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A scordatura (literally Italian for "mistuning"), also called cross-tuning, is an alternative tuning used for the open strings of a string instrument. When used in standard music notation the notes indicated in the score would represent the finger position as if played in regular tuning, in order to allow the player to rely on the familiar association between written and note and fingering, while the actual pitch is altered (scordatura notation). Use of alternative tunings allows the playing of otherwise impossible note sequences or note combinations or can be used to create unusual timbres. The technique can be described as an extended technique.
Bowed string instruments
Scordatura was much used by composers for viola d'amore, violin and cello, including J.S. Bach, Biber, Vivaldi, Ariosti, and others such as Vilsmayr in compositions for violin during the early 18th century and a special type of notation was used to make it easier to read. This notation was also used to notate music for the viola d'amore, an instrument played and composed for by composers such as Biber and Vivaldi. The viola d'amore used a great number of different tunings and writing music for it in scordatura notation was a natural choice for composers of the time.
Use in classical music (bowed strings)
Notable examples of scordatura tunings:
- H.I.F. Biber's "Rosary Sonatas" for violin and continuo (c. 1674). Aside from the first (Annunciation) and last works (Passacaglia, for solo violin) of this collection, where in the instrument is set to the common G-D-A-E tuning, the violin for each sonata is tuned to a different array of pitches. Sonata XI (the Resurrection) is a special case: in addition to a unique scordatura, the two inner strings of the violin are interchanged between the bridge and tailpiece of the instrument, thus attaining a tuning (from top string to bottom string) of G-g-D-d. Harmonia Artificiosa no. VII for two violas d'amore (tuned in c minor) and B.C. is written in a form of scordatura on a nine line stave. See under viola d'amore for more information.
- Vilsmayr "Artificiosus Consentus Pro Camera", a set of six partitas published in 1715. The middle four partitas use scordatura tunings.
- Johann Pachelbel's Musikalische Ergötzung bestehend in 6 verstimmten Partien (Musical Entertainment consisting of six suites for mistuned violins, 1691), six suites for two violins and continuo. Tunings include C-F-C-F, C-G-C-F, B♭-E♭-B♭-E♭, B-E-B-E, C-G-C-F, and B♭-F-B♭-E♭.
- Vivaldi, violin concerto in A major, Op.9, No.6, in which the violin's G string is tuned up to an A, allowing for a beautifully resonant scale and arpeggio motif ending on the retuned string.
- Georg Philipp Telemann, Concerto in A Major for two Violins, TWV 43:7
- Mahler, scordatura violin soloist in the 2nd movement of his 4th Symphony. In this case the composer probably desired the specific tone of the sound produced by a scordatura violin, which is less "suave" than the sound of a standard tuning.
- Saint-Saëns, solo violin in Danse Macabre, where the E-string is tuned to E♭. This changes the open intervals of the double stop A and E to the tri-tone (A and E♭), which is used as the opening motive of the work.
- In the Sérénade et boléro for solo violin, Op.27 by Max Scherek the violin must be tuned to F,F,D,B♭.
- Igor Stravinsky's The Firebird makes a rare, perhaps unique, demand for the entire first violin section to retune the E string, in order to play the D major harmonic glissandi of the introduction. Similarly, the final chord of The Rite of Spring requires the cellos to retune A to G so it may be played "open" (unstopped by the fingers and consequently more resonant) as part of a quadruple stop.
- Richard Strauss's tone poem Ein Heldenleben includes a passage in which the second violins must tune their G strings down in order to play a G♭.
- Ligeti's Violin Concerto
- Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 initially required the strings of the solo violin to be tuned a semitone higher to match the original key of E♭ major.
- Franz von Vecsey's Nuit du Nord, a 1921 work for violin and piano, requires the G string to be tuned down to F♯.
- In Haydn's Symphony No. 60 in C (Il Distratto), the first and second violins start the finale of this unusual six-movement symphony with the lowest string tuned to F, but tune up to G in the course of the music to create a comical effect. The title of the symphony means "the absent-minded man" – so it is as if the violins have "forgotten" to tune their strings. The music fully pauses for the violins to re-tune before continuing. Haydn also uses a violin with the lowest string tuned to F in the trio of his Symphony No. 67 in F.
- In Béla Bartók's piece Contrasts for clarinet, violin and piano, the opening bars of the third movement utilize a different tuning on a separate violin (G♯-D-A-E♭) for a Hungarian folk effect.
- John Corigliano's Stomp for solo violin (2010) requires the outer two strings to be tuned lower, resulting in a E-D-A-D♯ tuning.
