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Bach works for solo string instruments, transcribable or not?


Stephen Faulk
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My discontent with certain transcriptions mainly arises from the overlay of a work composed on an instrument tuned in fifths which is then transcribed to a string instrument tuned in fourths. Violin to guitar transcriptions, for me at least, are still lacking in resonance on the emotional threshold phrases and in general because the bow is missing. 

 

The  mandolin is basically a plucked violin with  the same tuning, the chords and supportive overtones and open strings are all in the same places. And that guy can really play. This transcription works. 

 

I think it was mentioned, transposing Britten\s cello solo unaccompanied to viola would work too, the same principles of tuning etc. apply. 

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I think it was mentioned, transposing Britten\s cello solo unaccompanied to viola would work too, the same principles of tuning etc. apply. 

Thanks for the affirmation.

I did it.

(Actually it doesn't work as well as hoped but still a usable transcription of the Britten Suites in places. 

And yes, I did it with permission from the copyright holders. An issue with recent music...... :) )

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Thanks for the affirmation.

I did it.

(Actually it doesn't work as well as hoped but still a usable transcription of the Britten Suites in places. 

And yes, I did it with permission from the copyright holders. An issue with recent music...... :) )

 Which of the three did you transcribe?  I actually would enjoy hearing it.  The first and second suites I like a lot. It took a while but I really warmed up to the third. At first I liked it least, then it really made sense after I read an interview with Isserlis who explained what he liked about it and why he favored playing it. 

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Interesting topic, I feel that there is lots to this, much of it based in perception and psychology. Any time you hear something that is not the way you were introduced to it, it can have "side effects", sometimes good, sometimes bad.

 

I agree that  personally there are very few transcriptions I like, for example, shoe on other foot, most all contemporary music that is transcribed into string music I dislike, I don't care how well they play/arrange Adele's "Rollin' in the deep" with a quartet, It just doesn't sound right. This gets into the torture that many wedding gig players have to go through, playing "Yesterday" and other "classics". Frankly anytime a vocal part is turned into a string line, I just want to gag....hard. The only exceptions are with Metal, as some of it slides into contemporary sounding classical quite well

 

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 Which of the three did you transcribe?  I actually would enjoy hearing it.  The first and second suites I like a lot. It took a while but I really warmed up to the third. At first I liked it least, then it really made sense after I read an interview with Isserlis who explained what he liked about it and why he favored playing it. 

All three.

It is not possible to achieve a resonance akin to a cello in the opening and subsequent Cantos of the first suite, for example,

so the effect is different and intonation critical.

But for the player the experience is still fascinating.

Will PM you.

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  • 1 month later...

I can't relate to someone who thinks these pieces (especially the Chaconne!) don't work, somehow. Are you mad? What have you been smoking. That's an arrogance that, honestly, I guess I'm too stupid to understand.

 

Not stupid. Just opinionated and incompetent. Stick to what you know. When you can play the Chaconne on violin and piano ( Busoni ) you will see immediately how it all works on the piano and it is a struggle and a lot of guessing on the violin. The numbers of different editions with huge differences tells that competent musicians did not find it clear as it was written originally.

 

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Come on, dan_s!

 

You're welcome to prefer piano transcriptions, but trying to cast aspersions on Bach's capabilities as a composer for violin seems a very bold move.

 

The Ciaccona is a masterwork for violin.

 

I would offer to you the idea that different editions are different because Baroque music, as part of its structure, leaves room for interpretation.  It is not because Bach is unclear.

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Come on, dan_s!

 

You're welcome to prefer piano transcriptions, but trying to cast aspersions on Bach's capabilities as a composer for violin seems a very bold move.

 

The Ciaccona is a masterwork for violin.

 

I would offer to you the idea that different editions are different because Baroque music, as part of its structure, leaves room for interpretation.  It is not because Bach is unclear.

 

I do not prefer it. I can play both and I invite you to listen with no prejudice to the piano transcription and hear for yourself a lot of stuff which on the violin is only sketched somehow. It IS a masterwork for violin but the violin struggles with it . To my ear it is much better on the viola.

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I feel like I might be caving in my initial dislike of these Bach pieces being transcribed to instruments tuned in fourths, The reason is that I have been reading through sections of the cello suites on guitar and coming to grips with the differences between the way the guitar and the cello work for these pieces. My original dislike of transcriptions still stands due to the way these compositions are intrinsically made to work with the way chords are voiced on instruments tuned in fifths. The change is that I think it can work musically, but the feeling is much different on guitar than on cello, I think of the guitar now as an illustration or second tier way of playing the piece. I think I can play it if I keep in mind it is kind of an abstraction of the way it is played on cello.

 

I think a few of you violinists might get what I am saying. 

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Interestingly enough, I teach selected movements of both the Violin Sonatas/Partitas and the Cello Suites to my *clarinet* students because of their musical value.

What would be our opinion about Chaconne being written originally for violin vs the piano?  I listened to the piano version earlier.  Thought to myself it's clearly written for violin but the piano version allows a lot of cutting up of notes that detract from the violin but can and does sound really good.  I'm not sure if it's a piano piece originally or for the violin originally.

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The fact that it's in the middle of a set of violin works leads me to believe that it was composed for violin.

 

We have examples of Bach himself later transcribing some of these sonatas and partitas for harpsichord, lute, and organ, but I don't think we have a single movement from the s&p for another instrument that predates the violin manuscript. (And I don't think we have a Bach transcription of the 2nd Partita at all.)  I think it's clear that he composed them for violin probably on violin (though, as Anner Bylsma hypothesizes the cello suites might've been worked out on viola, maybe the s&p were also worked out on viola, as that was Bach's favorite instrument to play).

 

It certainly was not originally a piano piece, as Bach had yet to come into contact with one (they were still pretty rare in 1720).

 

On the topic of transcription (sorta), I just read this short piece by Monica Huggett where she talks about the similarities between Mozart and Mendelssohn (violinist composers) as opposed to Beethoven and Brahms (pianist composers).  I liked her observations because they immediately rang true to me.  Also, she mentioned Zelter, and I had just been asked by a colleague who the hell Zelter was and I had been forced to say I had no idea.  Now I know.

 

PS-  Bach did eventually come into contact with fortepianos in the 1730s and 1740s.

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