David Valdés

Editing timpani parts (II).

Continuing with the issue that we previously discussed, I´d like to show you my version of the “Sanctus” from Verdi´s “Requiem”.


The use of full range speakers or headphones is highly recommended.


You can legally and freely download the score and the parts here: IMSLP.

© David Valdés
© David Valdés

This “Sanctus” is an eight part fugue for double choir (like those I had to write in the Venetian style when I was a counterpoint student). Because of this, the static character of the timpani part doesn´t fit, as the independence of the lines and melodic construction are crucial in this musical form.


Verdi writes C and F constanly but, if we analize the chord sequence (have a look at the score), we´ll see that, due to the frantic harmonic rhythm, those two notes don´t fit and, when they do, they produce a weird felling, as they are a first or second inversion of the chord.

In the first entrance I double the bassoons, the bass trombone, the oficleide, the basses in choir II and the double basses.


I also take a lower dynamic level to clarify the contrapuctual texture.


I used the same criteria in the next passage. I double the bassoons, the bass trombone, the oficleide, the basses in choir II and the double basses.


I do not play an accent on the notes circled in red; in the first case they are the ending of the previous phrase (remember the previous cell started with a half note rest and an upbeat consisting of two quarter notes). In the second case because I want to taper the phrase down.


In this passage I used, again, the already known criteria.


Also, I substitute the roll for a quarter note, as no other instrument plays that same figure. It interferes with the phrasing in the brass.


There is a conceptual problem with this edition. As you should remember from my previous post, one of the main things to take into account when modifying parts is to respect the character, meaning and concept of the work in our hands. Does my edition respect the character of the “Sanctus”?


I must recognize that, maybe, I have taken my modifications quite far. This work is not the waltz from “Die Rosenkavalier” (R. Strauss) or the “Intrada” in Janacek´s “Glagolitic Mass”. The problem is, as I previously explained, the frantic harmonic (and agogic) rhythm; if I was Verdi I wouldn´t have writen a timpani part for this number.


As I explained in my previous post, composers, due to the intrinsic limitations of timpani writing at that time, had two options when the two available notes didn´t match the context. a) Writing obvious wrong notes, b) silencing the timpani. The part by Verdi (Euterpe, forgive me!) sounds really bad, what takes me to the following question; what is more disturbing for an educated ear, a part whith obvious wrong notes or a part with maybe many notes?


To my ear, the original part is not satisfactory at all. Maybe my edition is not satisfactory for being excesive, but the notes are correct. I would have opted for not writing timpani part in this number, but Verdi did it, so the “tacet” option is unviable. Something has to be played! So, if something has to be played, I prefer my version, even knowing that this part calls too much attention to itself (other reason for lowering the dynamic levels was to make the part a little bit more discreet). I apologize for been such an iconoclast but, in my modest opinion, the part writen by Verdi is not musically satisfactory.

"Portrait of Giuseppe Verdi" (Giovanni Boldini, 1886).

The “Sanctus” doesn´t admit half-measures;  if we are going for changes, they have to be dramatic. Playing the original part (in this case) doesn´t convince me at all. The ideal situation would be to edit without clouding the musical line, not calling too much attention to the timpani part, not getting caught in the pedaling fun, etc. In this case my editing work contradicts these fundamental ideas (apart from implying some kind of “show off”), but I don´t think it´s worth making subtle changes (in this case) which imply still playing wrong notes; we must change everything or nothing.  


What is more disturbing to the global carácter of the “Requiem”?


a) Wrong notes

b) Timpani doubling the oficleide part


In my modest opinion, option a) is the most disturbing one. What´s your opinion on this subject? I´d love to know it.



…et in Arcadia ego.

© David Valdés