Malcolm Arnold’s ‘Fantasy for Oboe’

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Now, I’m not pretending I can play this piece. Truth be told, I can sort of play it at a fraction of the required speed, but it’s still very much a work in progress and is likely to remain so for some time to come. In my defence, the piece is supposed to be difficult: Arnold wrote it for the Birmingham International Wind Competition which took place in May 1966, and there are all sorts of horrible things here: huge, difficult leaps, tongued triplets, rapid semiquaver runs…yes, nasty stuff, but I think it’s a piece worth learning because a) it’s good for you, and b) it’s actually a great piece, in spite of its horrors. It’s well-suited to the character of the oboe and quite a lot of fun.

I’ve just started work on the Fantasy and I may end up doing more than one post about it, but for the moment, this is where I’ve got to. My teacher gave me a fortnight to look at the entire piece and when we last met I played through the whole thing, but very much under speed. He’s now given me two sections to look at for next time, and I’m to use my practice time to focus on these sections, rehearsing them as follows.

1) Two passages of rapid semiquavers:

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Okay, so what I’ve got to do here is to play slowly up to the D# and then to come back down again (D#-C-Ab etc.) in an endless repeat. The same with this section here:

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Up to the C# and back down again, over and over again, getting faster and faster until it’s up to speed – and the speed is pretty formidable at this point (Presto in 6/8 time, dotted crotchet = 168).

2) Two-octave leap:

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This is fast – the same speed mentioned in 1) above – so not only does the player have to get that bottom B-Bb slur to speak quickly enough, it also has to be in tune and this has to be done three times in a row. At least it’s marked ff instead of pp. I’m to practise all five notes slowly and slurred instead of tongued, the idea being that if you can do it slurred – even if you don’t quite get it up to speed – it should be a doddle when you come to play it tongued.

I’ll let you know how I get on!

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