contrabassoon before the
transfiguration) to a violin solo playing third artificial harmonics during the first four
measures of its long line. See Example 3 d. The use of harmonics associated with a

22

Maurice Ravel, Rapsodie Espagnole, Mother Goose, and Pavane for a Dead Princess in Full
Score, (New York : Dover Publications, Inc. , 2001) , 123.

40

41
transfiguration links this orchestral decision to Berliozs use of harmonics to describe
fairy-like instances of a story. See Introduction, page 20.

Ma Mre LOye, Les entretiennes


Example 3 d

C) String Harmonics in String Sections


Petit Poucet
Vc, m. 31: second natural harmonic on the G string (G3)/ m. 32: fourth natural
harmonic on the G string (G4)
Db, m. 60: second and fourth natural harmonic on the G string (G3, G4)
Vl 1 divisi 2, m. 67:, second natural harmonic on the G string (G4)
Vc divisi, m.m. 71 - 75: fourth and fifth artificialharmonics* (Eb4-G4).
Laideronette, Impratrice des Pagodes.
Db, m.m. 1- 20: fifth natural harmonic on the A string (C#4)
Db, m. 19: second natural harmonic on the G string (G3)/ m.m. 21- 23, fifth
natural harmonic on the E string (G#3)
Db, m.m. 40 - 42, m.m.177 - 178: fifth natural harmonic on the D string (F#4)

41

42
Les entretiennes de la Belle et de la Bte
Vc divisi, m. 47, 48: fifth natural harmonic on the C string and fourth natural
harmonic on the G string (E4, G4; unison with harp harmonics)
Db, m.m. 102 - 104: fourth natural harmonic on the G string (G4)
Vc, m. 107: second natural harmonic on the A string (A4).
Vc, m.m. 114 - 17: third natural harmonic on the C string (G3) / m. 118, fifth
harmonic on the C string (E4)

Pavane pour une Infante Dfunte


A) String Harmonics in Ensemble
Vl 1 non divisi, m. 72: fourth natural harmonics on the G and the D strings (G5D6); Vla non divisi, third natural harmonics on the C and the G strings (G4-D5). (See
Example 4)

Pavane pour une Infante Dfunte,


Example 4

42

43

B) String Harmonics in String Sections


Vc, m. 42, 52: second natural harmonics on the G and the D string (non divisi)
(G3-D4)

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales


A) String Harmonics in Ensemble
I
In m. 38, cellos play on the G string third natural harmonic D5, first violins divisi
2 play on the G string third natural harmonic D5 and fifth natural harmonic B5, first
violins 1 play on the G string fourth natural harmonic D6. See Example 5 a.

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - I


Example 5 a

43

44

II
In the last measure, cellos divisi 2 and 1 play on the G string fourth natural
harmonic G4 and fifth natural harmonic B4 respectively; first violins divisi 2 and 1 play
on the G string third natural harmonic D5 and fourth natural harmonic G5. Cellos divisi
2 and 1 play at unison with first flute G4 and harps left hand harmonic B4 respectively,
first violins divisi 1 play at unison with harp's right hand harmonic G5. See Example 5
b.

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - II


Example 5 b

III
In this movement, Ravel used string harmonics on one hand as part of an
accompaniment pattern, and on the other hand as timbre replacement for winds in a pedal
texture.
From m.m. 17 - 24, double basses and cellos share an accompaniment texture
that alternates the same design in two octaves every two measures. Double basses and
cellos play on the second beats, on the D string, third natural harmonic A3 and A4
respectively. Horns and bassoons support low strings accompaniment variation of the

44

45
register alternating a pedal on A that changes its octave along with cellos and basses. (See
Example 5 c).

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - III


Example 5 c

From m.m. 25 - 32, first violins and violas take cellos and basses
accompaniment pattern. Second violins-cellos and cellos-double basses share the
changing octaves pedal that horns and bassoons played before. Second violins play on
the D string third natural harmonic A6, double basses play on the D string third
natural harmonic A3, and cellos play on the D string third natural harmonic A4
throughout this passage. In this way, Ravel scored for these strings a jumping octave
pedal without writing any individual leap for them. In m. 29, double basses play on
the D string fourth natural harmonic D4 at unison with viola pizzicato. In m. 33,
double basses play on the D string fifth natural harmonic F#4 at unison with first
bassoon. See Example 5 d.

45

46

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - III


Example 5 d

46

47

From m.m. 33 - 36, double basses and cellos have the same accompaniment
pattern than from m.m. 17 - 24, but playing on the D string fifth natural harmonic F#4
and 5 respectively. From m.m. 37 - 40, cellos and violas have this design, playing on the
D string fifth natural harmonics F#5 and 6 respectively. Cellos and second violins play
this accompaniment pattern from m.m. 41 - 47, playing on G string fifth natural
harmonics B4 and B5 respectively.
From m.m. 33 - 36, first and second clarinet and first bassoon play pedal notes
F#3, 5 and 4 respectively. Cellos hold their last accompanimental harmonic to take F#5
from first clarinet. Second clarinet has an octave leap from F#3 to F#4 on the third beat of
m. 36. Double basses take the latter pitch and, along with cellos, continue the woodwinds
pedal in m. 37 and 38, which first bassoon and clarinets resume in m. 39 and 40. From
the third beat of m. 40 to the last beat of m. 44, first flute, fourth, second, and first horns,
play a B3, B4, B5, and B6 pedal. From pick-up of m. 45 to the first beat of m. 46, first
violins replaces second horn playing B3, cellos replace first horn playing B4, and violas
supplant first flute playing B5. In the second beat of m. 46, first and second horn play B4
and B3, replacing cellos and first bassoon respectively, therefore, descending one octave
the pedal. Finally, from m. 48 to first beat of 49, cellos and violas play the pedal one
octave above, playing on the G string fifth natural harmonics B4 and B5 respectively. See
Example 5 e.

