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Arrangements for orchestra - do they ever add anything of value?


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Showing 1-25 of 36 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 1 Jan 2014, 13:41:56 GMT
enthusiast says:
I'm thinking of

- On Wenlock Edge - doesn't the orchestral version sound rather bloated?
- Souvenir de Florence - the version for string orchestra is lovely but so is the original Sextet,
- Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle - again the chamber version is much more effective.

Do you agree? Can you think of examples where more really is more?

Posted on 1 Jan 2014, 14:33:39 GMT
I had to refresh my memory regarding 'On Wenlock Edge' - I had forgotten all about it. I wouldn't say the orchestral version is bloated (Tear/Rattle/CBSO) but I greatly prefer the original. I only have the Tchaikovsky in the original and don't know the Rossini at all.

I have never been convinced by Mahler's orchestrations of Beethoven and Schubert string quartets and can easily live without them. Many find the string orchestra version of the Grosse Fuge better than the original but I prefer the piano duet version best of all.

Ravel's orchestrations of his own works are brilliant and I can't say which is best. Going in the other direction, his transcription for two pianos of Debussy's Trois Nocturnes is interesting but lacks the colour of the orchestral original. I quite like the piano version of La Valse but again the orchestral original is best. For many years I only knew Pictures at an Exhibition in Ravel's orchestration but now prefer the piano original.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jan 2014, 15:48:24 GMT
Mandryka says:
Hans Zender's arrangement of Schumann's Fantasie is very revealing, helpful for seeing why the music is good, partly because of the way he clarifies the voices and uses unexpected percussive textures. I also thought one of Stokowsky's performances of Bach's chaconne really captured the mournful spirit of the music, possibly better than any violinist I've heard. Similar positive memories of one of Furtwangler's recordings of Beethoven op 133. Of the ones you mention I agree about the Rossini.

Posted on 1 Jan 2014, 17:59:54 GMT
Bruce says:
Pictures at an Exhibition is a tour de force for orchestra - but always sounds to be lacking something in its piano version.

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jan 2014, 18:50:09 GMT
MacDoom says:
Bruce,

I have to admit to 180 degrees different ears!

In reply to an earlier post on 1 Jan 2014, 19:15:51 GMT
G. P. Martin says:
I prefer the orchestrated version of Dvorak's Slavonic Dances.

Posted on 1 Jan 2014, 19:57:41 GMT
Mondoro says:
Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht in the chamber music version conveys the angst of the piece; the orchestral version, the warmth of its concluding passage. You really need both

Posted on 1 Jan 2014, 20:42:29 GMT
[Deleted by the author on 1 Jan 2014, 20:43:10 GMT]

Posted on 1 Jan 2014, 21:53:49 GMT
Last edited by the author on 1 Jan 2014, 21:59:11 GMT
JayJayDee says:
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Posted on 2 Jan 2014, 14:51:03 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jan 2014, 15:03:25 GMT
scarecrow says:
It's quite well-trodden ground now, but where High Art meets Low Art, the post-modern was fascinated by this process

John Adams did some arrangements of Busoni, a "Barcarola";great piece and candidate for the ethos of arranging. . and Percy Grainger wrote well in his populist-folk language. . There is a piano arrangements that has the full complexity of the genre. . .

Igor Stravinsky wrote his own quasi-arrangements a "Circus March",In fact the "arranging" ethos was a permanent part of Igor's creative well-being;
and Rodion Schedrin did a "Russian Circus Music".
Erik Satie as well, wrote within the "arrangements" substance, pulling backwards for the conceptual edge it gave him, and
John Cage, "Cheap Imitation";use of the radio, and whatever pre-recorded materials is like "arranging", well "assemblage" and HPSCHD, has "arrangements" within the late Sixties work. .
Ben Johnston "Fourth String Quartet" has a variations on "Amazing Grace"; It's really some kind of "arrangement", to distance the the subject somehow. .
Michael Finnissy has devoted his existence to "border" disputes of what is "composed" and what is "arranged", like the "Gershwin Arrangements", "Verdi Transcriptions". . . the forever popular "English Country Tunes" of his,
Nika Shirocorad plays them quite well. . .
Howard Skempton as well has piano solos, "The Mold Riots", and "The Durham Strike". . .with tunes from Wales for one, a miner's tune.....
The post-modern avant-garde fascinated by "games", and "play" can now "franchise" a work, having smaller less significant works be played from a larger construct,
as Stockhausen's LICHT, where his "klavierstuck, well # 13 forward are used within the Opera, but also as concert pieces In-And-Of-Themselves. . .Boulez his "Works in Progress, his "Notations for Piano", are now full-excavated orchestral realizations, "arrangements" more sophisticated. .
We all know Cornelius Cardew apostasy late with the Left arranged revolutionary tunes, one great one "The East is Red" for Violin and Piano. . .the song, the melos "guides" whatever the music becomes, develops as, Fredric Rzewski as well, his "El Pueblo Unido. . " is a Grand Mural of "arrangement", there the borders are broken, the piece transcends a mere tepid "arrangement " form of the revolutionary song. .
Christian Wolff as well, his piano solo"preludes" utilizes American folk tunes, buried within, internalized into the one-dimensional texture,idea for each prelude. .

