Chamber "Reductions"

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Chamber "Reductions"

I was listening to the chamber version of Copland's Appalachian Spring the other day and was struck, again, by how much I preferred this to the full, orchestral version. Technically, this chamber version isn't a reduction, since it was composed first - some years before the orchestral expansion, in fact - but it made me think more generally about the whole field of reductions and chamber versions: the extra clarity of line, the sharper and somehow more intimate textures, the added spaciousness and pungency which comes from hearing individual instruments. You also get some of the give and take, the spontaneous flexibility, which is characteristic of good chamber performances and more or less impossible when there are a hundred-plus instruments.

And, of course, they are cheaper and easier to perform.

Yet somehow, most of us seem to be a bit cautious when it comes to chamber versions of bigger works. We feel they aren't authentic (an obession of a super-puritanical age), not quite trustworthy. Certainly not serious rivals to the real thing. They are curiosities, acceptable for an occasional listen, but otherwise not really all that interesting. A few versions (like Schoenberg's Das Lied) have made their way into the canon - or at least within shouting distance - but the vast bulk remain in exile, unknown even to connoisseurs.

Yet there are some terrific and interesting pieces out there, many of which were arranged by noted composers. Mozart arranged three of his own piano concertos for string quartet, though it might be more accurate to say that he simultaneously composed two version of the same piece: one for the home, and one for the concert hall. You can get recordings of these, but how many of them are there? How many performances are there? They are authentic masterworks by Mozart, after all. Why do we always have to have the bigs ones? After Mozart's death, Hummel arranged a fair number of his old teacher's works for chamber instruments - a string quartet, usually, along with a piano and a flute. Again, you get get these, but they are pretty rare. 

There are chamber versions floating around of all kinds of famous works. You can get Chopin's two piano concertos for string quintet and piano. Whether Chopin did the arranging, we don't know, but we certainly know he played such a version in his own home and that he approved the publication. You can get Bruckner and Mahler symphonies in a reduced form. There is, for instance, a really wonderful version of Bruckner's second symphony by Anthony Payne, conducted by Trevor Pinnock.

There are, of course, many more examples out there..........so:

Does anyone else out there listen to chamber reductions? Or know of any interesting ones? Or have an opinion about the pros/cons of them? Or have an explanation for their relative unpopularity? Or have anything at all to say on the subject.........?

I think I've mentioned it

I think I've mentioned it before Jane, but there is this nonet reduction of Brahms first serenade. Brahms himself composed it first as a nonet but the original has not survived, so this is a very nice attempt at a guess. I don't know if you know the music, but it is wonderful younger Brahms on a lighter side, and the music has a very chamber-like character. The nonet version makes it sound like an equal to Siegfried-Idyll.

I've recently started looking for these things, of which I've heard or sampled a few you mention. There are some really nice things, like Beethoven's Sixth for string sextet, which sounds just right, and the seventh too. Chopin's first piano concerto sounds very well too, even if I miss the lush strings and the winds at times.

The amazing thing is that the music seems to live outside the actual instruments, so whether a symphony for string sextet or a piano sonata for string quintet the music is still there. There are degrees, of course.

Not a reduction but a wonderful transcription/recreation is Geminiani's Concerti Grossi after Corelli's violin sonatas Op.5.

Looking forward to being shown some nice things out there!

I'll have a look out for that

I'll have a look out for that Brahms nonet, Camaron. The first Brahms serenade is one of the few Brahms pieces I love unconditionally. I can just imagine how it would work with smaller forces.......Thinking of this reminds of one of my other favourite pieces: Strauss's Metamorphosen. The "real"/traditional version is for 23 strings - still quite a small band. But I have always preferred the version for string septet, which Strauss wrote before the bigger version - though not, it would seem, with the intention of every having it performed it, as such........

I'll have a look for that Beethoven sextet, too. Sounds very interesting.

Brahms is one of my great

Brahms is one of my great loves in music and that serenade was one of the first things by him I got to know. It has a little corner in my heart!