47

48

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - III


Example 5 e

48

49

(Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - III


Example 5 e continued)

49

50

VI
In m. 12, violas divisi 2 play on the D string second natural harmonic D5, second
violins divisi 2 play on the D string fourth natural harmonic D6, and second violin divisi
1 play on E string second natural harmonic E6. See Example 5 f.

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - VI


Example 5 f

VIII-Epilogue
1) From m.m. 29 - 32, violas divisi 1 play on the C string natural harmonic E5,
violin divisi 1 play on the A string third natural harmonic E6. Harp harmonics play the
attack to these instruments. See Example 5 g.

50

51

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - VIII


Example 5 g

2) In m. 51 and 52, double basses divisi 1 play on the E string fourth natural
harmonic E3, cellos and violas divisi 2 play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E4 and
E5 respectively, second violins divisi 2 play on the A string third natural harmonic E6,
and second violins divisi 2 play on E string fourth natural harmonic E7. See Example 5 h.

51

52

Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - VIII


Example 5 h

3) In the second beat of m. 72, violas divisi 2 and 1 play third artificial
harmonics* A4 and B4 respectively; second violins divisi 2 play on the G string fifth
natural harmonic B5 and second violins divisi play on the D string third natural harmonic
A5; first violins divisi 2 play on the A string fourth natural harmonic A6 and first violins
divisi 1 play on the E string third natural harmonic B6. Even though notation shows a
minor seventh in second violins divisi and a major sixth in first violins divisi, they are
playing major seconds A5-B5 and A6-B6 respectively. See Example 5 i.

52

53
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales - VIII
Example 5 i

B) String Harmonics in String Sections


I
Vc, m.m. 32 - 41: fifth natural harmonic in the G string (B4)
II
Vl 1, m. 13 and 15, third beat; m. 14 and 16, second beat: third natural harmonic
on the G string (D5) / m. 14 and 16, third beat: fourth natural harmonic on the D string
(D6)
Va, m.m. 21 - 22, m.m. 54 - 55: fifth natural harmonic on the C string (E5)
First violins divisi 2, m. 26, 28: third natural harmonic on the G string (D5)
Vl 2, m. 41, 43, 45, 47: third natural harmonics on the D string (D5) / m. 42, 44,
46: third natural harmonic on theA string (A5)

53

54
III
Vc, m.m. 5 - 7: fifth natural harmonic on the C string (E4)
Db, m.m. 13 - 15: fourth natural harmonic on the E string (E3)
Db divisi 2, m. 63, 65, 67: fourth natural harmonic on the D string (D4) /m. 71:
Db, second natural harmonic on the G string (G3).
Vc, m.m. 71 - 72: third natural harmonic on the C and the G strings (G3-D4)
IV
Vc, m.m. 21 - 22: fifth natural harmonic on the C string (E 4). From m.m. 19 - 21,
bassoon 1 plays E4. This pitch is played by cellos in m. 21 and 22, and violas are
continuing cellos pitch from m.m. 23 - 24.
V
Db, m. 4 and 5: third natural harmonic (E3) and second natural harmonic (A2) on
the A string respectively. Even though the notation goes P4 up, the passage will sound a
descending P5
Db, m. 8, m.m. 23 - 24, 28: fifth natural harmonic on the E string (G#3)
Db, m.m. 19 - 20: third natural harmonic on the A string (C#4)
Vc, m. 28: fifth natural harmonic on the G string (B4)
VI
Va divisi 1, m. 9: second natural harmonic on the D string (D5)
Db divisi 1, m. 14: third natural harmonic on the D string (A3), at unison with Db
divisi 2 pizzicato and harp

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55
VII
Vc, m. 20, 23, 26, 29, 112, 115, 118, 121: fifth natural harmonic on the C string
(E4)
Vl 1, m. 34: second natural harmonic on the A string (A5)
Vc, m. 43, 45: third natural harmonic on the A string (E4) / m. 44, 46: fifth natural
harmonic on the C string (E4)
Vl 1, m. 70, 74: second, third, and fourth natural harmonics on the E string (E6,
B6, E7)
Db, m. 78: third and sixth natural harmonics on the D string (A3-A4) / m. 80: fifth
natural harmonic on the D string (F#4)
Db, m. 90, 98: third natural harmonic on the G string (D4)
Vc, m. 112, 115, 118, 121: fifth natural harmonic on C string (E4)
Vc, m.135, 137: third natural harmonic on the A string (E4) / m. 136, 138: fifth
natural harmonic on the C string (E4)
VIII Epilogue
Vc divisi 1, m.m. 21 - 24: third artificial harmonic* (B6)
Db, m. 40: fourth natural harmonic on the A string (A3) and third natural
harmonic on the E string (B2)
Vl 2 divisi 1 and 2, m.m. 43 - 49: fifth natural harmonic on the G string (B5)

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56

Alborada del Gracioso


A) String Harmonics in Ensemble
1) Strings divisi natural and artificial harmonics are, so to speak, the acoustic
resonance for violas and violins divisi pizzicato from m.m. 76 - 103.
From m.m. 76 - 80, cellos divisi 3 play on the G string third natural harmonic D4,
cellos divisi 2 play on the D string natural harmonic A4, and cellos divisi 1 play on the D
string fifth natural harmonic F#5; violas divisi 3 play on the C string fourth natural
harmonic C5; second violins divisi 6 play on the G string third natural harmonic D5,
second violins divisi 5 play on the G string fourth artificial harmonic* C#5, and second
violins divisi 4 play on the D string third natural harmonic A5; first violins divisi 6 and 5
play on the D string fourth natural harmonic D6 and fifth natural harmonic F#6 , and first
violins divisi 4 play on the A string fourth natural harmonic A6. See Example 6 a.

