"Transcriptions an act of love from one composer to another"
Bach did it. So did Mozart, and Beethoven. Ditto for Liszt and a long list of others who came before and after.
Did what, you ask?
Transcriptions. You know, when you take a piece of music and arrange it for a completely different instrument or set of instruments. Like the Vivaldi violin concertos that Bach transcribed for organ. Or five of the fugues from Book 2 of Bach's "The Well-Tempered Clavier" that Mozart transcribed for string quartet. Or Beethoven's "Grosse Fuge" ("Grand Fugue") for string quartet that he transcribed for piano duet. Or Beethoven's symphonies transcribed for piano by Liszt.
In the classical guitar world, transcriptions, particularly of works from the baroque era, are rather commonplace. Andrés Segovia, the so-called "grandfather of the classical guitar," often performed transcriptions of Bach's works, notably the "Chaconne" from the "Violin Partita no. 2" in his concerts.
Countless classical guitarists who've come after him have followed suit. One such is Rome-born guitarist-teacher Carlo Marchione who, this month, undertakes his first-ever Canadian tour, which includes a master-class ($10 fee for auditors) this Sunday, Oct. 25 from noon until 3 p.m. at Mohawk College, and a 7 p.m. recital for Guitar Hamilton at the Hamilton Conservatory.
Not surprisingly, Marchione's bill will include a number of his own transcriptions, two Scarlatti "Sonatas" and two Telemann "Fantasias," as well as a "Divertimento" ascribed to Haydn though transcribed by Francois de Fossa.
"As long as I remember I have had transcriptions around me, now after so many years I can say it's not because the guitar doesn't have an interesting repertoire, as I try just to demonstrate this in all my concerts," wrote Marchione via email from the Conservatorium Maastricht in Holland where he has a successful studio.
"I think in many cases, it's just an act of love of the transcriber toward a piece written for an instrument which he does not play. For me, this is the main reason I do it. But it's also true that as guitar players, we are forced, in a way, to play transcriptions because we miss the basic repertoire of music. And nowadays, we can't go around the world playing just music written for guitar because then we'd all play the same programs."
Leaving the hyperbole of that last statement aside, Marchione says he doesn't approach crafting or performing transcriptions in a willy-nilly manner.
"I studied for decades how to translate not only the idiom of the violin, but also baroque articulations on the guitar," wrote Marchione. "Because of the characteristics of the instrument we have many problems. I had to enlarge the guitar technique, especially of the left hand to produce the slurs and the diminuendo, to control the dynamic only of the left hand when sometimes you pluck one note.
"Those are a few of the many problems which are in my workshops on the esthetic of transcribing baroque music."
Marchione's bill, in addition to the above mentioned transcriptions, also includes original guitar works such as Francesco Molino's "Grande Ouverture," Simon Molitor's "Sonata in C," Mauro Giuliani's "Variazioni op. 118," Fernando Sor's "Fantaisie élégiaque," and Konstantin Vassiliev's "Synestha."
As Marchione explained, "Synestha," which the Siberian-born, Germany-based composer dedicated to him after having composed it in 2014, is "a kind of fantasia-elaboration on a theme from (Alexander) Scriabin's 'Piano Concerto.' He (Scriabin) was quite visionary in his concept of music, which he associated with colours and many other senses like vision. In this piece, I think he (Vassiliev) wants to explore the possibility of sustain on the guitar.
"It creates a lot of pianolike sonorities. It's a really evocative piece, but it's difficult to say what it's about. It's obviously an act of love from one composer to another."
Leonard Turnevicius writes on classical music for The Hamilton Spectator.