I didn't know about the septet version of Metamorphosen, which is my favourite piece by him too, but I would love to listen to it, after all Verklarte Nacht sounds perfect as a sextet.

There is also Beethoven's Kreutzer sonata for string quintet, which again is an "expansion", but I still miss the piano.

 

 

"Reductions", transcriptions, arrangements etc.

Jane, you may know by now that Chamber Music is my latest and, possibly, the greatest interest in Classical Music, after I experienced my involvement in appreciating the other genres in the order of Opera, Orchestral and Choral Music. In the Chamber Music I include the works for solo instruments, piano four hands, piano duet etc. So, I could be fully thrilled by Chamber "reductions", arrangements, transcriptions etc. However, I am also a "purist", in the sense that I believe that the "final product" of the composer counts more than any other effort even by himself.

In the same vein, I have come to the conclusion (and this is not only mine) that all these "reductions" etc. have been created to serve the purpose of the arrangement and not necessarily of the work itself. At the same time, they may give the opportunity to showcase some other unexpected aspects of a work beyond its original score.

Going to the cases mentioned so far by you and Camaron, I have to state the following:

- Schoenberg "reduction" of Mahler's Das Lied von der Erde can serve a specific purpose for comprehending the work, but half of Mahler's identity and power of his score lies in the orchestration. By intervening or much more altering the original score, the work is not anymore Mahler. It is not surpising that there are only few (comparatively) recordings and performances, mostly to serve the purpose of small ensembles or chamber orchestras.

- Mozart's four Piano Concertos (11-14) have been made by the composer but, still, for serving the purpose of an occasional need of the times. Thus, he has not repeated it afterwards. However, these arrangements, which vary from the strict String Quartet to the String Quintet (with a Double Bass), are at least delightful to listen, but the colours of the original orchestration cannot be replaced by the minimal and unified sound of the strings alone. There are at least a dozen of good recordings out there, including one with the the superb Prazak Quartet (with Double Bass), on Praga as ever, and a very bright one with the Piatti Quartet and Gottlieb Wallisch (on LInn). With String Quintet, another excellent version (in two different discs) is the one with the brilliant Janina Fialkowska and the Chamber Players of Canada (on Atma). Hummel's version with Flute and String Trio sounds poor and almost odd and it exists only on BIS in average performances.

- Chopin's Two Piano Concertos sound too "empty", taking into account that even the original orchestration is comparatively "thin" or "weak" in order to give the piano all the prominence the composer wanted to provide. The very good J. Fialkowska and cellist Julian Armour (of her Canadian Chamber Ensemble) have reconstructed the Chamber version of these Concertos with enough success and effect (on Atma). Still crucial parts of the orchestra's tutti cannot be as effective as the original score. Another recording with Fumiko Shiraga, on BIS, is less effective and substantive.

- Brahms First Serenade again works perfectly because of its colours of the winds, the two trumpets and timpani, supported by the respective weight of the strings of a bigger orchestra. The version of nonet, again reconstructed by Alan Bustead, exists at least in two recordings, on Centaur with the Minerva Chamber Ensemble, and, quite recently, by Kenneth Woods and players of the Orchestra of Swan, on Somm. Besides, it has been released as an arrangement for piano four hands by the composer, on Naxos, and on Ars Musici as well. In any case, Brahms used to arrange quite a few of his works, including his most popular Hungarian Dances, for piano four hands to serve occasional needs of the time.

- I do not have Beethoven's Sixth for string sextet, but I have the Seventh along with some Overtures, including Egmont, for String Quintet, on an old rare Canyon CD. They sound as perfect Chamber specimens, but what effect can Egmont provide without the blazing brass, the beauty of the winds writing, even the piccolo colour added to the coda? And what is the Seventh, in the Scherzo, without the Trumpets and winds exchanges, just to mention one example?

