I'm starting to analyze the Slavic March by Tchaikovsky. In measures 6, 8 and 9 the Clarinet has these repeated whole notes, but I don't know what they mean (I'm not a clarinetist). The bassoon/fagotto also has the same repeated whole notes in measure 8.

As far as I understand they're not the same as a "breve" since that wouldn't fit, is that correct?

Measures 5 - 9

  • 2
    Do the bars before & after have two voices?
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 5, 2018 at 19:48

2 Answers 2


There are two clarinets (and two bassoons) playing in unison. This notation is one way of accounting for all of the notes.

Note that for all of the stemmed notes, there are stems pointing in both directions. Stems up are for the 1st player, and stems down for the 2nd. But since a whole note has no stems, they write it like that.

It looks kinda silly, and has fallen out of favor in modern scores.

  • Thanks, that makes sense! How would it be written on a modern score? Just a single whole note for both voices? Nov 5, 2018 at 22:01
  • 2
    Opinions will differ, but I think the cleanest thing would be to write only a single line (so also get rid of the double stems) and mark the section "a2" (for "a due", translated: "for two").
    – MattPutnam
    Nov 5, 2018 at 22:14
  • @Matt How would that work in practice? It looks to me as if the two instruments in question sometimes play the same note and sometimes play different notes, and on a few occasions, one plays a note and one doesn’t. If you only wrote a single line and no double stems, how would each player know when they were supposed to play which note? (I assume two different notes would still have to be written as two different notes?) Nov 5, 2018 at 23:00
  • 3
    Also, this score is intended to be used by the conductor. The players will have their own parts, avoiding any confusion.
    – Jos
    Nov 6, 2018 at 10:52
  • 5
    There are also two horn parts shown. According to what I have read in Behind the Bars, writing the two parts on the same stave is still fine as long as the parts are rhythmically similar. When they go on for a long time playing the same note, that would be marked as "unison", but when they split to different notes, that would be marked "divisi." The score above is a little outdated in that way because both parts are written out despite having so much unison in that section. If the parts have significantly different rhythm, they need separate staves.
    – Heather S.
    Nov 6, 2018 at 12:09

Looking at Fagotti, there are two voices written. It's easy to see, with up and down tails. When a semibreve is written there is no tail to determine whether it's fag 1 or fag 2, so two semibreves on the same note have to be written instead. Same ruling applies to all instruments, clarinets included.

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