To re-purpose

The word is in my head after The Death of Stalin. Iannucci’s film takes music and uses it in new ways. Whether we’re talking about John Hughes, Stanley Kubrick or your organist at church, the re-use of an existing piece of music is the oldest trick in the book.

Re-purposing is a new word for an old process.

The cue sheets used in silent film and melodrama are lists of instructions, usually prescribing the use of a composition that had an earlier context than the one in that melodrama or film. Last year, in the wake of Charlottesville I played a church postlude, re-purposing an existing piece of music because it seemed to fit that Sunday.

Ideally a composer can make something new that matches the required situation, whether it’s a play or an opera, or a church service. The employer may prefer something pre-existing even if there’s an available composer. At weddings and funerals we select music that’s apt for the occasion, to express love or sorrow. The recognition in hearing something we’ve heard before is part of the magic. It may jar us a bit at first, even though upon closer examination it works in its new context.

In Death of Stalin there’s a scene showing Russians lining up to pay their respects to their dead leader, Stalin lying in state while thousands upon thousands filed past to pay their respects. The choice to play a selection from Tchaikovsky was a bit unexpected, yet instantly invoked a passionate Slavic angst. I was shocked at how it grabbed me involuntarily.

Earlier in the day, I had another sort of encounter with re-purposing. I have a Mendelssohn piano book out from the library, that I chased down after hearing the piece on the radio earlier this week, his Spinning Song.  It’s a much happier piece than the one we know from Schubert, Gretchen am Spinnrade. This one is in the sunny key of C, a joyful romp really, so long as you keep it light and don’t let it spook you.  At the very least it’s joyful for the listener.


However I first knew the piece not at the piano but through its re-purposed incarnation, rather than the original (which is why I was so thrilled to hear the original on the radio). As I think I’ve probably mentioned a few times, Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummernight’s Dream is one of my favourite films, especially for Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s brilliant adaptations of Mendelssohn throughout: not just his well-known music meant for the Shakespeare play, but other Mendelssohn as well. By putting so many other Mendelssohn pieces into the film, re-purposed for the film of course, he gives his score a curious sort of integrity, similar in spirit to what I heard in the more recent Stalin film. Here’s what Korngold did with that piano spinning song, followed by another tasty bit of Mendelssohn from one of his symphonies. Korngold then segues into a series of variations / sendups of that overdone wedding march, but in a series of playful versions leading up to the climax as Oberon captures the faery boy, now neglected by the infatuated Titania.  Even Mendelssohn sounds new in Korngold’s adaptation.

Notice how the gossamer lightness of the music seems to be manifest in the spinning we see before our eyes. One wonders: did Korngold play the tune on the piano for Reinhardt, and suggest he use this music for this purpose? Which came first, I wonder.

We’ll likely never know.

Later, when Bottom & Titania are about to sleep, we hear a lullaby from Titania, as she sings “sleep thou”. As the tune proceeds, Bottom sings backup, a lovely series of perfectly in tune “hee haw” accompaniment phrases, possibly sung by James Cagney himself. I don’t think Anita Louise (Titania) actually sang the lullaby, some of the prettiest singing in the whole film (and sorry but I can’t find it in a short excerpt anywhere to illustrate; it’s in the complete film of course). Imagine my surprise, playing through my Mendelssohn book when I stumbled upon the piece –minus the lovely singer & her donkey backup singer— but now in its original piano solo. It’s a gentle Venetian Boat Song.

Everything old is new again if you find a place to re-use / re-purpose.

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The pain I felt reading Kathleen Turner’s interview

There’s a great deal in Kathleen Turner’s fascinating recent interview with David Marchese.  So naturally if you’re a beautiful actress people will react, comment, and draw their own conclusions about what’s really important. I find it desperately sad when I see what the headlines are saying in response. Read it for yourself and perhaps you’ll think I’m a nutbar, when you see what I chose as the most significant aspect of the interview.

A couple of days ago I shared a link on Facebook concerning opinions about great Wagner performances on record and DVD; and to be on the polite side I said that Wagner’s a bit of an inkblot, in his ability to elicit reactions and interpretive responses that seem to run the gamut, everything under the sun.  He’s a mirror.  Maybe I’m seeing that here too, that Turner is a lightning rod who draws all sorts of responses.