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57

Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 a

From m.m. 83 - 86, cellos divisi 3 play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E4,
cellos divisi 2 play on the G string fourth natural harmonic G4, and first cellos divisi play
on the D string third natural harmonic A4; violas divisi 5, 4, and 3 play on the C string
second natural harmonic C4, fourth natural harmonic C5, and fifth natural harmonic E5
respectively; second violins divisi 6 play on the G string fourth natural harmonic G5,
second violins divis 5 play on the D string third natural harmonic A5, and second violins
divisi 4 play on the G string fourth artificial harmonic C6; first violins divisi 6 and 4 play
on the A string third and fourth natural harmonics E6 and A6 respectively, and first
violins divisi 5 play on the D string fourth artificial harmonic* G6. See Example 6 b.

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58

Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 b

From m.m. 90 - 93, cellos divisi 4 play on the G string third natural harmonic D4,
cellos divisi 3 play on the G and the D string fourth and third natural harmonics G4 and
A4 respectively, and cellos divisi 2 play on the G string fifth natural harmonic B4; violas
divisi play fourth artificial harmonic* A5; second violins divisi 6 play on the G and the
D string fourth and third natural harmonics G5 and A5 respectively, second violins divisi
5 play on the G string fifht natural harmonic B5, and second violins divisi 4 play on the D
string third natural harmonic D6; violins divisi 6 play on the A string natural harmonic
E6, violins divisi 5 play fourth artificial harmonic* G6, and first violins divisi 4 play on
the A string fourth artificial harmonic A6. See Example 6 c.

58

59

Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 c

From m.m. 98 - 101, cellos divisi 4 play artificial harmonic* C#4, cellos divisi 3
play same than m.m. 90 to 92, and cellos divisi 2 play on the C string fifth natural
harmonic E4; violas divisi play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E4; second violins
divisi 6 play same than m.m. 90 to 92, second violins 5 play artificial harmonic* A#5,
and second violins divisi 4 play artificial harmonic* C#6; first violins divisi 6, 5, and 4
play same natural and artificial harmonics* than from m.m. 90 - 92. In m. 102, double
basses divisi 3 play on the A string second natural harmonic A2. See Example 6 d.

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60

Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 d.

3) In m. 130, cellos divisi 1 play on the D string second natural harmonic D4.
Ravels notation for this harmonic (a diamond indicating the real sound) is an exception
to his usual notation for second natural harmonics. Double basses
play on the D string fifth natural harmonic F#4. See Example 6 e.

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61

Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 e

4) From m.m. 164 - 169, Ravel reinforced octave leaps in the first and second
harps with string natural and harmonic sounds plus contrabassoon, bassoons and horns. In
m. 164 and 165, double basses divisi 1 play on the D string third natural harmonic A3;
from m.m. 167 - 169, double basses divisi 2 and 1 play on the A string second and fourth
harmonic A2 and 3 respectively. In m. 164, cellos divisi 1 play on the D string third
natural harmonic A4; in m. 166 cellos divisi 2 play on the D string third natural harmonic
A4, and in m. 167 they play on the A string fourth natural harmonic A5 at unison with
higher first harp's harmonic. Second violins and violas divisi 2 play on the D string third
natural harmonic A5 in m. 165 and 167 respectively. See Example 6 f.

61

62

Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 f

62

63

(Alborada del Gracioso


Example 6 f - continued)

63

64

4) In m. 211, double-basses divisi 1, 2 play second natural harmonics on the G


and the A strings respectively. One solo cello ends a line playing the third natural
harmonic on the A string (E5). See Example 6 g.
Alborada del Gracioso
Example 6 g

B) String Harmonics in String Sections


Db divisi, m.m. 14 - 15: Db divisi 2, second natural harmonic on the G string
(G3); db divisi 1, third natural harmonic on the G string (D4)
Db divisi 3, m.m. 102 - 103: second natural harmonic on the A string (A2)
Db divisi 1, m. 133, m.m. 136 - 139, fifth natural harmonic on the D string (F#4);
m. 140: fourth natural harmonic on the G string (G4)
Db divisi 2 and 1, m. 151: second natural harmonic on the G string (G3) and fifth
natural harmonic on the A string (C#4); m. 153, second beat: third natural harmonic on
the D string (A3) and fifth natural harmonic on the D string (F#4)

64

65

Le Tombeau de Couperin
A) String Harmonics in Ensemble
I-Forlane
1) In second beat of m. 32 and 49, cellos play on the G string fourth natural
harmonic G4, at unison with bassoon 1 and lower pitch of second violin pizzicato non
divisi; violas play on the C and the G string fifth and third natural harmonics E5 and D5
respectively. Violas E5 is at unison with higher pitch of second violins pizzicato non
divisi and second clarinet. ViolasD5 is not doubling any other instrument, they hold for
one eight the seventh of an E minor chord. See Example 7a.

