Largo (Thiel/Kram) - Study #5 (3rds, 7ths & Octaves)

Posted: 4/5/2015 1:47:40 AM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Sometimes is really pays off rummaging around looking at all the old manuscripts they have scanned in, many of which have not been heard since when they were written. I've spent a great deal of time making editions of Baroque music from a number of these old manuscripts and occasionally come across pure gold.

Johann Georg Thiel is an unknown 17-18th century composer who I stumbled across looking for old Baroque works to examine. I created an edition of his "Concerto for Two Trumpets in D Major" a while ago and recently thought that the Largo from this long forgotten work would be an excellent theremin piece. The Largo is a very simple chordal string accompaniment to a beautiful solo violin melody. No trumpets are used here because the movement is in B Minor and the natural (valveless) trumpets in D used in the fast movements can not play enough notes in B Minor to be melodically useful as the early trumpets were limited to playing notes from the initial part of the overtone series (which is why scales in the Baroque trumpet music you hear are all in the high register).

Perhaps you might be interested to see what the original manuscripts looked like. Here's the beginning of the piece extracted from IMSLP (for two violins, viola and cello/continuo). That bottom part, which may have been played by a viol at this point in time, has some numbers above it. This is figured bass (also called thoroughbass) that tells a harpsichord/cembalo player what "chords" to play with the bass line. Almost all Baroque chamber music has such figured bass parts and every keyboard player of the time had to be able to improvise by playing the bass and then a top part based on the chords indicated by the figures. This improvisational technique was the jazz of its time and the best continuo players could create excellent counterpoint to the other parts as well as just playing chords (ala Bach, Handel, Telemann, etc.).

Please forgive me for that aside. Well, not being able to resist the urge to "muck" with it, I adapted this wonderful piece for theremin, added an intro so you can get your initial bearings and also added a first violin counterpoint in the Baroque style as the piece is kind of bland as is (but certainly can hold up in its original form with the theremin playing the violin part if you like). I also wrote out a continuo accompaniment and left the figured bass in for those who are interested. The original can be found on is you search for "Thiel" or go here.

I'll post a link to my score/adaptation below on IMSLP and I'll also post just the string .mp3 accompaniment there if anyone wants to take the plunge and try it out. The piece is a wonderful study in thirds (triadic motion with 7th chords) and especially sevenths and some octaves. The seventh is a very important interval to conquer if you want to play Baroque music as it is used all over the place, often to keep passages within a desired range (very often moving down by step after the seventh).

Sorry for the Talking Machine (I know it's overused, but it kind of sounds ok against the accompaniment). I've never really tried it that much with the Theremin though I've had one for a while, but I was wondering how it would sound through the Theremini if I use the app to set it to a filter setting that creates a complex harmonic content (Peter seemed to suggest that it sounds best on his theremin that has the most complex sound). I also ran the output through a Dave Smith DMS02 Character Module that I used to further increase the harmonic complexity of the Theremini tone that feeds the Talking Machine. 

Largo in B Minor (Thiel/Kram)

And here's a pitch corrected version (see below for explanation) that gives a better idea of the piece.

Largo in B Minor (Pitch Corrected)

But the value of the post is really in the piece itself, which I think works very well on the Theremin (I'm practicing a version there that maybe I will post if it is acceptable as this is not an easy piece with all those jumps in there - but the harmonic simplicity helps keep you focused).

You can find the score for the piece here:

Largo (Thiel/Kram) Study Score

The .mp3 accompaniment is here:

Largo in B Minor (Accompaniment Only)

If you are interested, the string samples used are a combination of the new Spitfire Mural string ensemble library that just came out (Spitfire is a British company making some of the best virtual instruments today). Also used a bit of LA Scoring Strings and the Vienna Symphonic Library Cembalo for the continuo. I took off most of the vibrato as you don't use it for Baroque music (at least Baroque purists like me don't).

Posted: 4/5/2015 6:21:14 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 2/17/2012

Thanks for continuing to post your musical explorations rkram53!  Nice historical background, and your accompaniments I'm sure are appreciated by those here who play.

Not to dis you or your playing at all, but I've noticed that my ear tends to tolerate vocal timbres being off pitch more than traditional Theremin timbres.  Perhaps due to expectation / training?

Posted: 4/5/2015 7:09:30 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014


Dis away - it really irks me that I can't play totally in tune yet. Yep there are still a few things that are out of tune here that I have to work on (jumping to all those notes is quite a trick and having them zero in perfectly in tune). And playing Baroque music is actually more difficult if you don't want to use a lot of offsetting vibrato to kind of keep in style.

