Thursday, January 7, 2010

Stolen Works

Alan Raph does an interesting little trick with (all but one of) his transcriptions. Well, interesting in a wonky, low brass, clef-y sort of way. Often, when musicians want to "borrow" (or "steal" depending on your point of view) literature from the repertoire of another instrument, we transcribe the music for our instrument of choice. In other words we write it out in a way that makes it reasonably--and (hopefully) successfully--playable on our instrument.

Actually, before I go on about what Raph (and I) did in the Telemann transcriptions, I should say a quick word about why and what we borrow. If you're a pianist or a violinist and you want to study solo or chamber music by the pillars of western classical music, your choices are nearly endless--enormous catalogs of music composed for your instrument by Bach, Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Brahms, to name just a few. However, if you want to play music composed for euphonium, you're looking at a vastly smaller body of work, virtually all of which was composed after 1900.

So we borrow.


From every other instrument we can find.

Of course we borrow extensively from trombone repertoire--trombone and euph share the same range and pretty much the same mouthpiece. In essence, they're the same instrument, just bent differently. From the cello, which has a similar range and in many ways a similar role in ensembles (the euph is often called the "cello of the band"), we borrow Bach's suites, Schubert's Arpeggione Sonata, and Bruch's Kol Nidre. From the trumpet (which shares the same valve fingerings as euph) we borrow Haydn's and Hummel's concertos, as well as the most used method book in the brass universe, the Arban method. The Bassoon gives us a Mozart concerto, a Telemann sonata, and lots of study materials (the bassoon also lands in roughly the same range as the euph). From the French Horn we love to swipe the Mozart concertos. And from the piano, we'll steal anything that isn't nailed down for duets and chamber groups. We also take liberally from vocal works--the operatic tenor is a good fit for the timbre and range of the euphonium, choral music often works beautifully for a Tuba/Euph quartet, and no serious low brass student hasn't spent many hours in the woodshed with Rochut's transcriptions of Bordogni's vocalises.

And from the flute rep Bach gives us a beautiful sonata and an unaccompanied partita (in which Bach seems to forget he's writing for a wind instrument--the first movement is 46 measures (if you don't take the repeat) of straight 16th notes (the only rest in the entire movement falls, somewhat comically, on the first beat of the first measure)).

And of course, the flute gives us the Telemann Fantasias.

That is a short list. In my practice I also steal Irish fiddle music, organ music, Charlie Parker sax solos, Mozart's Clarinet Concerto, the trumpet opening from Mahler's 5th Symphony, Shostakovich's Preludes and Fugues for piano, Bach's violin sonatas and partitas, and the Vaughn Williams Tuba Concerto. I've been playing euphonium for 30 years and I've accumulated a good sized library of sheet music, the majority of which was originally composed for instruments other than euphonium. The euph repertoire is smaller than most other instruments'. We get used to keeping an open ear to find new music to play.

But I digress--I was going to discuss Alan Raph's interesting transcription trick. We'll save that for next time.

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