Wednesday, February 23, 2011

2/23 Piano Transcriptions (Liszt, Alkan, Beethoven)

"Young Franz"
Transcribing Beethoven's music for alternative instruments is almost a cottage industry in itself.  It was very common for piano transcriptions of B.'s symphonies and string quartets to appear even before the orchestral scores hit the sheet music stores.  In those days, after a performance it wasn't possible to take home the program book, go to Youtube and re-listen to all those brand new pieces.  The best one could do was buy the sheet music for the work and play it at home on one's own pianoforte.  We sure have it good these days!  However, the loss of that practice has largely contributed to the deterioration of musical education/appreciation today (at least that what Roger Sessions says).

Franz Liszt's piano transcriptions of the 9 symphonies of Beethoven are fairly well-known (my personal favorite recording is the set by Cyprien Katsaris) but less famous are Liszt's transcriptions of Beethoven's song-lieder and the Opus 20 sextet.  Youtuber has quite a few performed by Leslie Howard, and so I might as well just make a handly list of these piano arrangements (except the symphonies, they're easy enough to find).

Adelaide op. 46, S466, (1839-1847)
6 Lieder von Gellert op. 48, S467, 1840:
- 1. Gottes Macht und Vorsehung op.48 No 5
- 2. Bitten, op.48 no. 1
- 3. Busslied, op.48 no. 6
- 4. Vom Tode, op.48 no. 3
- 5. Die Liebe des Nachsten, op.48 no. 2
- 6. Die Ehre Gottes aus der Natur, op.48 no. 4
An die ferne Geliebte - Song Cycle of Jeitteles, op.98, S469, 1849:
- 1. Auf dem Hugel sitz' ich spahend
- 2. Wo die Berge so blau
- 3. Leichte Segler in den Höhen
- 4. Diese Wolken in den Höhen
- 5. Es kehret der Maien
- 6. Nimm sie hin denn dieser Lieder
6 Lieder on Goethe, S468 (published 1849):
- 1. Mignon, Op.75
- 2. Mit einem gemalten Bande, Op.83 no. 3
- 3. Freudvoll und leidvoll, Op.84b no. 4
- 4. Es war einmal ein König (Mephisto's Flohlied), Op.75 no. 3
- 5. Wonne der Wehmut, Op.83 no. 1
- 6. Die Trommel gerühret, Op.84b no. 1
Septuor in E flat, op.20 (1799-1800), S465 (1841):
- 1. Adagio, Allegro Con Brio
- 2. Adagio cantabile
- 3. Tempo di menuetto
- 4. Andante con variazioni
- 5. Scherzo: Allegro molto e vivace - Trio - Scherzo da capo
- 6. Andante con moto alla marcia - Presto

Liszt was also a big fan of The Ruins of Athens...
March from the Ruins of Athens, S388a (1846) much so that he did his own improvisations on some of the themes...
Capriccio alla turca sur des motifs Beethoven's Ruins of Athens  S388 (1846)
Fantasy on Beethoven's Ruins of Athens S389 (piano version) (1852)
Fantasy on Beethoven's Ruins of Athens S122 (Orchestral version)
Lastly for Liszt, he also wrote a cadenza for Beethoven's Piano Cto 3 Op 37, S389a - tho I couldn't find a recording of that one sadly...

Which brings me to Charles-Valentin Alkan, whose transcription of Piano Concerto 3 for solo piano (with his own cadenza) I COULD find, here performed by Marc-Andre Hamelin (a good composer in his own right):
Beethoven/Alkan: Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor I. Allegro con Moto (Part I)
Beethoven/Alkan: Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor I. Allegro con Moto (Part II)

Alkan also made a piano arrangement of the "Cavatina" 5th movement of Beethoven's String Quartet Op. 130: Beethoven/Alkan: Cavatina

Even tho I'm leaving Liszt's piano transcriptions of the symphonies out for today, I will include Richard Wagner's transcription of Beethoven's 9th Symphony, complete with vocal soloists and choir:
Richard Wagner Piano transcription of Symphony 9 - 4th Movement

There's even a version of the full opera Fidelio in piano 4-hands - arranged by Alexander Zemlinsky.

More recently, here's a piano transcription for 8 hands (yes, 8!) of the Egmont Overture: Egmont, Ouverture - Trascrizione per 2 pianoforti a 8 mani

When Beethoven found about all these "upstarts" doing piano transcriptions of his symphonies (except for his friends of course) he oftentimes disowned them, or if he got really outraged he'd do a transcription of his own - tho generally he didn't think much of transcriptions and alternate arrangements.  That of course didn't stop him from using the Eroica/Prometheus theme in 4 different works...
Here's a sketch fragment of Beethoven's own attempt to transcribe the 7th Symphony - it sounds a bit half-hearted - and then he pretty much tosses it in the trash at the end, probably because he had to get back to work on the Missa Solemnis...
Symphony No 7 in A major, Op 92, 1st Movement Fragment transcribed by B.

OK - I think that about covers it...


  1. hey, i regularly read your blog, and just noticed you don't get many comments. thought i'd leave one just to let you know you've got fans in brooklyn, ny, and that you're not a tree falling in a forest. i check in every few days and always learn something new / interesting about b.

    thanks for your hard work on the site and keep it up.


  2. Hi J - thanks! Some pretty cool posts coming up - stay tuned...

  3. Are there any transcriptions of movements from the string quartets, like the cavatina or the slow movement of the a-minor, for solo piano? --thanks!

    1. Hi! I haven't heard of any, but you can ask the folks at the Good Music Guide forum (google it) - they seem to be pretty smart over there. BTW you may want to remove your email address from your reply since you will probably get spam mail from adding it to a blog. Bye!