The headline responses I saw on google just now surprised me:

  • that she had three men competing to get her into bed
  • that she was busy righting Elizabeth Taylor’s wrongs
  • that Donald Trump’s handshake is somehow important
  • that the actors she liked or disliked are somehow important: although I grant you, that’s certainly important to her, given that she had to work with Nicholas Cage, Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas, et al.

But what did Turner mention in the interview four different times?  Rheumatoid arthritis (aka “RA”).  Perhaps the RA isn’t news to you, as I see –via Google again—that she has talked about it before several times.  I never noticed before today, when I also dug up another interview from years ago (which you can see at the end of this blog).

With arthritis, you’re caught in a kind of trap, that I can express from my own personal experience.  I did not have RA like Turner. I have Ankylosing Spondylitis (or “AS”) and the occasional symptoms of Osteoarthritis (“OA”) one sees at my age, roughly the same as Turner’s age. My AS hit in my 20s, knocking me for a loop because

  • I had pain
  • I didn’t know what was causing it
  • Doctors couldn’t figure it out either

I was freaked out, and only figured it out in my 30s, after being puzzled for more than a decade. I had suspicions earlier but also huge arguments with the doctors until the diagnosis at the age of 36.  Before the diagnosis I only wanted to be well, to be able to fit in and be healthy rather than to be disabled. At times I was limping, or in so much pain that I literally couldn’t walk.  Even after the diagnosis –when I now had an excuse and an explanation—I still wanted nothing more than that the disease would go away or be invisible, because I wanted to go back to being healthy or at least to fit in by being an imitation of a healthy person, to get my life plan back on track.  It became a performance, an act, dissembling at times, walking carefully to conceal the limp: doing my best to resemble a normal healthy person.  It’s a sort of reversed disability drag we do, where we attempt to be healthy while concealing our pains & our symptoms. Or sometimes we let it show when we want people to know we’re in pain. But like so many things we do, there’s a performative aspect to it.

Imagine the pressure to conceal your reality, when you’re judged on your beauty? At least nobody mistook me for a beauty queen.

Many of the experiences Turner shares resonate for me, decades later, because inside we’re all facing the same questions & challenges.  For example, in analyzing the impact of RA on her career she says

The hardest part was that so much of my confidence was based on my physicality. If I didn’t have that, who was I?

Her analysis is so simple, really, but fundamental.  The problem she doesn’t articulate (at least not in this interview) is that we’re living with these changes, with pain and the simplest daily challenges. She says it so eloquently when she says

“For me it’s can I hold a pen? Can I stand up? Can I climb those stairs?”

There is a horrific description of her working life, trying to cope with pain and the impact of medications that she had to take to get through the day, leading to some conflicts with colleagues.  And alcohol rears its head, first as a mis-perception people have, observing her, unaware of the real problem (RA and the meds for chronic pain), then as an alternative pain-relief strategy. Again, I know this first-hand.  In my 20s when I was living with pain and the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me, I went through a period when I was an alcoholic. Beer was my solution (although technically, I suppose beer is a suspension, not a solution….: at least the nerds will get the joke).  And of course some people end up hooked on pain meds instead. Turner says she avoided OxyContin or Percocet, which she felt would have led to addiction. I can identify, as I took gentler meds –if you can call Naproxen “gentle”—for twenty years, until I finally heard it might be possible to control my AS symptoms with exercise & diet.   So far so good.

But even so, we are a funny society, expecting quiet stoicism of our citizens.  I don’t think we are yet open to helping one another with certain problems such as chronic pain.  Or maybe it’s a question of knowing the right language. I still haven’t found it and I don’t think Turner has either, because it appears that there’s more interest & attention for negative stories about drug abuse or feuds with other actors, than something as complex as arthritis & health.  Hopefully there will be real empathy in the future for others undergoing these complexities.  Auto-immune disorders are better understood now, meaning that the choices we’re offered are better too.

Now I need to go back, to re-visit all her films. I must try to see if I can detect any body language that might be pained, to see if her expressions or voice betray any of her visceral suffering.  She’s a whole new person in my eyes because I realize now, there was so much going on under the surface. I am no Hollywood beauty, but i do know a bit about living with pain.  It’s the reason I’m always eager to talk to people going through a health problem or a bad back, the reason I’ve worked extra hard at the University in my daytime occupation to try to make the workplace safe.  As a society we still have a long way to go before we really make it safe for people to work & live.  Someday I hope it won’t be necessary to have to explain the kinds of things Turner is talking about in this interview, that were swept under the rug or misinterpreted dismissively.   And I’ll be eager to look up other interviews she’s given, because I am still learning, still sensitizing myself after years of stoicism.  Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. It’s a pain management strategy.

