Sunday, April 23, 2017

Project 366 - The World of Transcriptions

To mark the fifth anniversary of ITYWLTMT, we are undertaking a long-term project that will introduce - and re-introduce - musical selections in the context of a larger thematic arc I am calling "A Journey of Musical Discovery". Read more here.

They are called arrangements, orchestrations, or even reductions but they are all different paths to achieving a common goal, that is to “re-purpose” a piece of music originally created in one setting, and offering it in a different setting.

There are many examples of transcriptions, and they generally follow distinct formulas. Here are some of these formulas:

The piano transcription (which can be extended to a different instrument like a guitar, or an organ) takes a piece of music – more often than not, a piece of orchestral music or a large-scale stage work – an transposes it for a solo pianist (or sometimes piano four hands) in a bid to allow it to be played at home. I like to think of these as being the direct ancestor of broadcasts and recordings, as a means to allow works to be played and heard outside of their original setting. Nor unlike going to your local record store, one can imagine purchasing the sheet music for the piano reduction of a symphony, or even opera arias. The piano transcription, when penned by a great performer like Liszt, or Thalberg or even Vladimir Horowitz can be thought of as a vehicle for showcasing virtuosity in recitals.

An instrumental substitution allows for a piece of music originally intended for a specific voice, pitch or instrument to be substituted by another; this often occurs at the suggestion of the composer! Think of replacing a viola by a clarinet (Brahms trio, op. 114), or Mahler’s Song of the Earth where he suggests as a note "if necessary, the alto part may be sung by a baritone". Joaquin Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez was originally scored for guitar and orchestra, yet he produced a version for harp and orchestra.

Johann Sebastian Bach is notorious for “reassigning” soloist parts to different instruments: his concerto for keyboard BWV 1058 is a transcription of his violin concerto BWV 1041, his concerto for two violins BWV 1042 reappears as his concerto for two keyboards BWV 1062, and so on.

Sometimes, necessity forces instrument reassignment – ancient instruments like the viola da gamba or the dulcian being replaced by cello and bassoon, respectively; the forte piano can be substituting a harpsichord, and either can be replaced by a “modern” acoustic piano.

Another formula is the setting substitution – adaption a string quartet or sextet for string orchestra, or adapting a symphonic piece for wind band.

Finally, there are orchestrations – often times, taking a piece for solo piano or organ and rendering it for full orchestra – the most famous example of this being the many different orchestrations of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, or even the many different settings of Les Sylphides , a ballet setting several of Chopin’s piano works for orchestra.

The following set of listener guides explores many of these formulas – piano transcriptions, instruument substitutions and, finally, some unforgettable orchestrations.

Listener Guide #90 - "Magyar rapszódiák". Hermann Scherchen and the Vienna State Opera Orchestra perform Liszt's orchestration of 6 of his 19 Hungarian Rhapsodies. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #176 - 5 Dec 2014)

Listener Guide #91 - "Three transcribed concertos". Concertos by Marcello, Mozart and Rodrigo are re-purposed for different solo instruments. (ITYWLTMT Podcast #33 - December 2, 2011)

Listener Guide #92 - "Opera Transcriptions". Earl Wild and Jorge Bolet  perform piano transcriptions of arias and syntheses of operas by Liszt, Thalberg and other virtuoso pianists of the Late Romantic period.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #167 - 3 Oct 2014)

Listener Guide #93 - "Play Bach". Bach has been known to have "tinkered" with his music, but never in a jazz vein, as perfirmed by Jacques Loussier’s original Play Bach trio.  (ITYWLTMT Podcast #214 - 29 Jan 2016)

Listener Guide #94 - "Kartínki s výstavki". Leonard Slatkin proposes a unique orchestral look at Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, in this compendium of individual sections from known (and less-known) orchestrations of the work. [This is preceded by an 18-minute documentary] (Tuesday Blog - 16 Oct 2012)


Listener Guide #95 - "An Unlikely Pairing". The Mighty Moog is front and centre in this look at classical works adapted for the Synthesizer. This Guide includes two versions of Ravel's Bolero - in its original orchestra version, and on the Moog Synthesizer (Vinyl's Revenge #27 - Apr 18 2017)

Listener Guide #96 - "The Bach Partitas Played on the Viola". Scott Slapin performs the three s lo violin partitas and the partita for solo flute on the viola. (Once Upon the Internet #39 - Jun-16 2015)