How to notate Violins splitting in three groups


I’ve a score where Violins I (12) and Violins II (12) split in three groups (3x8) in some passages.

How to notate it? The manuscript simply replaces the two Vni I (12) and Vni II (12) staves with three Vni (8, 8, 8) staves. How the violins are split is always clear (you can see where they go when the grouping return to Vni I + Vni II). But I wonder if I should leave all as in the manuscript, or notate it as I think the standard two groups would split.

Should I interpret the manuscript, or closely follow the original notation? Is this notation how it was really intended (and not a shortcut to write faster), and it is the conductor who will then arrange each members of the two Vni sections?

If I’ll leave all as in the original manuscript, how would you do? I’m thinking to add three Violin players and staves, completely separated from the ones in the standard Vni I + Vni II setup.


So, presumably 4 players from 1st violins and 4 players from 2nds join together to play the ‘middle’ Violin?
Can you do a normal Divisi on each Violin and then condense the middle part? I’m guessing that’s not possible. Maybe just hide one of them?

Does this happen in the middle of a Flow?

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Ben, yes, it happens in the middle of a flow. Strings grouping changes often. Sometimes four Vni I and four Vni II join to form the third group; some others there are six groups of Vni, grouped in three staves of two voices (2x4 Vni). Some others, then, they split into four staves.

Good hint, the one of experimenting with condensing. I have to consider the various options, between divisi and condensing in all the situations. Another solution could be adding a third Violins stave, and hide it when the standard setup returns. Unfortunately, it would probably make sense in the printed score, but will not be coherent with playback.

I have to stress how I’m mostly interested in what would make more sense for the conductor. I can’t understand the reason for the composer’s/orchestrator’s choice, so I wonder if I should ‘improve’ the manuscript, or just trust the original. This is not just a different beaming or the completion of a dynamic hairpin, but something impacting on the way the score is perceived.


This is a schematic representation of what is happening in this score:


Hi there

I would keep the violins in their two sections throughout, and make the divisi within each section so the numbers work out.

This is better for the conductor, and the players (since it is how divisi normally work) as well as for the practical consider of making the parts. And it keeps a meaningful link between the staves in the score and the sections in front of the conductor, which is a useful thing to retain.

Then you must decide how to specify the division. It is simplest mark that the last four players (two desks) of each section play the 3rd line of music, and this works well if the two violin sections are seated next to one another.

The conductor will need to study the score long enough to see that there are three equal divisions of violins, rather than four (unequal) divisions. But this is no hardship, and conductors should be pretty quick to spot doublings like this.

I would, in English, mark the division for desks 1-4 and desks 5-6, using short forms of d.1-4 and d.5-6 after the first occurrence.

This all assumes that the intention of the composer is for three groups of players, but it would be possible to put all three lines in both sections div. a 3, which would give a different sound. I don’t think that is what was intended though.

Hope that helps

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Oof. I suppose I would start with thinking about how many separate parts you’re going to provide, and what will be on each, and work up to the score from there, rather than thinking ‘top down’.

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The slow movement of Shostakovich Symphony No.5 presents a similar situation: three violin parts while the other movements have two.

All three parts are included in both the Violin I and Violin II parts, so the divisi is left for the conductor to decide…

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I’m inclined to agree, and it is how I’m doing at the moment. With footnotes explaining how the current edition is different from the manuscript. Possibly, with an extensive foreword showing excerpts from the original and the edited versions.

This sounds better than I was doing (just showing the number of violins for each staff; desks are a more realistic indication).

Great hint! Yes, I must stick on thinking by desks and parts. And this brings us at the (Not So) Old Masters:

I think this is a different situation, where each movement has a different setup. In the case of the score I’m working on, the arrangement is changing everytime. So, I guess the idea of finding a lowest common denominator for the edited score could be really needed.