Le TombeauI-Forlane
Example 7 a

2) In m.m. 64 - 65 and m.m. 66 - 67, double basses and violas natural


harmonics on the D and the A strings are doubling harp harmonics. In m. 64 and 65,
double basses play on the D string fifth natural harmonic F#4; in m. 65, violas play on the
D string fifth natural harmonic F#6. In m. 66 and 67, double basses play on the A string

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66
sixth natural harmonic E4; in m. 67, violas play on the A string third natural harmonic
E6. See Example 7 b.

Le TombeauI-Forlane
Example 7 b

3) Cellos divisi and violas play fourth artificial harmonics from m.m. 158 - 159.
Cellos divisi 2 play fourth artificial harmonic* D#4, that sounds in between first horn and
trumpet; cellos divisi 1 play fourth artificial harmonic* G#4, an augmented second above
the trumpet. Violas divisi play fourth artificial harmonic* D#5, at unison with first flute.
See Example 7 c.

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67

Le TombeauI-Forlane
Example 7 c

III Menuet
The only instance of natural harmonics in ensemble occurs from m.m. 43 50 in double basses and cellos divisi.
From m.m. 35 - 42, doubles basses 1 and 2 play, over a G2-D3 pedal hold by
cellos, a descending and ascending two bars design, which is a secondary line that
accompanies the melody on first flute, clarinets and first bassoon. In m. 35, double basses
1 and 2 play on the G string sixth natural harmonic D5, and on the D string they play
fourth natural harmonic D4 and second natural harmonic D3. In m. 36, double basses
play G open string and on the D string they play again second natural harmonic D3 and
fourth natural harmonic D4. This two bars formula is repeated three times from m.m. 37 42, and four more times from m.m. 43 - 50, but doubled one octave above by harps
harmonics in this ocassion.
67

68

From m.m. 43 - 50, doubles basses divisi 3, 4, 5, and 6 hold the G2-D3 pedal that
cellos played from m.m. 35 to 42. Doubles basses 3, 4, 5, and 6 play double stops G2-D3
by playing G2 on the G open string, and D3 as second natural harmonic on the D string.
See Example 7 d.

Le TombeauI-Forlane
Example 7 d

68

69
(Le TombeauI-Forlane
Example 7 d continued)

69

70
(Le TombeauI-Forlane
Example 7 d continued)

70

71
In first beats of m. 41, 43, 45, and 47, Ravel imitated with his orchestration the
piano attack and its sustain pedal effect. In doing so, he asked first violins to play ppp
pizzicato the octave D5-D6. They recreate the piano attack for the first beat pitches
played every two bars by harp and double basses divisi 1, 2 (D5-D6). From m.m. 41 48, cellos divisi 2 hold fourth natural harmonic D5. In m. 41, cellos divisi 1 play fourth
artificial harmonic* D6, and in m. 4 they descend to open D3. Cellos divisi 1 repeat this
two bars idea three more times. On the one hand, they expand the doubles basses 3, 4, 5,
and 6 G2-D3 pedal played before by cellos divisi 1 (m.m. 35 - 42). On the other hand,
from m.m. 41 - 50, cellos divisi 1 and 2 are imitating the piano sustain pedal effect by
prolonging D5-D6 played in the first beat of m. 41, 43, 45, and 47 by double basses
divisi 1, harp, and first violins pizzicato. Moreover, Ravel's orchestration changes for the
secondary line and pedal from m.m. 41 - 47 supporting the main melody timbre variation.
From m.m. 33 - 40, first flute, clarinets, and first bassoon play the first phrase, whereas
clarinets, first horn, and bassoon play the second one from m.m. 41 - 47.
There is a typing mistake in the double bass line, in the first beat of m. 69, 71, 73,
75, 77, and 79 from Editions Durand & Cie. Double bass should have written Bb3 as a
diamond shaped note instead of Eb4.

71

72

B) String Harmonics in String Sections


I.-Prlude
Doube basses, m.m. 28 - 29: third natural harmonic on the A string (E3)
Cellos, m.m. 30 - 33: double stop playing G2 as an open string and D4 as the
second natural harmonic on the D string
Cellos, m. 37 and 39: third natural harmonic on the G string (D4)
Double basses, m.m. 82 - 83: sixth natural harmonic on the D string (A4)
II.-Forlane
Violas, m. 31, 35, 48, and 51: double stops on the C and the G strings, playing
fifth and third natural harmonics E5 and D5 respectively.
From m.m. 76 - 78, violas harmonics are doubling trumpet and harps harmonics.
From m.m. 84 - 88, first violins play descending double octave leaps (F#6-F#4)
fingering a descending perfect fourth. The first eight note of each grupo is a fifth natural
harmonic onthe D string. See Example n.
III.-Menuet
In m. 18 and 20, double basses 2 play on the G string the fifth natural harmonic
B5. In m. 24, they play on the D string the fifth natural harmonic A4.
In m. 25, cellos play on the A string the fourth natural harmonic A4.
In m. 32, double basses play on the D string second natural harmonic D3 and
fourth natural harmonic D4.
Double basses, m. 83 and 99: fifth natural harmomnic on the D string (F#)
Cellos, m. 120: third natural harmonic on the D string (A4)

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73
Violas divisi 2, m.m. 122 - 123: double stop on the G and the D strings playing
third and fourth natural harmonics respectively (D5-D6).
First violins, m. 123: third natural harmonic on the E string (B6

La Valse
String Harmonics in Ensemble
1) From m.m. 321 - 326, double basses divisi 2 play on the A string the fourth
natural harmonic A3, and double basses divisi 1 play on the D string the fifth natural
harmonic A4. In m. 322, violas play on the A string the fourth natural harmonic A6, and
they play on the D string the third natural harmonic A5. In m. 326, cellos play on the D
string the third natural harmonic A4. See Example 8 a.

