David Valdés

Editing timpani parts (and III).

In this last article on the series I have wanted to use examples from Verdi himself to prove my points when editing the timpani part of his “Requiem“. It is not my intention when quoting the composer to fall into an “ad verecundiam” fallacy; by showing examples of his writing I want to show that my work is not a fruit of chance, but the result of a profound study or the Verdian works.

© David Valdés
© David Valdés

Without leaving the “Requiem”, the “Dies Irae” (figure 12) features an ascending line from Bb to D. We can deduce two possibilities; a) that Verdi had three drums at his disposal (one pitch per drum), b) that he had access to pedal or rotari timpani (like the ones built by Boracchi), thus allowing the timpanist for quick pitch changes.


That ascending line (Bb-C-D) is far from the traditional writing that uses 4th and 5th intervals.

There is also an example of the use of three pitches in the “Libera me”, nine bars after figure 103.

In “Aida”, from rehearsal “O”, we can see the use of three pitches, too. The indication “in Re” proves, without a doubt, that the D is produced after a change from the previous E, and not because three drums were available. In such a case Verdi would have written “in La, Re e Mi”.

In “Don Carlo” three pitches are requested ten bars before rehearsal P in the finale. Even four pitches are asked for eleven bars after rehearsal F in the “Scena” in the third act (F, Bb, C, F).

Another example of Verdi using more than two pitches can be found in the first act of “Otello“, six bars before rehearsal I (A, C, D, E).


This opera features a very interesting timpani part and is a ggod candidate for a nice edition.


Verdi also abandoned the conventional writing in “Il Trovatore“, “Macbeth” or “Fasltaff” (final fugue)

With these examples I want to show that Verdi took advantage, without a doubt, of the mechanical improvements in the timpani that took place during his time, what took him to write in a more complex way. Obviously, the development of the mechanical timpani was still incipient (as it was the technique of the timpanists that had to play those parts) and, thus, Verdi´s timpani writing was, too. All of this produces a somewhat “innocent” style that still contains wrong notes and reminiscences of the “old” style, but I am quite sure that, should Verdi had born decades later, his timpani parts would have been even more audacious.


As audatious as my edition? That is impossible to know. What I do know for sure is that my version is based on a profound study and the possibilities given by modern instruments. When Mozart discovered the pianoforte he acted as a child with a new toy; he filled his music with f and p indications lead by the novelty of the instrument and its dynamic possibilities. Have had Verdi access to a set of Ludwig Professionals (the drums I used for that concert), I´m pretty sure he would have used them with profusion and, lead by the novelty of the instrument, he would have exploited its harmonic/melodic possibilities writing many note changes. The thing is that he never new our modern timpani, but he knew, indeed, Borracchi´s innovations and he did not doubt for a second to incorporate the new possibilities into his writing (as a man of his time that Verdi was).

Now you can see some other timpanists that have also edited the timpani part of the “Requiem”.


In this version by Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic we can see the timpanist doubling the G. See also that Raynor Carroll is playing on two bass drums.

Here, the Atlanta Symphony is playing a version very similar that of mine, which makes me think that, when editing with solid criteria, we can get to very similar results.

Here we can see the timpanist from the Filarmonica Arturo Toscanini, conducted by Mehta.

In this version by Karajan we can clearly hear the modifications made by the timpanist.

In order to top off this issue, I am enclosing a pdf containing my full edition of the “Réquiem”. You are free to use it and I thank you notifying me any mistake or error you may find on it. As always, any comment is more that welcome. Should you use it, I would be very grateful if you could mention me as the editor. Also, don´t forget to tag me on social media.

See you soon.



…et in Arcadia ego.

© David Valdés