While Turner won’t be playing the kinds of roles she played in her 30s, I sincerely hope that she’ll get film work again, so I can see her and hear that voice.  I’ve missed her.

Oh and I wish I’d seen this great interview Turner did with George Strombolopoulos sooner.


Posted in Cinema, video & DVDs, Food & Nutrition, Personal ruminations, Popular music & culture, Psychology and perception | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Death of Stalin

It was promoted as a comedy.

That reminds me of a joke I heard years ago.

Stalin is addressing the Supreme Soviet, speaking and suddenly: a sneeze is heard.

Stalin stops speaking, and asks sternly “who snyeeezed?” (my friend who told the joke was trying to say the word with a Russian accent. Would Stalin have spoken with an accent? but never mind.)

Dead silence. Nobody dares answer!

Stalin gestures silently. Soldiers come, hustle everyone in the front row out of the theatre, and out they go at a dead run.

The door closes, and then Stalin resumes speaking, but partway through we hear from outside “rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat” of machine guns mowing them down.

Stalin stops speaking, and makes a stern face. “Alright. Who snyeeeeezed?!”

Dead silence. Nobody dares answer!

Stalin gestures silently. Soldiers come, hustle everyone in the second row out of the theatre, and out they go at a dead run.

The door closes, and then Stalin resumes speaking, but partway through we hear from outside “rat-a-tat-tat-tat-tat” of machine guns, mowing them down.

Stalin stops speaking, and makes a stern face. “Okay?? So….Who SNYEEEEZED?!”

There’s dead silence…. But a hand is raised, shaking. And a thin voice is heard.

“It-it-it was I, C-c-comrade Stalin. I sneezed!”

To which Stalin responds. “Aha…! Gesundheit!”

I tell the joke because the whole movie reminds me of the same bizarre idea, that amid terror and death, humour is not just possible but necessary. Stalin was arguably the scariest tyrant of all. Hitler? no match for Stalin. Mao might have been responsible for comparable atrocities but I don’t think we know as much about him and his murderous ways.

When Stalin died, it may have been a cause for rejoicing in some quarters, but to many he was still a hero, the leader of the USSR during the great war with Germany. Even typing that much I am amazed that anyone could have admired him, a leader who was so paranoid, so intent on clinging to power that he arranged to have many of his best officers killed, purges and murders of thousands upon thousands, deportations to Siberia and a whole culture of distrust & murder. But of course history gives us a different perspective.

As I watched Armando Iannucci’s film The Death of Stalin (2017), I was astonished at the resonances with the current situation in the USA:

  • the hypocrisy of the leadership
  • the cognitive dissonance between assertions / propaganda and actual events
  • the fluidity of truth, to the point that it becomes hard or even impossible to discern what is true and what is not true in a web of competing lies

But I didn’t laugh very much, any more than I laugh watching CNN. Yet I felt a huge catharsis all the same.

The music for this film is one of its strengths. I googled to find out more, reading  commentary from director Iannucci and the composer Christopher Willis. I wondered at parts of the score that reminded me of Shostakovich: and discovered that Willis had been instructed by Ianucci to write faux Shostakovich for his film. How perfect, to employ sounds suggestive of the composer who was in a real sense the voice of his country, suppressed by Stalin.

The comedy is dark indeed, with a higher body count than anything from Tarentino. Two talents I’ve known from comedy have shed their skins in new roles, namely Steve Buscemi as Khruschev and Michael Palin as Molotov. Why am I surprised, after so many comedians reinvented themselves in drama?

I’m not sure why I felt such satisfaction.

  • Because it scratched my political itch? I’m eager to see Michael Moore’s latest for example, insatiable for political content, especially if it portends positive change rather than a further slide into chaos & despair. The death of someone like Stalin is a good thing even if there was lots of tyranny to follow.
  • Because of the deft rendering of the period, complete with a satirical edge?

Or maybe it’s simply because I could escape for awhile, forgetting our troubles while watching the troubles of other people.

I’ll watch it again this weekend.  I wonder if I’ll laugh this time?

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I’m taking a break from teaching for 2018-2019, while I focus on other projects. In past years I’ve taught introductory film music and opera courses at the School of Continuing Studies.  The blog will continue but for this year I’m on a sabbatical from teaching.