La Valse
Example 8 a

73

74

String Harmonics in Solo Instruments


1) In m. 378 and 380, 1 cello solo and a first violin solo play in
octaves on the A string the second natural harmonic. In m. 382, 1 cellos solo and first and
second violins play in octaves on the D string the second natural harmonic. See Example
8 b.

La Valse
Example 8 b

String Harmonics in String Sections


Double basses divisi 1, m. 73 and 77: glissando on the A string ending in its
second natural harmonic (A2), at unison with the lower pitch of cellos divisi 1 pizzicato.
Double basses, m.m. 106 - 107: glissando on the A string ending in its fourth
natural harmonic (A3).
Violas, m. 156: third natural harmonic on the D string (A5), at unison with first
oboe.
Violas, m. 164 and 172: second natural harmonic on the A string (A5).
74

75
First violins, m. 166 and 174: second natural harmonic on the E string (E6).
First violins, m.m. 284 - 286: third and fourth natural harmonics on the G (D5)
and the D (D6) strings respectively. Notation shows an ascending fourth leap and the
result is an ascending octave leap.
Cellos, m.m. 309 - 311, m.m. 313 - 314, and m.m. 316 - 318: second natural
harmonic on the A string (A4).
Violas, m.m. 348 - 355: second natural harmonic on the C string (C4) at unison
with horn 1.
Double basses, m.m. 388 - 389: second natural harmonic on the A string (A2).
First violins, m.m. 405 - 411, m.m. 415 - 421: fourth and third natural harmonics
on the E (E6) and the A (E5) string. This excerpt is fingered as a descending perfect
fourth leap and the sounding pitches result is a descending octave leap.
Double basses, m. 573, 575, and 577: fourth natural harmonic on the E string
(E3).

Tzigane, Rapsodie de Concert pour Violon et Orchestre


1) From five measures after the rehearsal number 5 to rehearsal number 7,
double basses play on the D string the fifth natural harmonic A4, and cellos play on the D
string the third natural harmonic A4 and they play on the A string the fourth natural
harmonic A5. See example 9 a.

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76

Tzigane
Example 9 a

2) Four measures before the rehearsal number 8 cellos divisi 3 play the fourth
artificial harmonic* C#5, cellos divisi 2 play on the D string the third natural harmonic
A4, and cellos divisi 1 play on the A string the third natural harmonic E5. See Example 9
b.

Tzigane
Example 9 b

76

77
3) From rehearsal number 8 to 9, cellos and double basses alternate an A4 pedal
every two beats. Second violins pizzicato mark the beginning of cellos D string third
natural harmonic A4 and the end of double basses D string fifth natural harmonic A4;
violas pizzicato initiate double basses D string fifth natural harmonic A4 and stop cellos
D string third natural harmonic A4. This texture is related to the woodwinds pedal: In
first beat of rehearsal number 8, harp octave A5-A6 starts first flute and piccolo
harmonics A5-A6. One measure after rehearsal number 8, harp harmonic A5 mark the
beginning of clarinet A5. This pedal alternating flutes A5-A6 with clarinet A5 is echoed
by pedal A4, which changes color between cellos and double basses harmonics. See
Example 9 c.

Tzigane
Example 9 c

77

78

4) From rehearsal number 11 to two measures before rehearsal number 12, cellos,
violas, and second violins divisi hold a chord (D4, A4, E5, A5, E6, A6) that includes the
pitches played by clarinets and flutes. First oboe play at the octave some of violin solo
pitches, which create a cantabile line that adds G, F, and C to the set. Cellos divisi 2 and
1 play third natural harmonics D4 and A4 on the G and the D string respectively. Violas
divisi 2 play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E5, violas divisi 1 play on the D string
third natural harmonic A5. Second violins divisi 2 and 1 play on the A string third natural
harmonic E6 and fourth natural harmonic A6 in the order named. See Example 9 d.

Tzigane
Example 9 d

78

79

Concerto pour la main gauche


A) String Harmonics in Ensemble
Ravel orchestrated two similar passages creating a subtle texture that features
different kinds of strings harmonic simultaneously.
From m.m. 289 - 320, double basses, second and first violins divisi hold a C 7
chord with 9th and #11th , while cellos divisi 1 and violas divisi 1 play on the C string
natural harmonics glissando. Strings plus first and second bassoon play a subtle
background for piano solos line.
Double basses divisi 3 and 2 play on the G string second natural harmonic G3 and
fourth natural harmonic G4 respectively, double basses divisi 1 play on the D string
seventh harmonic C4. Cellos divisi 1 and viola divisi 1 play natural harmonics glissando
on the C string encompassing second to sharpened eleventh natural harmonics. It seems
to be a typographic mistake for cello divisi 1 in Editions Durand & Cie. in m. 290:
instead of saying sul Sol (on the G string) it should say sul C (on the C string) as it says
for violas divisi 1 in m. 289; otherwise, it is not possible to perform the notated natural
harmonics glissando pitches from m.m. 290 - 299 for cello divisi 1. Second violins divisi
2 play on the A string fifth natural harmonic E5, second violins divisi 1 play on the G
string fourth natural harmonic G5. First violins divisi 3 and 1 play fourth artificial
harmonics* Bb5 and F#6 in the order named, whereas first violins divisi 2 play on the G
string the third natural harmonic D6. See Example 10 a.