- In the original version of Vivaldi’s opera Tito Manlio (Mantua, 1719), Servilia’s aria ‘Tu dormi in tante pene’ also contains an obbligato part for viola d'amore written in scordatura notation. This part would undoubtedly have been played by Vivaldi himself. He was the only known player of the instrument at the court of the Duke of Hesse-Darmstadt in Mantua, his employer at that time and for whom this opera was written. The obbligato part is on smaller paper inserted into the first violin part. Vivaldi would have led the orchestra from the concertmaster's chair and would have played the first violin part, presumably switching to viola d'amore for this aria. The aria "Quanto Magis Generosa" in Vivaldi's Oratorio "Juditha triumphans" (1716) also contains an obbligato part for viola d'amore written in scordatura notation. This piece was written for the Ospedale della Pieta and the obbligato part would have been played either by Vivaldi or by Anna Maria del violino, one of the senior musicians there at the time who was a known player of the viola d'amore. Curiously, all Vivaldi's other works for viola d'amore, (eight concertos and two obbligato numbers in different settings of the "Nisi Dominus"), are written in normal notation at sounding pitch.
- Mozart wrote the solo viola part for his Sinfonia Concertante a semitone lower, with the viola strings to be tuned a semitone higher to D♭, A♭, E♭, B♭. Thus part is written in D major (the key of the work is E♭ major). A common practice of the time, changing the pitch of the open strings was primarily intended to make the viola sound louder, and so better discernible in the symphonic orchestra: indeed, increasing the tension in a string, not only sharpens the pitch, but also makes it sound louder, the loudest sound being obtained just before breaking. Other viola concerti employing this type of scordatura were written by Carl Stamitz, Johann Baptist Wanhal, Johann Andreas Amon, Jiří Družecký, Johannes Matthias Sperger and Johann Georg Hermann Voigt.
- In Richard Strauss's Don Quixote, the solo viola tunes the C string down to B.
- Géza Frid's 1946 Sonatina for viola and piano, Op. 25, requires the violist to tune the lower two strings up a semitone for movement IV, resulting in C♯, G♯, D, A.
- Ottorino Respighi's tone poem Pines of Rome requires the cellos to tune the low C string down to a B in the third movement. Also, the basses must either have a fifth low B string or tune a C extension down to the B in the third and fourth movements.
- Johann Sebastian Bach's Fifth Cello Suite is written with the A string, the highest string, tuned down a whole step to a G. This tuning allows chords which would be difficult or impossible at regular tuning. The Suite is also played with standard tuning, but some pitches must be altered, and occasional notes removed to accommodate the tuning.
- The cello in George Crumb's chamber work Vox Balaenae (scored for electric flute, electric cello, and electric piano). The traditional C-G-D-A tuning is changed to B-F♯-D♯-A, which serves to emphasize the key of B major that emerges in the final movement.
- George Crumb's A Haunted Landscape has a bass drone that requires two bassists to tune their C extensions down to B♭.
- Zoltán Kodály's Solo Cello Sonata in B minor requires the cellist to tune down the two lower strings from G and C to F♯ and B, to emphasize the key with recurring B-minor chords.
- Robert Schumann's Piano Quartet in E-flat, Op. 47, requires the cellist to retune the C string down to B♭ for the last 42 bars of the third movement.
- The cello soloist's final note of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Variations requires the player to play and retune in one movement, creating a dramatic glissando effect to the A below the cello's normal lowest note of C.
- Luciano Berio's Sequenza XIV requires the G string to be tuned up to a G♯, to better depict the kandyan drumming passages, as well as creating extreme dissonances over all four strings.
- In some double bass solo music, a specific solo tuning (F♯-B-E-A) that requires a different set of strings to be used. This is to allow the bass to be heard better over the piano or orchestra. With better instrumental technology and string manufacturing, orchestrally tuned (E-A-D-G) bass editions are becoming more common.
- In the 9th Movement of Ravel's Ma mère l'oye (Cinquième tableau - Laideronnette, impératrice des Pagodes), since low D-sharp is called for, four-string double basses must lower their E-strings a semitone.
- When all the strings are tuned by the same interval up or down, as in the case of the viola in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra, the part is transposed as a whole
- Riley, Maurice W. (1991). The History of the Viola, Volume II. Ann Arbor, Michigan: Braun-Brumfield. pp. 138–143.
- Violadamore.com: About Scordatura and the Viola d'amore[dead link] (http://www.violadamore.com is still good; this is probably the link intented: http://violadamore.com/index.php/scordatura.html)
- WA's Encyclopedia of Alternate Guitar Tunings "...a wonderful site devoted to guitar tunings—dozens and dozens of ‘em, including tunings used by Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell, and Sonic Youth. Cool!" - Andy Elllis