Camille Saint-Saëns composed music with the intention of challenging the performer. On first viewing, these two short excerpts seem to be out of character for that mentality. However, in the context of the piece, they definitely prove challenging.
From the copyist changing the clef from tenor to bass just before the first excerpt to the control and air support needed to sustain the long phrasing to match the violin, the trombonist is presented with a stylistic challenge to play softly and very legato in the low register. While the dynamic level is marked piano, this excerpt requires a soloistic interpretation of piano. Think mezzo-piano to avoid ghosting the first attack. Every conductor will have a different interpretation of the phrasing, so be prepared to be flexible. You are playing in octaves with the principal clarinet on top, third horn in the middle, and the trombone on the bottom. A few minutes of trio practice can be greatly beneficial.
In the second line of the first excerpt, there is a crescendo leading up to a piano. The usual practice is to have the crescendo build to perhaps a mezzo-piano or mezzo-forte with the Bb being almost a subito piano. If at all possible, sustain without breathing until after the F tied across the bar-line.
Playing Bb's with the F-attachment can facilitate legato (but be aware of a consistent tone!), and in measures one and three of this excerpt, it is recommended. The objective is to maintain a beautiful legato, so the use of trigger alternates is highly recommended.
In measure 6, play the F half-note in 6th, as you are coming from the 5th position Gb. However, between the C on beat three and the F on beat four, move to first position over the breath/phrasing point to set up the Bb.
Again, do not worry so much about playing a true piano on the first note. Concentrate on a clean attack and clear, open tone. Each phrase will have a gentle swell. Remember to watch, listen, and adjust to the other instruments in the ensemble. Watch the conductor for the tempo and dynamic changes in the "hairpins" in the seventh and eighth measures, and be prepared to drop the dynamic significantly on beat one of rehearsal letter "S."
Most importantly, be prepared to show off the results of all those years spent playing Rochut Melodious Etudes.
About the Author...
Chris Waage is the Principal Trombonist with the Topeka Symphony Orchestra, Topeka, Kansas, and Bass Trombonist with the Northland Cathedral Orchestra, Kansas City, Missouri. He and his wife, Kathy, have four children: Christian, Courtney, Eric, and Kaitlyn.