Posted in Film Music Course, Opera Course, Personal ruminations, what's Leslie Barcza up to | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Escape from wartime reflections

Tonight’s installment of the Toronto Summer Music Festival might seem to have ignored their theme of “Reflections of Wartime”. The only real battle in Walter Hall was for our hearts, a friendly popularity contest between Angela Cheng and Alvin Chow.


Alvin Chow & Angela Cheng (photo © Lisa Kohler)

Tonight was about pleasure & beauty. In a year when I’ve had the most visceral fear of war this century I make no apologies, have no guilt. North Korea? they are at it again they tell us. Toronto is having a skirmish with the new Premier and  are discovering how powerful he has become, by moving up the road from Queen st (aka City Hall) to Queens Pk.

Nevermind, because as Beethoven might have reminded his friends: “Nicht diese tone”.

No, instead let’s think of vested monkeys in processions, rowboats, dances, dances and yet more dances.

It’s the summertime after all.

While I haven’t been to that many concerts in the festival, when I looked through the schedule this was one that caught my eye early on, a crowd-pleasing program. Tomorrow night’s is back to serious fare, but I needed this kind of escape. The first half was a solo recital by Angela Cheng, while the second half was twice the action, as Cheng was joined by her partner in real life & at the keyboard, Alvin Chow. We heard some four-handed playing –where both sit at the same instrument—and music for two pianos.

We sidled up to the fun stuff, beginning in a first half that was much more a celebration of beauty. Cheng began with Beethoven’s penultimate sonata in a genial reading, sometimes humming along (and to her credit, more in tune than Glenn Gould ever was). At times her head was down in concentration, at other times, her head back in a kind of ecstatic space, the music more soulful at those lyrical moments.

After our one nod towards the German side of the equation, the remainder of the program was progressively more French as we went on. To close the first half we went half French / half Polish in the person of Frédéric Chopin. His G minor Ballade is so well-known you could see audience members adjusting their bodies in anticipation of their favourite passages, and Cheng didn’t disappoint.

Is it apt for the festival theme that they programmed a warhorse? Cheng gave it a suitably operatic reading, delicate in soft melodic passages, fiery and passionate when the piece explodes into frenetic action. The audience were eating out of her hand by this point.

After the interval it was all French & all fun.

I was quite taken with Cheng & Chow in their reading of Debussy’s Petite Suite. In this, one of the four-handed pieces, we saw a phenomenal chemistry between the players. We heard terrific detail, lots of precise attacks & jagged rhythms all played with balance and wit, yet retreating in the middle sections into softer tones of nostalgia & regret, rubati that never overstepped the boundaries of good taste.

It must be fun to be them at home, don’t you think?

The pleasure principle was again on display in a dazzling reading of Milhaud’s Scaramouche suite. Where the Debussy was refined, elegant & retrained, the dynamics were much more extreme this time, both in the aggressive dissonances and the sheer energy. Yet the middle movement was particularly delicate, verging on voluptuous, every moment a sensuous delight.

To close we heard a tour de force reading of La Valse, Ravel giving us his musical Rorschach test. (Psst… what do you think it means?) Watching this wonderful couple work their magic, I think that if there’s any war in Ravel’s music, it’s the normal warfare of a husband and wife, libido & life itself.

For an encore I was again envious, watching them play the Berceuse from Fauré’s Dolly suite, in a four handed reading that was almost indecently intimate, beautiful beyond words.

Oh well, I had to go home at the end of the concert, one of the nicest evenings I’ve spent in awhile.  Tomorrow is a serious program, then Thursday is a big band celebration at Koerner.

Something for everyone!

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Oxymoronic Gould Transcriptions

It seems like a lifetime ago, back when Glenn Gould was still alive. I’d first learned of him in my childhood as the one who showed us a new approach to Bach, a famous performer who had then abandoned live performance to communicate solely through virtual media such as the recording studio or the radio.

And when he then turned to Wagner I should not have been surprised when his interpretations were unique.

He’s gone of course.

More recently –this century, possibly even this decade—I discovered that Glenn Gould’s Wagner transcriptions that I’d heard so long ago as vinyl recordings, could be purchased as scores.

I first encountered them in the Edward Johnson Library, which seems only fair & just, given that the editor is Carl Morey, a former Dean of the Faculty of Music.

