Commentary for Franz Wilhelm Ferling's 48 Studies for Oboe, Op. 31            

by Charles-David Lehrer

© International Double Reed Society: Boulder, Colorado, USA - 2008

No. 1: The first of Ferling's famous Op. 31 informs us that the master of Braunschweig was well acquainted with the Italian Bel canto composers Rossini, Bellini, and Donizetti. The etude's rounded binary form structure is generously supplied with both florid and stenographic ornamentation, the latter having been realized in modern notational values. Although the eighth note is prominent, Ferling taking every chance he can to subdivide it into duplets, triplets, quadruplets, and octuplets (trills), the actual tactus is the quarter note. In addition, the range is very wide, reaching from B to F3. The passage involving the high F, E, and D must have been quite a challenge on the early mechanized German oboes of the day. In fact, this same spot still makes for considerable angst among players utilizing fully mechanized modern instruments. Certainly a word is in order concerning the wide intervals liberally utilized by Ferling: at the outset, the dominant 7th on G is spelled out in the tritone descent from F2 to B1, perhaps as a portend of what is to follow. The perfect 4th in measure 3 reappears in the rounding of the binary form, followed by florid ornamentation. But, needless to say, the minor 6th up to the high F3 causes the most anxiety, preceded as it is by the trill A2-G2 which is difficult to execute until the muscles of the third finger have been strengthened. This is not an etude for the faint-hearted! 

No. 2: Nothing could be further from the style of Ferling's first study than this polka. The composer writes out all ornamental figuration (appoggiaturas) and, utilizing the eighth note as the tactus, has but two manners of subdivision: duplets and quadruplets. It is the latter subdivision, expressed as dotted sixteenth followed by a thirty-second, that occupies a substantial part of the study. In addition, Ferling tests the student's knowledge of arpeggios and the chromatic scale. Ferling seems obsessed with the low B in this etude, but it must be remembered that this aspect of mechanization was quite special to the 19th-century oboe whether it be German or French. In order lengthen this miniature movement, the present editor has repeated both sections of its binary form.

No. 3: A doleful waltz, sounding very much like Schubert, follows Ferling's salon polka. Like the first study, this one maintains an interesting tessitura from B to F3. The wide intervals and many trills are quite a challenge for novice and professional alike. Ferling has carefully notated this study with outstanding choices insofar as dynamics and articulation are concerned. The Romantic third relationship from A minor to F major at the start of the B section is remarkable as is the disguised rounding of the binary form section at measure 25. Again, the editor has repeated both sections of the binary structure in order to make this beautiful movement  presentable as jury solo, or perhaps even as part of a series of Ferling etudes to be utilized within the body of  a recital. 

No. 4: In the tradition of Paganini, Ferling has created this wonderful toccata in A minor. Filled with 'cross string' virtuosity, the etude contains two especially difficult  measures in this special violinistic style: these are placed over pedal points on the relative major and its dominant (mm. 10 & 12). In addition, a plethora of staccato and accents keep the oboist quite busy. As in previous studies, the present editor has added repeats to both sections of this miniature binary structure. Contrary to usual practice, Ferling rarely includes repeats of the A and B sections of the binary form studies in his Op. 31. Henri Brod, on the other hand, tends towards always including them in his contemporary Méthode pour le Hautbois. 

No. 5: This etude appears to be the slow movement of a sonata or concerto; and it sounds very much like the music of Franz Schubert. Ferling has supplied its ternary structure with a short tonicizing coda. A number of trills and wide intervals, not to mention the extensive tessitura from B to E3, make for hard work on the part of the oboist. As usual, the repeats are those of the present editor. 

No. 6: Ferling presents an unusual rubric indicating that this swift-moving waltz is to be played at a rather 'discerning' [scergo = scerno] pace. Perhaps the composer wanted to warn the player not to rush the slurred passages to the detriment of the scales in 'flying' staccato. The breath accents in measures 37-38 and 41-42 make for some unexpected work on the part of the oboist, in what is, otherwise, an etude which lies quite well under the fingers. The editor has reinforced these same accents with hemiola in the piano accompaniment. 