Yuji Takahashi his piano solo, "Kwangju,May 1980" at the end uses a Korean folk-tune with added meaning "Bluebird". .

Posted on 2 Jan 2014, 19:12:56 GMT
Roasted Swan says:
I have an unending fascination for arrangements whether grim or glorious. A good arrangement throws (unexpected) light on the original and when done by a third party composer/arranger tells us so much about what that other composer perceives as important in the originating work. I think I've mentioned this before; you can buy a Peters edition score which shows *both* Mendelssohn's and Schumann's piano parts they added to the Bach Chaconne. Its absolutely fascinating to see side by side how 2 great composers treat a masterpiece by a third. Curiously I find arrangements by the original composer - as in the examples cited in the OP less interesting simply because the impetus for their creation tends to be pragmatic/practical rather than artistic so they rarely add to our knowledge of the original. As Enthusiast said in his OP - all 3 works mentioned are fine in their later/expanded evolutions but to be honest their real genius lies in the original versions.

I have always found the Mahler quartet "arrangements" to be sadly lacking - they are more of a performing edition than arrangement. Mahler adds nearly nothing to the dots on the page - what interest there is lies in the insight it gives us as a 21st century audience into Mahler's performing preference for Beethoven or Schubert. Personally I like arrangements that really push the boundaries of our knowledge of the original work - Francaix's Chopin Piano Preludes for example or even the much derided Schoenberg Brahms Piano Quartet - great fun to my ear!

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2014, 20:36:55 GMT
gille liath says:
I like both versions of that (and the various other possibilities that have been tried). I wouldn't say the orchestral version is *better*, but it certainly offers something different whilst equally as good.

I also like that famous string orchestration by somebody - Warlock? - of one of Purcell's harpsichord suites.

In general though I agree, in fact I often find orchestral music bombastic whether it is based on a smaller-scale original or not.

In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2014, 21:23:18 GMT
Last edited by the author on 2 Jan 2014, 21:24:15 GMT
Bruce says:
That's where personal taste comes in - if I look at my collection of classical CDs it's nearly all of symphonies or other music for large orchestras and choral music. I have a few of chamber music, but hardly ever listen to them and very few of purely one instrument.

I find piano music pleasant enough when I put it on - but it never comes to the forefront of my mind as as something exciting and interesting to listen to, for pleasure. When I look at the upcoming Proms season, I always pick out the concerts with the biggest orchestras and loudest pieces!! ;-)

Posted on 2 Jan 2014, 22:36:29 GMT
JayJayDee says:
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In reply to an earlier post on 2 Jan 2014, 22:52:32 GMT
Bruce says:
I must say that I did go through a period of listening to Beethoven's late quartets and that was at a time when I was a member of a record library and was suitably impressed - I recorded a load of them on cassette - but threw them all away long ago and haven't missed listening to them up to now that I only have room for CDs.

Posted on 2 Jan 2014, 23:31:32 GMT
gille liath says:
Ah...noise junkies. ;)

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jan 2014, 09:38:50 GMT
Nick: Mahler made his arrangements (or whatever you want to call them) because he thought 'four pathetic little string players' couldn't adequately render Beethoven's 'mighty late quartets' and they 'cried out for a small string orchestra'. It was his intention not to change a single note and he even resisted the temptation to add double-basses. He expected his orchestral players to develop new technique and interpretation, 'much more sensitive than that required by the most difficult symphonies'. It seems most of the hard work would be in the rehearsal and performance and the 'arrangement' itself was pretty minimal.

I suppose it tells us something about attitudes of Mahler's time but I will stick to the originals. I think that four players stretched to the limit give a better impression of the struggle and power of Beethoven's 'mighty' late quartets.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jan 2014, 10:17:04 GMT
Bruce says:
It's not just attitudes that have changed but also the equipment! So string players today use steel strings that are far more consistent in their intonation and generally provide more volume and allow greater attack than was the case with the kind of gut strings used in Beethoven and Mahler's time.

Instrument technology improved vastly in the 20th Century and players today can do things that would have been much more difficult for string quartets in earlier periods.

In reply to an earlier post on 3 Jan 2014, 20:14:43 GMT
enthusiast says:
Your last sentence, Geoffrey - well put!