- Strauss Metamorphosen is a unique work for 23 strings and the version for String Septet (in some recordings is mentioned as "realised" by Rudolf Leopold) cannot ever have the effect of the "final product". There are half a dozen of recordings for the curious and brave.

- As for Bruckner, orchestration is almost all his strength. Reducing it can result in minimizing the whole effect of his mighty Musical Cathedrals. Even Mahler's Fourth, released by Linn, in the reduced orchestration of Erwin Stein with T. Pinnock,  cannot provide anyting substantive from the most careful and meticulous orchestration by Mahler. The mighty and so emotional crescendo in the slow movement sounds almost odd in the reduced form, while the whole process of developing the tension in this magnificent and most meaningful movement cannot be achieved without all the orchestral colours and the forceful impact of a Symphony Orchestra. However, the recording of Linn is first-rate.

I find quite entertaining, albeit quite odd, the impressive reductions of Dussek on Haydn's Oxford Symphony for Violin and Fortepiano as well as Salomon's arrangements of Haydn's Symphonies Nos. 94 & 96 for Piano Trio (there is a fine double CD, on ABC). Ectetera had released, some good years ago, two fine CDs of some other Salomon's arrangements of Haydn's Symphonies for a Sextet with Flute, Fortepiano and Strings. Odd, a bit weak, but excellent entertainment, particularly for the Chamber Music fan.

Parla

Chamber Expansion?

I shall point out that even Wagner conducted reduction activities - arranged Donizetti for piano.

parla wrote:

parla wrote:

In the same vein, I have come to the conclusion (and this is not only mine) that all these "reductions" etc. have been created to serve the purpose of the arrangement and not necessarily of the work itself.

.

That doesn't make sense Parla. The original purpose of these reductions (whether by the composer himself or someone else) was the wider distribution of a particular work, to reach a wider public. Mostly in these cases the aim was to reach private home consumption: so you could play/listen Beethoven's fifth or Chopin's first at home. The trade off is obvious: you get the music but miss on the orchestra.

Now, these days these reductions are also being produced, I guess through encouragement from recording companies. It feeds the thirst for novelties in a risk-free manner, if you will, since it is mostly very central core repertoire that comes out, at least for now. If there is enough market for it we can expect an increase in the stream of novelties. If not it'll die out.

Distribution

I do not believe there are many evidence that composers eagerly reduced their non-chamber works, for circulation purposes.

If Brahms reduced his Piano Concerto #2 for piano only, it might be even less circulatable.

It depends what you mean by

It depends what you mean by "eagerly" I guess. During the 19th century and earlier the whole business was a very lucrative one, it would seem, and it gave way to early instances of "copyright infringement" with the proliferation of unauthorised versions. Beethoven himself got embroiled in some legal battles, I believe. There was money in this and often composers would indulge in it as a-produced income and b-increased the circulation of the works. They were trying to make a living, you will understand...

tjh212 wrote:

tjh212 wrote:

I do not believe there are many evidence that composers eagerly reduced their non-chamber works, for circulation purposes.

Yes there is........there is stacks of evidence that the great composers did just this. Arranging reduced versions for home performances was pretty standard until the twentieth century. Before the age of recordings and mass transport, how else were people going to hear these works? Mozart expressely did it with the aim of making extra sales, and so did Beethoven, Brahms, Mendelssohn etc........It's all on record. They made money from sales and there was a large market for domestic or salon music-making.

That's really my point, in some ways. This was standard practice for centuries. Now, we have suddenly become ultra-purist about the whole business. Either the full work in the complete, authorised version - or nothing!

tjh212 wrote:

tjh212 wrote:

If Brahms reduced his Piano Concerto #2 for piano only, it might be even less circulatable.

 

Not, it wouldn't. The version is not meant to replace the full one but complement it. It reaches a market that the full version couldn't, house consumption as I said before. One belongs in the concert hall the other in the privacy of home. The 19th century saw the rise of the middle class, and as part of their distinguishing upbringing they would get educated to play piano or string instruments, in order to form quartets and such (that's not changed, has it?)

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