No. 7: Structurally speaking, this is a most-peculiar movement. It appears to be just the recapitulation, with its coda, of a binary or ternary form from the slow movement of a sonata. The coda is comprised of three closing themes, the first of which makes unbelievable demands on the embouchure and wind control because of its extraordinarily large intervals and wide-ranging tessitura. The 'fragment' is really very well written; it is too bad that Ferling did not present the first two parts. 

No. 8: Ferling returns to rounded binary form for a czardas with bouncing staccato. The closing theme in the relative major at the end of the B section, signaling a change of modality, is typical of this genre. 

No. 9: This fascinating study would function as the slow movement of a sonata or concerto. In the last three measures, the outline of the tonic chord rests over a pedal point on the dominant, a device usually found in a pastorale. The key of F major is correct for the pastorale, but the 3/4 meter is not. Usually one finds 6/8 or 9/8. But Ferling does have several 6/8 measures concealed within the prevailing 3/4 meter, namely measures 18 and 20-21! Also one finds three sets of 3/2 hemiola measures at 14-15, 33-34 and 35-36. So it would seem that this study is concerned primarily with meter. More pressing to the oboist, though, are the wide intervals which derive from the style of Paganini, and the ornamentation stemming from Rossini. The binary structure does not lend itself to repetitions of either section; the last, in particular, would be impossible with its two very final closing themes. 

No. 10: Ferling now presents a polonaise set as a rounded binary form with trio. The da capo is written out, albeit in truncated fashion. The repeat of the short theme of the trio is beautifully varied upon its repetition. The overall structure is: || A-A' || BA" || Trio: CC' || A extension ||. To be sure, it is important to observe just how the composer lays out his themes in order that their flavor might be appreciated and projected. But because of it difficulty, this is one of those studies in which most of the student's time will be spent in just getting the notes and rhythmic subdivision. 

No. 11: Another languid waltz follows. Its most distinguishing structural feature is the transition  which leads to the rounding of the binary form. This produces the structure: ||A||B transition  A'||. Measure 14, with its complex subdivisions, is not musically convincing; but it is pedagogically sound. The editor has reinforced the two hemiola measures at 15 and 16. 

No. 12: One can only wonder if Ferling had become acquainted with some of the organ or harpsichord toccatas of J.S. Bach before he wrote this study. It does contain many of the earmarks of a keyboard approach: broken chords, chromatic scales, and 16th note movement. The tessitura is wide, including a number of C#1's and F3's. The structure, itself, features a truncated rounding of the binary form and a short coda in the relative major.  

No. 13: Ferling asks that this waltz be played 'con gusto'. Players should be careful not to overdo it, since the recapitulation is presented with full florid ornamentation. The compound meter allows for more creative phrasing in a style of music which would normally be notated in 3/8. 

No. 14: Although Ferling entitles this work 'Scherzo', it is, in fact, a polka. To be sure, the movement is laid out in the style of rounded binary form associated with a 19th-century scherzo in duple meter, but it lacks the usual trio. The use of cross-string pyrotechnics in measure 30 is notable. 

No. 15: Mesto [mournful] is an appropriate rubric for this romance. The rounding of the binary form is set an octave lower, taking advantage of the early mechanized low B and the sonority of the low register. Ornamentation is sparse in this study as befits the genre, but could be easily added by the industrious student. In fact, in an actual French opéra, ornamentation of successive strophes was the norm. 

No. 16: Ferling's 16th study is yet another toccata, this one featuring a fantastic display of articulation possibilities. It's rounded binary form is set out |AA'||BA"||, and the editor, as on many other occasions, has opted to repeat each of the two main sections. 

No. 17: Bel canto reappears in all of its 19th-century glory in this etude. Ferling even includes a cadenza in the engaging rounded binary form movement. The tactus is placed solidly on the eighth note. 