79

80

Concerto pour la main gauche


Example 10 a

80

81

Ravel composed a parallel passage to m.m. 289 - 299 from m. m. 310 - 320:
double basses, cellos, violas, second, and first violins divisi hold an A 7 chord with 9th
and #11th while second clarinet and first flute have cellos and violas divisi 1 former
passage texture; first flute plays in real sounds a harmonic series from second to
sharpened eleventh partial, second clarinet begins a canon one measure later imitating
first flute one octave below.
Double basses divisi 1 play on the A string natural harmonic A3; cellos divisi 2
play on the C string fifth natural harmonic E4, cellos divisi 1 play on the D string third
natural harmonic A4; violas divisi 1 play fourth artificial harmonic* C#5; second violins
divisi 3 play third artificial harmonic* E5, second violins divisi 2 play on the D string
third natural harmonic A5, and second violins divisi 1 play fourth artificial harmonic*
C#6; first violins divisi 3 and 2 play on the G string fourth and fifth natural harmonics G5
and B5 respectively, first violins divisi 1 play fourth artificial harmonic* D#6. See
Example 10 b.

81

82

Concerto pour la main gauche


Example 10 b

82

83

B) String Harmonics in Strings Sections


First violins, m. 105: ascending glissando on the A string ending in the fourth
natural harmonic A6.

Concerto pour piano et orchestre


A) String Harmonics in Esemble
The only instance of string harmonics in ensemble occurs in the first movement,
three measures after rehearsal number 23. Ravel notated precise fingerings and resulting
sounds for two solo double basses, three solo cellos, one viola, and three solo first
violins playing natural harmonics. (See Example 11).

Concerto pour piano et orchestre


Example 11

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84

B) String Harmonics for String Sections


I
Cellos, from m.m. 1 - 3 measures before rehearsal number 1: tremolo of fourth
natural harmonic on D string (D5).
II
First violins, last measure: fourth artificial harmonic B5.

Tableaux dune exposition


A) String Harmonics in Ensemble
Promenade 4
In third beat of measure 9, double basses play on the D string third natural
harmonic A3, and cellos play on the A string second natural harmonic A4. In the last
measure, double basses and cellos play on the D string third natural harmonic A3 and 4
respectively. See Example 12 a.

Tableaux dune exposition


Example 12 a.

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85

CUM MORTUIS IN LINGUA MORTUA


In the last ten measures of this number, Ravel orchestrated right hands tremolo
alternating every bar first violins divisi tremolo plus flutes with double basses and cellos
divisi 1 playing tremolo fifth natural harmonics F#4 and F#5 on D string. In the last
measure, second violins divisi and violas and play tremolo a B Major chord over double
basses and cellos tremolo. Violas play on the D string fifth natural harmonic F#6. Second
violins divisi 2 and 1 play fourth artificial harmonics* B5 and D#6 respectively. See
Example 12 b

TableauxCum Mortis in Lingua Mortua


Example 12 b.

85

86
(TableauxCum Mortis in Lingua Mortua
Example 12 b. Continued)

86

87

LA CABANE SUR DES PATTES DE POULE


From m.m. 106 - 108, Ravel lightened the orchestration in a subtle and effective
way. In m. 106 and 107, cellos and second plus first violins play on the D and the A
strings third natural harmonics A4-A5/E5-E6. In m. 108, cellos and violas play these
intervals decreasing naturally volume and loudness. In m. 106, double basses play piano
A2-E2. Bass clarinet plays same pitches in 107, balancing double basses by playing mf.
In m. 108, double basses repeat the same line but this time their timbre becomes lighter
by playing second natural harmonics on the A and the E strings instead of natural
sounds. See Example 12 c.

TableauxLa Cabane sur des Pattes de Poule


Example 12 c.

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88

B) String Harmonics in String Sections


1-Gnomus
From m.m. 29 - 36, violas, cellos, second and first violins play ascending and
descending glissandos that peak in a second natural harmonic.
5. Ballet de poussins dans leurs coques
Violas m.m. 39 - 46: fourth artificial harmonic F5.

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89

Conclusion

I did not find in the complete collection of Ravels letters, writings, and dialogues
any technical comment about the use of string harmonics in orchestral works.23 Ravels
fondness for refined and unusual orchestral sonorities is the fundamental reason for him
to use string harmonics, among others orchestral devices. However, I can infer from
Ravels orchestral works other motives that justify the choice of string harmonics instead
of employing natural string notes. I divided these causes in different categories, even
though in many cases several reasons are acting together.

1) Instrumental Technique: In some passages, when a string instrument has to


play big leaps, Ravel uses string harmonics allowing performers to obtain a double or a
perfect octave leap while fingering a perfect fourth or a perfect fifth. As Bruce Arthur
Thomas stated: "The difficulty of extreme skips from the low to the high register is
avoided by the use of natural harmonics that do not require change of position or crossing
of the strings."24 I see examples of these cases in Feria from m.m. 44 - 47, or in Forlane
from m.m. 84 - 88.

