#23 A brief chat with Hector about the mandolin


(K was led to see B in his study room. K was reminded that B might just kick him right out. They knocked on the door, and greeted B courteously. Disturbed from his work, B stood up and walked toward the table for water and snacks.)

B: Let’s get started. I don’t have a lot of time.

K: Certainly. So… I know the guitar is your main instrument. You gave, lessons, composed solos (variations on Mozart’s La ci darem la mano), and songs. What do you think of its relative in the pluck string family, the mandolin?

B: The mandolin has almost fallen into disuse at present; and this is a pity, for its quality of tone – thin and nasal though it be – has something piquant and original about it which might occasionally be made of effective use.

K: You seem to know a lot about the mandolin?

B: There are several kinds of mandolins; the best known has four double strings; that is to say, four times two strings in unison, and tuned in fifths, like the violin. It is written for on the G clef: –

(B took a small bite of his snack, and continued)

B: The E strings are of catguy; the A strings, of steel; the D strings, of copper; and the G strings, of cargut covered with silver wire. The compass of the mandolin is about three octaves: –

It is an instrument more for melody than for harmony; though its strings, being put in vibration with a quill or plectrum, which the player holds in the left hand, may certainly allow chords of four notes to be heard, such as these –

which are obtained by passing the quill rapidly over the four double notes; but the effect of these groups of simultaneous notes is rather poor, and the mandolin has its real character and effect only in such melodious accompaniments as the one written by Mozart in the second act of Don Giovanni: –

K: I cannot agree more. Just like his simple yet delightful setting of Komm, liebe Zither komm.

(B sat down, took another snack before continuing the conversation.)

B: The mandolin is at present so neglected, that, in theatres where Don Giovanni is played, there is always a difficulty in performing this serenade piece. Although a few days’ study would enable a guitar-player, or even an ordinary violin-player, to acquire sufficient knowledge of the mandolin for the purpose, so little respect is entertained for the intentions of the great masters, whenever it is a question of breaking through old habits, that almost everywhere, even at the Opera (the last place in the world where such liberties should be taken), they venture to play the mandolin part of Don Giovanni on violins pizzacati, or on guitars. The timbre of these instruments has not the keen delicacy of that for which they are substituted; and Mozart knew quite well what he was about in choosing the mandolin for accompanying the amorous lay of his hero.

(B kept rambling on, but slowly lost focus of his speech. K did not dare to interrupt, and B suddenly collapsed on his table. K quickly called for help, and to K’s relief, he was told that this was quite a routine.)

(The above dialogue was edited from here)

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