No. 18: This study is another among Ferling's waltzes in rounded binary form. And this one does move swiftly: to counter balance the pace, slow harmonic rhythm is applied. Hemiola can be observed in measures 5, 22, 23, and 28; one wishes there were more. Still, there is more than enough, technically speaking, to keep the oboist busy.  

No. 19: A march, resembling the style of the famous slow movement in Beethoven's Symphony No. 3, forms the substance of the 19th etude. As usual, it is laid out in rounded binary form with repeats added by the present editor. 

No. 20: Ferling now presents another czardas or, as it is properly known, csárdás. This is, to be sure, a stylized version of a genre of Hungarian folk music. The trill from A2 to G2, which is found throughout this etude, requires careful attention or its sonority will be adversely affected. 

No. 21: This march is the second anomalous structure to be met among Ferling's Op. 31. A vigorous initial theme in A major is followed by a trio in binary form. This same trio is placed in the tonic, rather than the usual subdominant. It is here that Ferling concentrates upon teaching the student to differentiate between triple and quadruple subdivision. Finally, an abbreviated form of the first theme brings the movement to a close.  

No. 22: Another polka in rounded binary form is before us. Included are two closing themes which are necessary for nailing town the tonic because of the shortened return of A . In addition, the oboist has several measures of pyrotechnics to confront: these can be found in measures 9 through 12. 

No. 23: A simple languid waltz, albeit in the more difficult key of F# minor, forms the body of this rounded binary form. The closing theme explores the lower reaches of the oboe's tessitura to good advantage. 

No. 24: A sprightly companion waltz to No. 23 follows. Hemiola and arpeggiation set it off from the former composition. Although Ferling does not always indicate staccato for non-slurred 16ths and 8ths, this style is implicit in the rubric Scherzando, and should be applied. 

No. 25: Bel canto style appears yet again. The binary structure features the addition of a new theme, actually a trio in the relative minor, and a da capo. The latter is a very revised rendition of the second half of the original binary form, and includes a surprise rounding of that form.  

No. 26: Certainly the influence of Niccolò Paganini (1782-1840) is the basis for this most-difficult polonaise. The wide leaps correspond to the rapid crossing of strings on the violin.  

No. 27: Ferling now presents a Bel canto study of some complexity. Set in a slow 'tearful' three, its subdivisions make for sudden explosions of ornamentation: the roulade at measure 7 is perhaps the most difficult to bring off. Considering the fact that Ferling worked so near the heartland of the German Romantic Movement (Leipzig, Berlin, and Dresden), one wonders why the composer took so much time with Italian and French Romantic opera in the studies before us. Perhaps he was an arch conservative, or it might be that Braunschweig was quite catholic in its taste. In any case, Ferling knew Italian operatic style well: the ornamentation applied to the repeat of the A section beginning at measure 9 is masterful. 

No. 28: Another toccata follows. Although its range is wide, there are no Paganini-like pyrotechnics. Ferling does not round the binary form as would be expected after the internal fermata. 

No. 29: This is the second French Romance to be included in this set of etudes. In actual performance within an opera, such a strophe (this one in ternary form) is repeated several times, each repetition being supplied with a new text. It would appear that Ferling has presented us with the final time around, since his ornamentation is so complete. Therefore, a performance of, say, three strophes would entail stripping away some of the ornamentation for the first two stanzas. 

No. 30: Another czardas appears, this one with extensive pyrotechnics alla Paganini. 

No. 31: Pietoso is the key word in determining the style of this work: three solid slow beats per measure as befits an Offertory. The movement is reminiscent of the slow movement of a sonata or concerto. Ferling conceals the start of the second part of the ternary form by beginning it with the same thematic material as the first, and in the same key. 

No. 32: A swift-moving waltz follows. Sadly, it contains but one hemiola: this is found at measures 21 and 22 where 3/4 meter prevails. The ternary structure is capped by an extensive closing theme. The editor has chosen to repeat both the initial A section and the BA closing theme section in order to give more length to this outstanding movement. 