23

Arbie Orenstein, Lettres, crits, Entretiennes, (Paris: Flammarion, 1989)


24. Arthur Bruce Thomas, Ravels Orchestration. (Masters Paper, The University of
Texas, 1954) , 35.
24

89

90
From m.m. 102 - 104 of Entretiennes de la Belle et la Bte, Ravel used doublebasses fourth natural harmonic on G string to add volume and intensity to cellos line.
He could have used natural sounds instead of harmonics, but the excerpt would have lost
the power of the double-basss open string as well as its harmonics brilliance.

2) Transition between woodwinds and strings: As we have seen in this papers


Overview, In the first chapter of his PrinciplesRimsky-Korsakov considers string
harmonics to be a link between woodwinds and strings. As Francisc Poulenc recalled,
Ravel was very familiar with Rimskys orchestration treatise: Another time he said to
Auric: I'd like your help. I want to write an orchestration treatise like RimskyKorsakovs, with short extracts from my music, but to show what should not be
donethe things I got wrong!25
Hlne Jourdan-Morhange, violinist and one of Ravels closest friends in the last
years of his life, recalls his esteem for Rimskys orchestral works. " On the question of
orchestration, Ravel always said how much he had learnt from reading the scores of
Rimsky-Korsakov and Strauss." 26
In the last measure of Ravels Pavane pour une Infante Dfunte, natural
harmonics in the first violins and violas substitute for flutes pitches. We find a similar
idea in the last measure of Cum Mortuis in Lingua Mortua, from Tableaux dune
Exposition. In this case, artificial harmonics in the second violins, and natural harmonics
in the violas and cellos replace pitches from flutes harmonics and piccolo, doubled by

25
26

Nicholas Roger, Ravel Remembered, ( New York: Norton, 1988) , 118


Ibid. , 104.

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91
harp harmonics. In these two instances, the timbre change from winds to strings permits
also a more effective diminuendo. See Example 12 b, p. 85.
We see a more elaborated timbral transformation from winds to strings in Petit
Poucet, from Ma Mere LOye. In m. 67, horns replace bassoons by playing their major
third Eb4-G4, minor seventh and ninth of an F minor chord. In m. 71, string harmonics of
cellos divisi take these notes from horns and hold them until m. 75. In this measure, the
first and second violins play cellos pitches to begin the initial design that depicts Tom
Thumb wondering in the forest.

3) Recreation of the piano resonance in the orchestra:


In his orchestral pieces, Ravel used string harmonics to rebuild either the effect
of the piano sustain pedal, or just the acoustic resonance of the instrument. If he would
not have done this, the sonority of certain passages he orchestrated would have sounded
dry or empty. Besides techical issues, Ravels composition student and longlife friend
Manuel Rosenthal recalls his Maestro poetic of orchestration: "Instrumentation, he said,
is when you take the music you or someone else has writen and you find the right kind of
instrumentsBut orchestration is when you give a feeling of the two pedals at the piano:
that means that you are building an atmosphere of sound around the music, around the
written notes thats orchestration."27
In the piano score of the Epilogue from Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, from
m.m. 29 - 32, the bass for the right hand melody is a low E1 pedal. In the orchestral
score, double-basses and cellos hold the pedal E1-E2, whereas violas and second violins

27

Nicholas Roger, Ravel Remembered, ( New York: Norton, 1988) , 67 68.

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92
harmonics are part of the strings texture recreating the piano resonance playing the pedal
E3-E4-E5-E6. See Example 5 g, p. 50.
In the Alborada del Gracioso orchestral score, from m.m. 76 - 103, chords hold
mostly by string harmonics recreate the 2 pedals indication of the original piano score,
whereas strings pizzicatto and harp evocate the piano attack. See Examples 6 a d, p. 56
- 59.
Ravels orchestration from m.m. 1 - 21 of Laideronette, Imperatrice des
Pagodes, from Ma Mre LOye, suggests us a composers possible use of the piano
sustain pedal in this excerpt, which is not indicated in the piano score. The long pedal of
the fifth harmonic on A string (C#4) in muted double-basses is a very important feature
of the strings texture evoking the piano sustain pedal resonance.
I have discussed on page 66 Ravels attempt to recreate the piano resonance in the
Mussette of the Minuet from Le Tombeau de Couperin. See Example 7 d, p.68.

4) Musical depiction of a fairy-tale instance of the text: We have seen in the


Overview Berliozs aesthetic impression about the use of string harmonics in orchestral
works. This composer inaugurated the orchestral use of string harmonics to depict a
supernatural world implicit in a text associated with the music. We have seen also, how
Wagner in the Prelude to Lohengrim as well as in Siegfried, Verdi in Aida, and Strauss
in Also Sprach Zarathustra enriched the associations of orchestral string harmonics with
fantastic or unusual instances of a text. Ravel clearly followed this tradition in the suite
Ma Mre LOye, where the use of string harmonics is often related to the creation of a
fairy-like effect.

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93
From this perspective, the double-basses divisi 2 playing the fifth natural
harmonic on E string at the beginning of Pavane de la Belle au bois dormant, and the
addition of violas playing the third harmonic on G string in the parallel phrase at the end
of this movement set the tone, in a very subtle way, for the fairy-like mood that frames
the whole work.
In the most emblematic passage of the second movement, Petit Poucet, the
excerpt "which depicts the chirping of the birds as they fly down to eat up the crumbs"28:
Orchestration of the cinq pieces enfantines-1911: a view from the podium, p. 7), Ravel
depicted one of the birds with a glissando of artificial harmonics (m. 51 and 53).
Moreover, double basses divisi 1 play a second natural harmonic on D string from m.m.
51 - 54, and second violins from m.m. 51 - 52, as well as cellos from m.m. 54 - 55, play
on the D string an ascending and descending glissando that peaks in a second natural
harmonic. In the last measure of this movement, violas divisi playing natural and
artificial harmonics hold a C major chord along with the oboe.
I described on page 38 the depiction of a transfiguration in Les Entretiennes de la
Belle et la Bte, the last case of harmonics of Ma Mre Loye.

