I know this could vary from piece to piece, but if there are no specific articulation markings or mallet suggestions, would it be safe to simply play extended measures of quick timpani notes as a roll?

Consider Beethoven's 9th Symphony in D-Minor. I have to play certain parts of the piece for an audition. Take this excerpt:

Movement 4

I feel it is marked as 16th notes instead of a roll because of the 4th measure where it changes drums. However, in other places in the piece, he specifically writes a trill marking, such as in the 1st movement:

1st movement

I've had this problem in the past, so is there a somewhat general thought behind how to play these really fast notes?

1 Answer 1


I'm not a percussionist, but:

Usually in "classical" scores, tremolos in other instrumental parts (most common in the string section) are "measured" - i.e. you play the number of notes as shown by the number of strokes through the stem.

That is clear in the first edition of the score (https://imslp.org/wiki/Special:ImagefromIndex/108611/torat) where in several places in the first movement a figure 4 is added to tremolos on 8th-notes, to make it clear now many notes are to be played for each written note.

On the other hand, trills are "unmeasured," and not necessarily played at constant speed for the whole trill. Acceleration and crescendo towards the end of a trill is idiomatic.

On the other hand, assuming your "trill" example is from near the end of the first movement, the first edition of the score has a different notation, which is actually clearer about the intention. The final entry of the main theme in the rest of the orchestra starts on the 32nd note before the trill, so there is musical logic to the fact that the trill at the start of a phrase is more emphatic than the tremolo at the end of the previous phrase - especially as the entry of the theme is marked "sempre ff".

Note, the parts on IMSLP are from a different edition, and match your notation. IMO the first edition printed what Beethoven wrote, but some later editor thought he knew better. The rest of the orchestra has double-dotted-8th + 32nd throughout the theme, but the timps do not. Editing out such inconsistencies is often wrong, but an unfortunate habit of people with tidy but small minds...

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