Posted on 4 Jan 2014, 10:59:12 GMT
Since making my posting I have dug out a recording from Askenazy dating from 2003. He conducts the Academy of St Martin in the Fileds in a modern transcription ('Bass line realized by Paul Marrion') of Beethoven's Op 127 String Quartet. Despite the special pleading of the booklet I really can't see the point. The first two movements sound like Elgar and the Scherzo is just unfortunate (to be polite).

For comparison I listened on Spotify to Mahler's version of Beethoven's Op 95 Quartet 'Serioso' (first movement only) and didn't enjoy that either. I also listened to Mahler's vesrion of Schubert's 'Death and the Maiden' Quartet (I have heard this before) and found that equally unenjoyable, particularly as it lacked the distinctive string-tone colour of the original.

Walton made his own transcription of his string quartet and I actually heard the string orchestra version first; here I am not sure which version I prefer although I don't know either version well. Possibly when you know the quartet vesrion well (as with the Beethoven and Schubert) it comes as too much of a jolt to here a string orchestra version.

Posted on 4 Jan 2014, 15:19:28 GMT
JayJayDee says:
I can imagine that solo string players will generally be more protective of the original quartet versions...likewise piano players. The special intonation that a single player can give a note or phrase is inevitably 'lost' in a wash of sound produced by more than one player.
If I really like the work in question I tend to like both efforts in all those cases where there have been arrangements. The music itself remains indestructible.
I think that Geoffrey's point about the sequence by which you hear original and arrangement is very pertinent. Many of us will have heard Ravel's Pictures before Mussorgsky's original ... and most of us will prefer the full orchestral blast plus all the extra coloristic effects possible in the arrangement.
But then there will always be those who demand that Shostakovich and Beethoven quartets were their private utterances and should not be broadcast too loud or with too much unanimity of bowing.

The size of the venue is another factor.
A quartet sounds OK at the QEH in London, but an orchestra suits the RAH.

It is interesting that Mahler tried to be very faithful to the originals when he made his arrangements Schubert & Beethoven String Quartets arr. Mahler (and lost support), while the most successful arrangements are probably the most interventionist (like Grainger's Pagodes
Grainger: In a Nutshell ).

Posted on 4 Jan 2014, 15:37:42 GMT
The music's the thing - for example, I play the piano but prefer the Ravel orchestration of Mussorgsky's "Pictures".

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Jan 2014, 17:04:52 GMT
Last edited by the author on 4 Jan 2014, 17:06:30 GMT
Roasted Swan says:
I agree with Harry - the music's the thing so I can't say I'm fonder of the original versions in principle. Mondoro made a very good descriptive point with Schoenberg's Transfigured Night - both versions throw different but valid light on the music itself. Curiously Ravel's version of Pictures has always left me relatively unmoved - it gentrifies the craggy power of the original I think. I rather like this version Pictures at An Exhibition (Jarvi, Segerstam, Finnish Rso) - JJD should get this - his favourite Aho's version of the Songs & Dances of Death as the coupling is rather fine too.

Posted on 4 Jan 2014, 17:29:18 GMT
I think that my postings so far have given the impression that, by and large, I am against orchestral arrangements so I have to confess to a number of 'guily pleasures'. These include Elgar's 'Handel in D minor', Schoenberg's version of Brahms' Piano Quartet in G minor and Strauss' various orchestrations/arrangements of Couperin.

In reply to an earlier post on 5 Jan 2014, 10:09:02 GMT
enthusiast says:
I'm all for the original version as being "the right version". Aside from the mention in this thread of Ravel as a great orchestrator I remain in general very against arrangements. I suggest that when great composers write for orchestra the music sounds multi-dimensional and alive but arrangements tend to merely thicken. I find this ugly and that it smothers the life out of the music. Ravel is great because he does more than thicken. His orchestrations are alive.

I like both Pictures at an Exhibition but find the piano version really needs very special advocacy to sound its best. Many pianists fail to present a fully convincing account of it. The orchestral version is easier to bring off.

I have less problem with transcriptions from orchestra to piano or small ensemble and it worries me less that they cannot give "the whole truth". They can still be fun but I suppose being fun is their limit. This account of the Nutcracker Suite for two pianos is a delight! Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No.1 / The Nutcracker Suite

Baroque music - most especially Bach - is an area where we have become accustomed to all sorts of sizes of ensemble and there have often been arguments about what size is "correct". It is interesting to listen to the Art of Fugue in performances for piano, or viol consort, or string quartet or chamber ensemble. It is strange that it sounds less dry and more rewarding as music when it is played by the same person or group all the way through. Arrangements that try to give us variety by having different instruments playing different fugues haven't worked for me as well as the accounts that are all piano or all viols or whatever. Again, it seems, I find less to be more.
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