by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov

Chapter III

Part 2 - String Harmony

Lesson Notes: In this lesson we discuss harmony as it relates to the stringed instruments.

Professor Belkin: String harmony is the easiest to write and balance, and therefore forms the “core” of classical orchestration.

It is an incontrovertible rule that the resonance of different harmonic parts must be equally balanced, but this balance will be less noticeable in short sharp chords than in those which are connected and sustained. Both these cases will be studied separately. In the first case, in order to increase the number of harmonic parts, each instrument in the string group may be provided with double notes or chords of three and four notes. In the second case, the resources are limited to double notes unis, or division of parts.

A. Short chords.

Chords of three or four notes can only be executed rapidly on the strings.

Note. It is true that the two upper notes of a chord can be sustained and held a long time; this, however, involves complications and will be considered later.

Short chords, arco, only sound well when played forte (sf), and when they can be supported by wind instruments. In the execution of double notes and chords of three and four notes on the strings, balance, perfect distribution of tone, and correct progression of parts are of minor importance. What must be considered before everything is the resonance of the chords themselves, and the degree of ease with which they can be played. Those comprising notes on the gut strings are the most powerful. Chords played on several strings are usually assigned to 1st and 2nd violins and violas, the different notes being divided between them according to ease in execution and the demands of resonance. On account of its low register the 'cello is rarely called upon to play chords on three or four strings, and is usually allotted the lowest note of the chord in company with the double bass. Chords on the latter instrument are even more uncommon, but it may supply the octave on an uncovered string.

Professor Belkin Comment: Such chords are used for ACCENT. They also require a moment for the player to get into position and therefore cannot be played very fast. For example a 16th note run cannot seamlessly end in a quadruple stop chord.

Score References & Musical Examples Using GPO:

No. 97. Snegourotchka, Section 171; cf. also before Section 140 and before Section 200.
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Other References:
• Spanish Capriccio, before V. (cf. Ex. 67).
• Sheherazade, 2nd movement P (cf. Ex. 19.).

No. 98. Tsar Salton, Section 135; cf. also before Section 141 and before Section 182.

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Isolated chords may be added to a melodic figure in the upper part, accentuating, sforzando, certain rhythmical moments.

No. 99. Snegourotchka, before Section 126; cf. also Section 326.

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B. Sustained and tremolando chords.

Chords sustained for a shorter or longer period of time, or tremolando passages, often used as a substitute, demand perfect balance of tone. Taking for granted that the different members of the string group are equal in power, the parts being written according to the usual order of register, (cf. Chap. I), it is patent that a passage in close four-part harmony, with the bass in octaves will also be uniformly resonant.

Professor Belkin Comment: This is the normal arrangement, by far the most frequent.

When it is necessary to introduce notes to fill up the empty middle register, the upper parts being farther distant from the bass, doubled notes on the violins or violas should be used, or on both instruments together. The method of dividing strings, which is sometimes adopted, should be avoided in such cases, as certain parts of the chord will be divided and others will not; but, on the other hand, if a passage in six and seven-part harmony be written entirely for strings divided in the same manner, the balance of tone will be completely satisfactory, e.g.,

Professor Belkin Comments: It is quite common to have the violas divided while the other sections are not. The ear seems to accept this because it is “hidden” in the middle of the texture.
Fully divided strings are often found in Debussy, and the result is ethereal and refined.

If the harmony in the three upper parts, thus strengthened, is written for divided strings, the 'cellos and basses, playing non-divisi will prove a trifle heavy; their tone must therefore be eased, either by marking the parts down or reducing the number of players.

In the case of sustained chords or forte tremolando on two strings, the progression of parts is not always according to rule, the intervals chosen being those which are the easiest to play.

Score References & Musical Examples Using GPO:

No. 100. The Christmas Night, Section 161 - Full divisi

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No. 101. The Christmas Night, Section 210 - Violas div./Cellos div. - 4 part harmony.

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No. 102. Snegourotchka, Section 187-188 - Four Part Harmony, Violins 1, Violins 2, Violas & Cellos
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Other References:
• Snegourotchka, Section 243 - 4 Solo Cellos divisi
• Sheherazade, 2nd movement Beginning - 4 D. Bass. soli div. (cf. Ex. 40.)
• The Tsars's Bride, Section 179 - Chords on all strings (cf. Ex. 243).

No. 103. The Legend of Kitesh, Section 8 - Harmonic Basis in the strings

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Other References:
• The Legend of Kitesh, Section 240 - (cf. Ex. 21).
• The Legend of Kitesh - Harmonic basis in the strings.

No. 104. The Golden Cockeral, Section 4 - Basis in the strings
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Other References:
• The Golden Cockerel, Section 125 - Undulating rhythm in the strings as harmonic basis (cf. Ex. 271).

In a forte or sfp chord, where one or two of the upper notes is held, either sustained or tremolando, the balance of tone must still be maintained, as in the following example:

Next Lesson: Harmony in the Wood-wind

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