Beethoven, sinfonies: Piano reductions by Liszt and Singer

Wednesday November 19th, 2008 di D.

Some ideas after the collation and comparison of some piano reductions of Symphonies by Beethoven.

This is the first article of the project I was writing about in the article “Piano arrangements from 19th century and interpretation”.

When we compare the piano “arrangements” of the Beethoven’s symphonies by Franz Liszt (Breitkopf & Haertel, Leipzig 1840 and Haslinger, Wien, 1840: I didn’t notice differences between these edition and those by Breitkopf 1871 and the Durand 9618-20 (1919) I’ve got) and Otto Singer (Peters, 1905), we notice first of all two different purposes.
Both of them were very good pianists, but whereas Singer tries to semplify the orchestral score so much as possible, just to show what the melodies and harmonies are, Liszt wonts to realise with the piano his own idea of the Beethoven’s symphonies.
The Singer’s “arrangement” is a tipical good piano reduction of an orchestral score.
The Liszt’s “arrangement” is the re-composition of the musical idea of a symphony.
If we want to play a concertpeace, we’ll play for sure the Liszt’s one.
But if we want to study Beethoven’s composition we will find there too much Liszt’s and it will be much better to use Singer’s trascriptions.

The only changes Singer makes are the tipical “piano translations” of tremoli, pizzicati, timpani’s rolls: it is always possible to understand what was written in the orchestral score or even to complete it. The notes are easy to play and it is possible to understand all phrases and melodie’s movements.

Liszt never changes the original structures (it’s transcriptions and not “phantasies on themes from…” we’re speaking about), dinamics or harmonies (exept for timpani’s rolls, where he decided often to change the position of the chord to give a better effect of the timpanis: with the old pianos it was the best solution, today the effect is too noisy). And you must be really a good pianist to make music from these arrangements…
His main variations to the original are (I don’t mention the tipical variations of piano reductions, but only the ones that are “altering” the original idea by Beethoven):
- Alteration of notes (ex: S1 I b.126; S2 IV b.145; S4 I b.289; S5 IV b.705)
- triplets instead of semiquavers (ex: S1 I b.95, 198, 285; S3 I b.440, )
- arpeggios instead of semiquavers (ex: S1 I b.138),
- addition of octaves up and down (ex: S5 IV b.702, 705)
[For barnumbers see the last articles of this blog; you can find all the scores I’m speaking about at Beethoven’s works].

When I’ll find the time, I’ll write something about the collation of the fourhand piano transriptions (reductions, adaptations, settings, arrangements…) of the same symphonies by Hugo Ulrich (Peters 6312, year 1880), Czerny (Richault 2066, year 1836) e Scharwenka (Universal 970, year 1905)

If you find errors in this article or you know other websites in which it is possible to find informations like these (maybe for others composers or compositions too), please leave a comment! For instance, all the dictionaries are not clear about the difference in English between piano transriptions, reductions, adaptations, settings, arrangements…


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