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I’m reading through the study score for Tchaikovsky’s Pathétique. There’s an indication I am unsure of. They refer to the Strings section.

(unis.)

unis on violin section

After a Google, I discovered

several players in a group are to play exactly the same notes within their written part, as opposed to splitting simultaneous notes among themselves. Often used to mark the return from divisi.

Can someone explain this to me, please? I wasn’t aware that without this, parts are separated further? Are they?

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  • regarding unisono/divisi: you can have bars, where one voice splits up in two or more subgroups, i.e. some celli would play a different melody than the others - this would be a "divisi". To indicate that all return back to the same melody, the term "unisono" is used: all celli are supposed to play the same melody and the division is over. - I am not sure about the second questions, hence, just a comment. - It might be a good idea to split the question into two seperate ones, since they are not related (despite refering to the same sheet) – Arsak Sep 3 '20 at 17:54
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    This should really be split into two questions. Just know that the second question, about the dotted slurs, is likely a duplicate. – Aaron Sep 4 '20 at 2:29
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Unis.

"Unis.", as you discovered, is an abbreviation for "Unison", meaning "everyone plays the same thing at the same time." This is the default state of each section of the strings at the start of an orchestral piece. When a section divides it is called a divisi. For example, in the first movement of the Tchaikovsky (seven bars after rehearsal A in this IMSLP score) we see divisions in the string parts.

string divisi example

To keep their parts less cluttered the first violins and violas have been give a temporary additional stave. There's no danger of clutter in the second violin or cello parts, so no extra staves are needed. It isn't clear from this extract (or the succeeding bars) why the double basses have been given an extra stave. Perhaps to draw the conductor's attention to this unusual divisi. [Divisi basses commonly play in octaves. Very rarely do they play in low thirds like this.]

In the absence of a div., chords in string parts are to be played without dividing. Passages of double stopping are often accompanied by the words non div., indicating that each player really is to play all the notes; not share them out!

By the way, the maximum string divisi is 'divisi by the half desk', in which each individual fiddler, violist etc has his/her own notes. It appears occasionally in C20th music, in works by Penderecki and Ligeti and in the operas of John Mortimer for example.

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    I can’t recall now, but isn’t there a way for an editor to make additional comments or articulations and make sure that the reader is aware that they have been made on top of the original material? Perhaps it’s that, to just dot everything? Thanks for your most helpful answer. – cmp Sep 3 '20 at 18:15
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    @cmp often there will be a note at the beginning of the score specifying "dotted slurs and ties are editorial" or something like that. That's because the convention is not universal, so it is helpful for the editor to inform the reader explicitly what convention is in use. Another option is to put tiny square brackets (namely [ and ]) on either end of an editorial slur or other articulation mark. Editorial notes and other marks are sometimes smaller, but that's not particularly effective for slurs and ties. – phoog Sep 3 '20 at 18:23
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    "ambiguity in the source material": Sometimes there's no ambiguity, the editor just wants to point out that something in the score implies the editorial marking. In this case, for example, it seems to follow from the markings in the first half of the measure. If there is an editor's note, it should explain. – phoog Sep 3 '20 at 18:26
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    You asked, "I wasn’t aware that without this, parts are separated further? Are they?" I don't think anyone has explained that, at the start of a an orchestral piece, the first violins will be playing in unison unless it says 'div.' Unison is the default state. Chords and passages using double stopping are common in string parts, and occasionally you might see 'non div.', indicating that each players is to play all the notes; not share them out! – Old Brixtonian Sep 3 '20 at 22:58
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    By the way, the maximum string divisi is 'divisi by the half desk', in which each individual fiddler, violist etc has his/her own notes. It appears occasionally in C20th music, eg in works by Penderecki, John Mortimer and Ligeti. – Old Brixtonian Sep 3 '20 at 23:11

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