No. 33: Slow harmonic rhythm makes this French cantilène quite difficult for the performer to put across: the usual tension created by quicker-moving chord changes are simply not there to aid the oboist in building a credible line. To add interest, a short trio is added to the basic ||A||B|| binary form; the da capo recapitulates only the A section. 

No. 34: This polka features a triplet figure Eb-F-Eb. In the upper register, this combination must be played on the modern Lorée with the trill fingering made to favor the forked F in order that an equalized sonority might be maintained. Because of this, several Dbs will, by necessity, have to played with the trill fingering, i.e. the so-called 'open' fingering. 

No. 35: A ravishing romance follows. Ferling's structure appears to be ternary form, but there are strong binary form overtones within his concept. The basic movement here is in three, but the eighth-note pulse is strong. Successive repetitions of the romance should be supplied with additional ornamentation. 

No. 36: Another swift-moving waltz is added to Ferling's stable. This one is filled with intriguing harmonies, brought about by moving chords over pedal point and by the utilization of many diminished chords. 

No. 37: This movement is a Rossini-style march in slow harmonic rhythm. The present editor's accompaniment has been rendered primarily as dry staccato. Overall, the study is composed of a binary form followed by a short trio and modified da capo. 

No. 38: This march is of a brilliant nature. The structure is similar to the previous military etude, except that the trio is a complete binary form in the subdominant. 

No. 39: Although set in the difficult key of G# minor, this etude is rhythmically simple. Interest is added through the use of hemiola in measures 13-14 and 33-34. The rounded binary structure resembles the style of a French Romance, in which case it should be repeated several times with varied ornamentation. 

No. 40: A scherzo-like waltz follows. The B section of the rounded binary form begins with a Neapolitan relationship to the subdominant. This section eventually ends on the subdominant before the recapitulation of A. The overall form is then capped by an extensive coda of four repeated closing themes, in which each successive theme is shorter than its predecessor. The fourth of these is set in hemiola.  

No. 41: The structure of this bel canto study is most interesting. A binary form is followed by a short trio and a constricted da capo. In the da capo, the B section has been removed and this is to be expected; but in addition, the first half of the A theme is removed too. Ferling's harmonic rhythm is quite slow at times in this movement, and his harmonic pallette is restricted to a few chords. The resulting lack of tension makes it quite difficult for the oboist to lead the musical line. 

No. 42: This study is another of Ferling's swift-moving waltzes. This one moves at about 66 to the dotted half note. Hemiola is featured twice during the body of the rounded binary form (measures 43-44 and 55-58). As usual, the repeats are those of the editor. 

No. 43: The style of the march in Beethoven's Eroica Symphony was clearly the model for this movement. The structure is fascinating: a binary form is followed by a trio in the relative major. But the second half of this trio modulates to the original tonic so there is no need for a da capo. Two closing themes bring this wonderful movement to an end. 

No. 44: Yet another march, this one features subdivision by three. Like the previous study there is a trio in the subdominant, but this one is followed by a da capo of a modified version of the A section taken from the original rounded binary form. 

No. 45: The 3/2 meter of this study signals church music; perhaps this is an Offertory. The structure is similar the previous study: a binary form followed by a trio in the relative minor flows into a da capo of the A section from the first part. Hemiola is utilized in measures 21-22 and 37-38. 

No. 46: Ferling presents us with another march, but in a difficult key and with subdivision of the quarter note by both 3 and 4. The structure consists of two binary forms: the second is a trio in the dominant which eventually moves to the tonic. A generous closing theme validates the tonic. 

No. 47: The structure of this Romance is similar to No. 46, except that the trio is set in the relative major. In addition, the trio utilizes part of the opening of the initial binary form within the return to the tonic minor. 

No. 48: Ferling brings the entirety of his 48 Studies to a close with this waltz. Extreme range and several repetitions of a difficult trill from F2 to Eb2 are featured during the course of the rounded binary form.  

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