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At the end of Darius Milhaud's La Création du Monde, the violins have some harmonics notated that I can't quite figure out. I'm not a string player, and I'm wondering if the notation given here would be sufficiently clear for a modern violinist, or whether a different notation would be better. Here are the chords in question:

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For the Violin I (upper) part, I think I've convinced myself that the notes are straight octave harmonics. So the first note involves lightly touching the G string at its midpoint and the second involves lightly touching the D string at its midpoint. Both notes would sound as written.

The Violin II (lower) part is what confuses me. Are the Ds supposed to be fingered as D4s on the G string (i.e., string IV), sounding at D5? Or is there some way to produce a D4 as a harmonic on the G string? I thought that the sounding pitch is what's shown when harmonics are called for, rather than the fingering position. The fingering note and the sounding note are the same for the Violin I notes, but not for these.

2 Answers 2

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This suffers from the confusing fact that the "small perfect circle" symbol is being used in two ways simultaneously. You're right that the 1st violins have plain old harmonics (midpoint of G and D strings). However, many publications, especially from French turn-of-the-century printers, used the circle as a "0" to indicate open strings as well. The final notes of the second violins have open D strings, with the E and F# fingered on G string (so the "IV" applies to the E and F#).

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  • It seems obvious now that you point it out. Many thanks. Jan 3, 2022 at 16:30
  • For reference, use of a small "o" to indicate open string is standard use in all the 20th-century printings (not composition date) I've seen Jan 4, 2022 at 18:36
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Judging by recordings, these violin chords definitely sound as if they're supposed to contain e, g and d. Therefore I assume that the second violins are supposed to touch the G string at the d and simultaneously play an e on the D string normally. (You can generate the second harmonic either by touching the string at 2/3 or at 1/3 of its length; presumably Milhaud chose the less common 1/3 solution here so that you can reach it while also playing the regular e.)

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