Of course my main intent with these posts is to extend the repertoire for the instrument and hopefully some players will find some of these pieces I post interesting and perhaps want to play them.

I've found that one of the most difficult things is to figure out how to put yourself in an environment where you can really hear the theremin well in combination with the accompaniment (especially as a beginner). What I've been experimenting with lately is to play the accompaniment and solo the theremin into one ear of a headset in combination with also coming out of the amp. I'm convinced a lot of my playing in tune issues are just as much related to hearing myself properly in the recording environment as actually playing in tune (and pitch preview actually can throw me off as the preview is not the same timbre as the instrument).

Interesting observation on the ear tolerating vocal timbres being off pitch more than other instruments. I  think part of this is the way we hear a voice versus an instrument. We expect instruments to be totally in tune - but the voice is a much more fluid and dynamic sound. I agree that the theremin being out of tune is harder to take than when using this vocal gimmick. 

Also I don't use pitch correction though it might actually help here as almost all pop recordings correct singers these days - so maybe Autotune might work well with the Talking Machine. But I have found that applying pitch correction to the theremin doesn't really make things sound better, though for a note here and there, maybe it has its uses. Maybe as an experiment I'll throw some pitch correction on this to let everyone hear the difference.




Posted: 4/5/2015 10:46:38 PM

From: Northern NJ, USA

Joined: 7/29/2014

Well this was an interesting exercise that Dewster put in my mind. While the tuning programs from my experience have some serious negative effects when used on the theremin sound, it makes sense that they may in fact be very useful on Talking Machine output as that induces vocal formats and after all most of the tuning programs are geared for correcting the voice (as virtually no pop songs now are not run through the auto-tuners - which may say something about the state of musical training these days).

Anyway, I ran the same output of the original version I played through the Talking Machine through Waves Tune and it did a very respectable job, even retaining vibrato. In fact in my original I put on more vibrato than I actually wanted to keep myself in tune, but it really was not what I was looking for for a Baroque performance. Waves Tune actually let me correct pitches as well as tone down the vibrato. Here's the tuned version. Cheating - well yea - but you do get a much better idea of the piece now (though it sounds like I need to put a bit more dynamic variation on the accompaniment to match up better - though Baroque music does not use a lot of dynamic variation).

Largo in B Minor (Waves Tune Corrected Version)

Now there are some very interesting elements to Waves Tune (and I assume Antares Autotune works in a similar fashion). The most useful thing I noticed immediately is that I can easily see how I am creating my vibrato. In most cases it looks like I'm shaking from the desired note to the sharp side and back. 

Wave Tune Example 1

You can easily see how my theremin playing is sliding from note to note. You can see every little bit of portamento I'm using and how the vibrato shapes up. This can be very useful for when I want to really work on my vibrato technique. So it looks like running yourself through the autotuner can give you some valuable information on your playing that you may not hear directly or as finely. The little orange line is what you played and the green line is the Waves Tune corrected pitch - which you can change in various ways.

Lets see the things I did in the "corrected version". I've circled little areas from the original that I might want to correct for one reason or another. Perhaps a note is just off a half step (which I may want as a slide in some cases but it may just be a wrong note in others). Perhaps my vibrato is too full and I want to dial it back (you can move notes or even move the green line slightly as you want to).I can grab any block and move it to a desired pitch and it will adjust all the internal pitch components or I can cut a longer line and move some of it if I need to change the rhythm of a note a bit (did not do that here).

Wave Tune Connection Example

You can see from the above example how I shifted all the circled areas around to suit my ear in the bottom "corrected" version. Corrected some pitches and some areas with a bit more vibrato than I wanted were brought together and you can see there is still plenty of vibrato remaining (only now more within a semitone than a whole tone - which is more appropriate for Baroque music). Now this seems to work pretty well for the Talking Machine output, but on theremin output this can lead to some very unexpected results and I've found it just is not worth the trouble pitch correcting the theremin (though if you have a note here or there in an otherwise great performance, I would be tempted to try and correct it if I can).

I should also say that there are sections that you just can not correct, usually transitions and jumps that have issues between notes. Trying to correct them usually creates a click or unnatural sonic artifact that is better to just leave in than try and correct. There is even real-time Autotune, but I've found that is totally unacceptable on the theremin.

Is this all blasphemy? Maybe but I expect it's now being used everywhere - I know even classical performances now even auto-correct a note here and there if need be. So the auto tuners should not be a crutch, but perhaps everyone can accept them to correct a little glitch or two in a recording. 

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