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What is a "first chair" or "principal" musician called?

I have searched in Google translate and got "erster Stuhl Trompeter", but that sounds a little too literal.

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The wind instruments are numbered individually so here you can indeed say “erste Trompete”, but the strings aren't, so in particular, “erste Geige” does not mean principal but the whole group of violinists who play the first voice (of which there can be 6-14 in an orchestra!).

The general term for first chair is “Stimmführer”. (Yes, that's the same word root as Hitler liked to be called, so never shorten it to “Führer” alone! The root also appears in a number of other composites, like “Führerschein” – driver's licence, which don't have a nazi connotation.) For the principal of the first violins specifically, there is also the word “Konzertmeister”.

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  • OTOH there can also be more than one person playing erste Trompete or erste Klarinette, so it is about the same as for the strings. – Thorsten Dittmar Jul 16 '18 at 8:47
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    @ThorstenDittmar well, the winds can be doubled, but in a classical orchestra that's never done because two instruments playing the same voice gives a very notably different sound from only one. (Also it's really difficult to get the intonation right – when two e.g. oboes in unison are only a tiny bit off, it gives a nasty beat. For strings this is not an issue because over more than 3 players, the beat averages out to that smooth silky chorus effect.) The composer may let a whole bunch of winds play in unison for effect, but that's another story. – leftaroundabout Jul 16 '18 at 8:51
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    There is nothing wrong with the word Führer if you use it in a German context. It just means leader. (Same for Reich, which just means empire.) Do not let the Nazis steal or poison our words. – Hubert Schölnast Jul 17 '18 at 8:26
  • @HubertSchölnast Well, that should actually have been my point: even though such a word may sound nazi-ish to an English speaker, it is actually not. I generally agree with your point, in particular the treadmill situation with car license plates (neo-nazis choosing plates with AH, HH or 88 on them) could only be tackled by making sure that such plates are given out so often that it can't become symbolic, not by forbidding them (which just pushes the trend to other “codes”). Still, some extremes like “Führer”, “Heil” o̶r̶ ̶“̶A̶u̶t̶o̶b̶a̶h̶n̶”̶ should perhaps better be avoided by themselves. – leftaroundabout Jul 17 '18 at 10:02
  • @leftaroundabout It is absolutely wrong that winds never get doubled in classical orchestra, although it is uncommon. But just look at what Händel required for the Feuerwerksmusik... – RoyPJ Jul 17 '18 at 11:12
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He is called "erster Trompeter".

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    Die erste Geige spielen is an idiomatic expression based on that. – Janka Jul 16 '18 at 0:13
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    @Janka but “erste Geige” does not mean principal violin. – leftaroundabout Jul 16 '18 at 8:41
  • Trompeter or Trompete?? What is the preferred term? – Beta Jul 16 '18 at 9:30
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    If you talk about the person playing the trumpet, it is "erster Trompeter". If you're talking about the part, it is "erste Trompete". – Thorsten Dittmar Jul 16 '18 at 9:34
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    @Beta: Beides ist möglich, wobei letzteres geschlechtsneutral ist – arc_lupus Jul 16 '18 at 10:55
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To clear this up:

In orchestras, not people but instrumental parts are numbered. Therefore there is the "erste Trompete", which might as well consist of more than one trumpet.

Same applies for violins, where there are "erste Geige(n)" and "zweite Geige(n)" (note that these can be refered to in singular or plural). For each instrumental part, the person sitting closest to the audience is the "Stimmführer", sitting on the "erstes Pult".

A special role is assigned to the "Stimmführer" of the "erste Geige", who is something like the leader of the orchestra, therefore the "Konzertmeister".

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  • Ok, so specifically, Principal 2nd Violin would be: Stimmführer zweite Violine? – sabina2905 Sep 25 '19 at 13:30
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As mentioned in other answers, usually instrumental parts are numbered. "Erste Trompete, zweite Trompete, erste Klarinette, erste Geige, zweite Geige, ...".

A special role is given to the leader of the first violin - he is called "Konzertmeister" (concert master) or "1. Pult".

If one person from the section is assigned the leading role for the entire section, it is mostly the (or one of the) first part and he is called the "Stimmführer". He's then responsible for the entire section (for example all Clarinets or all Trumpets).

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    1. Pult is not unique in my opinion, since every instrument group (e.g. 2nd violins) may have one of its own, see here, right hand side – guidot Jul 16 '18 at 9:25
  • No, 1. Pult is a known term for the concert master, or - vice versa - the fact that the concert master is the person sitting at the 1. Pult, first violin. The term 1. Pult is not generally used for parts with more than one person playing, but only for the first violin. – Thorsten Dittmar Jul 16 '18 at 9:33
  • @ThorstenDittmar um, yes it is used also for parts with more than just the concert master playing! For example, when a passage is supposed to be played by only exactly four instruments of each group, then they'll have “1. & 2. Pult” in the score. (1. and 2. desk in English.) – leftaroundabout Jul 16 '18 at 9:56
  • @leftaroundabout Well, from my experience I've only ever heard "1. Pult" when people were talking about the concert master. In that case, it does of course refer to the first desk of the first violin. I'll have to believe you that the score can contain these terms, even though I've never come across this, especially since from my experience only the strings section shares desks. – Thorsten Dittmar Jul 16 '18 at 11:25

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