The second encounter was when (after taking one out of the library) I realized I needed to buy these scores. And so I made the purchase in the spring of 2017 buying all three from Schott Music. They’re beautiful clear impressions of the music, with notes from Professor Morey.

You may have noticed that this makes two things I’m talking about today, that were in yesterday’s post, namely 1-transcriptions and 2-Carl Morey.

Okay, the Schott scores are my departure point to talk about Gould himself. Two of the three are in a separate category that is the reason for that funny headline. I believe the peculiarities of these two are at the very least a window on the elusive –or is that “reclusive”(?)—Mr Gould. The scores are full of contradictions that reflect the pianist. The contradictions on the page reflect the contradictions on the stage, the reclusive virtuoso, the invisible celebrity. Which of course is the first obvious thing we know about Gould, the pianist who retreated from public view, who opted for a life as a kind of virtual star of the recording studio and CBC, rather than the usual exhibitionism encountered on the concert stage. I think it’s assumed that performers are extroverted, that they want to be seen and even to show off their skills.

But what if a performer were introverted? I leave that question aside, while we turn our attention to the three transcriptions, especially the two anomalous ones.

You’re probably wondering “how can a piano transcription be oxymoronic??” Although the scores speak for themselves perhaps Morey’s notes are the clearest indication:

Dawn and Siegfried’s Rhein Journey has the unusual feature (shared with and more extended in the Prelude to Die Meistersinger) of having been written for a kind of four-hand duo performance.

Now of course if you don’t have four hands..? then that means you can’t play the piece, at least in those passages requiring four hands. A piano transcription is a magical kind of thing, something like a Bell Rocket belt, stilts or seven-league boots.

A piano can’t play a piece meant for the full orchestra, can it? It can and it can’t, depending on what you understand inside your head. When you’ve heard a lovely orchestral piece and then play a piano reduction you may hear the wonders of that reduction through your fingers. It’s magic, a bit of a contradiction in play, as you’re using your two hands to replicate the work of many hands, sometimes the work of over 100 people.

It’s helpful that my brain is less literal-minded than some. For example I am partial to Terry Gilliam’s Adventures of Baron Munchausen, celebrating the magic of story-telling with a huge assist from Michael Kamen.

And so, when you play something that teases you and suddenly requires four hands: you run into a real obstacle, as though your rocket belt suddenly has no fuel. Either you fake the parts that are missing (from the other two hands:  which some of us will do of course), or you leave something out. But there’s no question that at this point, where four hands are required, the transcriptions cease to be real transcriptions. You don’t really fly.

Let’s pause for a moment to speak of the one transcription of the three that is fully playable. Gould transcribed the Siegfried Idyll as a stunning piece of music. In a few places it gets a little difficult, yes. You’ll notice that when he plays the piece himself, he goes a little slowly in places. I can’t tell if that’s because he’s a perfectionist in his aim to play the music without any blemish or flaw, or because he’s aligning himself with a tradition of slower interpretations. For some people, any performance of Wagner should be slow & stately, soulful and stirring. This appears to have more to do with a performance tradition of conductors of the 20th century than anything Wagner told us.

When you hear all those inner voices that he’s bringing out, you can’t help thinking of that earlier Gould, the one who played the Goldbergs, bringing out all the hidden treasures. Hearing this Wagner, one suddenly sees a link back to the counterpoint of JS Bach. In fact since spotting this connection –in Gould’s transcription and performance—I have a whole different understanding of Meistersinger and even Parsifal, works that also have lots of inner voices that can be brought out.

So what was going on in those two that become unplayable (unless you were born with 4 hands)..?

I think they’re simply creatures of the studio. Gould was able to overdub, and so created versions that he played with himself in private, and shared with us. In a sense this is the most honest thing one can imagine, that the magician has shown us how he did his tricks.

I sometimes find myself lost in the contradictions, whether playing or thinking about playing such pieces. Gould is this textual idealist creating something that is in a sense like hypertext, illuminating while obscuring, as unreachable as Gould himself.


“5” is the Siegfried-Idyll, “6” the Meistersinger Prelude while the page is open to an unplayable passage in “7” during Siegfried’s Rhine Journey. Buddha had nothing to say.


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Music minus one

I write a lot about transcriptions possibly because they’re so much fun. Sometimes I can manage to play them, sometimes they’re too difficult but still fascinating to explore.  One plays a piano piece while imagining an original from another context, perhaps a Walter Mitty exercise, but sometimes magic.