5) Creation of objectivity: Charles Koechlin mentioned in his Treatise On


Orchestration: "We could not do better than choosing from works by Ravel (who was
fond of using them) the followig natural string harmonics examples". Ravels affection
for natural string harmonics is clearly demonstrated after checking the cases I analyzed
in this paper. I examined 124 instances of string harmonics in Ravels orchestral works,
28. James Lee Forward, Maurice Ravel: Ma Mre Loye: Orchestration of the cinq pieces
enfantines-1911: A View from the Podium, (Masters Paper, University of California, 1989) , 7.

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94
and I found only 23 instances where the composer asked for artificial harmonics. In this
paper, I marked with an * each appearance of artificial harmonics to facilitate their
location to the reader. Remarkably, only in one case of them (Les Entretiennes de la Belle
et la Bte, first violin solo, m.m. 148 - 151 ) the soloist is alone in the foreground and
able to play artificial harmonics with vibrato. The other 22 artificial harmonics cases are
either in the background or in the middleground, sorrounded by other natural string
harmonics or natural string sounds, doubled by other instruments, or accompanied by
other soloists.
Ravels choice of natural harmonics as well as the careful use of artificial
harmonics are deliberate. Natural harmonics are played on open strings and obviously do
not allow to add vibrato to the actual sound. Because during the first quarter of the 20th
century the continuous use of vibrato and its association with musical expressivness
gradually became the norm, we tend to perceive natural harmonics less subjective than
natural sounds or artificial harmonics played with vibrato. Ravel used extensively natural
string harmonics to create objectivity; as if they were, so to speak, a filter for individual
feelings in his orchestral sonorities. When artificial harmonics occur in Ravels orchestral
works, their potential "expressiveness" is neutralized (but the violin solo in
Entretiennes) by diverse means: hiding the artificial harmonic among other string
natural harmonics, or asking them to play short notes imitating birds twittering, or
placing them in the middleground or in the background, or doubling them with other
instruments.

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Ravels search for objectivity through the extensive use of natural string
harmonics is stronger in orchestral works that, though evoking the 19th century, avoided
the risk of turning emotional or subjective. In Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, there are
32 instances of natural harmonics and only 2 cases of artificial harmonics, both of them
in the Epilogue. In the first one, from m. 21 to 24, cellos divisi 1 play the third artificial
harmonic as a middle voice among natural sounds of the other strings. In the second one,
from m.m. 72 to 74, violas divisi 1 and 2 play third artificial harmonics among other
natural harmonics and real sounds of the other strings. In La Valse, there are 12 cases of
natural string harmonics and there is no use of artificial harmonics.

Finaly, I noticed that in orchestral works that Ravel composed from 1907 to
1920, the amount of string harmonics that he used varies from one work to the other. I
found twelve cases in Rapsodie Espagnole, none in Daphnis et Chlo Suite no. 1, six in
Daphnis et Chlo Suite no. 2, two in Pavane Pour une Infante Dfunte, thirty-four in
Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, eight in Alborada del Gracioso, nineteen in Le Tombeau
de Couperin, and twelve in La Valse. In orchestral works that Ravel composed from
1924 to 1931, I observe a stable low use of string harmonics. I found three instances of
string harmonics in Tzigane, Concerto Pour le Main Gauche, and Concerto Pour le
Piano, and five cases of string harmonics in Tableaux Dune Exposition.

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In conclusion, after analyzing the Ravels orchestral works considered in this


paper, I draw the following conclusions:

1) Ravels string harmonic notation is logical, clear, and predictable. Some of his
notational inconsistencies are due to discrepancies about this topic in Ravels times.
However, these disagreements seem to have permeated the string harmonic notation
History from its beginnings, as we have seen in Mondonvilles Les Sons Harmoniques. A
detailed description of the Ravels notational system for string harmonics is given in this
papers Introduction.

2) There are aesthetic and practical reasons that led Ravel to use string
harmonics in his orchestral works that go beyond his fondess for their sonority. The
causes I mentioned in this paper are: string-instrument technical issues; the creation of
transitions between winds and strings, following Rimsky-Korsakovs orchestral tradition;
Ravels aim of building the piano resonance in the orchestral medium; and Ravels
creation of objectivity in his orchestral sonority. This list is not all-inclusive and I hope to
expand it through further analysis and comparison of orchestral works by Ravel and by
his contemporaries.

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3) After having done an overview of the main composers who employed


orchestral string harmonics from the mid- 18th Century to Ravels times, and after
having summarized comments that some theorists made during the same span of time
about the use of string harmonics in orchestral works, I consider Ravels use of orchestral
string harmonics as a progressive one. In many aspects, Ravels use of string harmonics
in orchestral works forshadows his contemporaries more progressive use of this device
in their creations. Ravel expanded the expressive and technical possibilities of orchestral
string harmonics, enriching the legacy he received from tradition as well as adjusting it
to his own aesthetic interests.

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