I remember a conversational exchange I had once with Professor Carl Morey many years ago.  I told him I was transcribing a piece of music by Janacek, reducing it to a version for keyboards.

He simply asked “why would you want to do that? The original is fine as it is”.

The question has haunted me. I think it could spawn a dissertation or two, a profound question. Some people might say “why do it” in the spirit of wishing that the original be left alone and seeing little or no value in the exercise of transcription.

Of course that gets really funny when the transcribing goes in the opposite direction. This week I believe there will be two performances of Debussy’s Petite Suite on the very same night, Tuesday July 31st.

  • One is an orchestral version and likely the one most people know: even though it’s actually a transcription.
  • One is piano four-hands: the original from which that well-known orchestral piece comes.

I’ll be going to the piano concert, as most times I prefer the original. Fascinated as I’ve been with the two great piano transcriptions of the Chaconne from Bach’s violin partita –one by Busoni, one by Brahms—I still understand the unadorned Bach as the ideal from which the others come, adaptations that paraphrase, and in so doing hint at that other word “parody”.  Adaptations sometimes honour an original, and sometimes may seem to clothe it in funny shoes & clown make-up.  While the Ravel transcription of Mussorgskii’s Pictures at an Exhibition is probably far more popular than the piano original, I find that in places it distorts rather than illuminates.

I was dumbstruck by Carl’s question, so many years ago, and answer it differently now than I would have then.

I find myself thinking about a related field, namely translation, both as illustration and perhaps to help me understand my feelings.  Suppose you’ve heard of a wonderful play in Germany but don’t speak German. What can you do to explore this text?  Oh sure, someone might give you a capsule plot summary. But that’s surely no substitute, any more than reading the Wikipedia entry really tells you what a piece of music or a play is really like.

I’m reminded in passing of a friendly argument I had while trying to get control of the TV once very long ago.   “Why” she asked “do you need to watch the baseball game, when you can read about it later in the newspaper, to find out who won?”

I didn’t immediately come up with the smart-ass response that I later gave.  “But you can read the synopsis in the TV guide and know how the movie comes out”.

In other words, we don’t watch a movie to see who wins at the end.  We’re there for the journey, to see how they get from beginning to end. Ditto for the baseball game, and also for the transcription.  If I can’t play it for myself as I see the music on a page, I don’t get the same sense of it as when I simply hear it performed.

Now of course that analogy I made with the translation –where you can’t encounter it without the help of a translator—applies also to a transcription, although not so much now in the era of A-V media and youtube.  But imagine you’re living in 1850.  You’re aware of Beethoven’s symphonies or Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.  But how precisely were you supposed to hear them in the era before the phonograph? Or if the work was a difficult rarity such as a Wagner opera, and not being programmed?

That’s where Franz Liszt came in.  He made piano transcriptions of those works, helping people discover them who otherwise would never have been able to hear them.

Now of course Liszt was one of the greatest pianists in history, using these compositions as vehicles, impressive display pieces if nothing else.  In passing he was also a champion of Berlioz, Beethoven, Wagner and so many others.

Scores have value even to those of us who can’t play them.

I’m working with a rather unique transcription of Liszt’s, his piano + viola version of Harold in Italy.  Concerti can be huge fun to play at the piano, because the orchestral reduction is usually an easy thing to play.  Beethoven’s concerti for instance are available in two piano versions, where the soloist version is of course meant for a virtuoso, while the orchestral part is much easier.  The normal pattern in a concerto is that the reduced version of the orchestral part is much simpler than the soloist’s part.

But Liszt’s Harold in Italy is different.  The piano part is phenomenally challenging, almost unplayable in places.

So while in the past I have usually teamed up with a soloist while sight-reading the orchestral part, this is a different scenario entirely.  I have to practice: because it’s so difficult.  And only then would I approach a viola player.  I was thinking that for now it’s music minus one, but indeed, even if I never look for a viola player it’s wonderful stuff.  The two inner movements are much easier than the outer ones, which have all the virtuoso challenges one expects from a Liszt piano score.

You see in the picture that the score hints at the original, in telling us the orchestral instruments that would be playing in the usual version at this moment in the score.


Might one play this, seeking to imitate the original, at least aware of that overpowering orchestra surrounding the viola soloist?

But any transcription is an invitation to the imagination, inviting you to see & hear beyond what’s on the page.  We’re in the realm of virtual reality, as the score points back to that other world.

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