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Is it really true? Composers' intentions are more important than the resulting performance!

I think not but then I've spent most of my life as a performer.

Does music survive as something in ones' head or is it external sound sources being received and processed by ear to brain that excites, entertains or simply fascinates us when listening?

I'm not posting this as a subject for argument but rather just to read how others answer such questions.

We are who we are and it is unlikely any internet forum discussion is going to dramatically change our view.


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Transposition can be very weird on different instruments.
I am a quite competent sight reader on Classical guitar, recorder (both F & C instruments) and mandolin, but out of the three I'm better on the guitar which 80% of classical guitarists find difficult (and probably it is one of the most hard instruments to sight read), but that to me only means that they have been snobbish toward easy sight-readable music as students, preferring instead to memorise harder pieces.
Now, your comments Teoh help me realize that a pianists job, is much harder in transcribing at sight! Up a semitone from C to C# and from nice clear weather you pass into 7 sharps or 5 flats! On the guitar it is quite different the whole experience. For example, E minor is much easier on a guitar than F minor, but if someone asks me to go up a semitone I don’t do anything in particular, just put a capo in the 1st fret and continue reading in E minor. To reverse this process though while keeping exactly the same note relationships of the arrangement it would in many cases probably be harder, but a slightly changed arrangement may be a better solution.
Of course if a particular arrangement is not given for accompanying but instead a shorthand of chord symbols, then anything is possible on a guitar with judicious use of a capo for all tonalities.
The thing that annoys me most though, in all these years of gigging and accompanying other's voices in all sorts of situations and with the most varied repertoires from very normal to very peculiar, is the primadona attitude (both female and male) that some singers have and try to impose on others disregardless of any other important musical considerations. In particular singers in most cases fail to understand the real musical reasons why a composer for string instruments (bowed and plucked) chooses particular tonalities in order to exploit the physical sonorities generated only in these particular tonalities for string instruments. According to these preposterous requirements made by singers, one should change a piece from G to Ab because the voice sounds marginally better, and out of the window go all the nice effects of a mandolin or a violin utilising a lot of opens strings in campanellas, ringing pedal tones, arpeggios and chordal playing etc. I only indicated the surface of the manifold problems of changing tonality here. The same would be the case for a guitar but there the capo is a quick solution even if one does not have a capo handy. Many times I had to make one on the spot, just using my biro pen and a piece of string.
Long live the whim of the primadona!

Transposing up a semitone on a piano is easy if you're not stuck with C-centered notation. :-D  A common notation in somewhat widespread use in Asia is Jianpu (numbered musical notation). Basically, notes are numbered 1-7, according to the scale degree.  The reference key is usually specified at the beginning of the score.  So to transpose, just pretend that a different key is written at the beginning of the score and just sightread as usual. :-)

Interestingly enough, even though my sightreading sucks even for Jianpu, internally this is more-or-less how I work with music.  Since I don't have absolute pitch, everything is relative anyway, so I just work with scale degrees instead of absolute pitches.  Makes it easy to play something in any key, and also transpose chord progressions if you also think of them as being built upon some scale degree.

I am not at all familiar with Jianpu as you described it but I find it very fascinating and quite logical.

Pretending is not unknown to me as I have done it a lot with recorders, since they are not written as other transposing WW, but one has to learn reading anew for both the C & F instruments. The benefit though afterwards is that one can play a piece sounding in D on the alto while pretending that he is playing it on the soprano from whose part he reads it as written in A. Pretending is good sometimes eh ? :-)

I do the same when I read guitar music on the 4 course bouzouki, only sounding a 2nd lower than written.

If we were to play all renaissance lute music in original keys the only thing to do is to have a permanent capo on 3rd fret, and for more purity tune the G string down to F#.

I find all these practices very inventive and fascinating and people have use them from times immemorial I think!



PS the byzantine notation system is not at all based on fixed keys but on reference tones as you described. The symbols referring to the intervals that precede or succeed the place where a voice currently happens to be.

Can we transpose back towards the subject of 'ego trip versus getting it out there'?
My general view is: if I'm paying for a recording and I think it's less than what I could expect, there's grounds to be unhappy. That doesn't cover issues arising from poor scoring or real life vs DAW expectations, which have happened to some extent but have merely made the pieces a little different rather than worse. In every case, the glorious reality of my music being played by professionals trumped the 5-10% difference between assumption and real life.

If performers are doing it for free or have decided my music is what they want to play without me being connected to the decision, I could never complain. Even if they broke every note I'd written. I'd be flattered anyone was interested.

Ego trip seems a little harsh to me Ray. I feel it as an imperative to my being. I know that sounds poncy, but it is a real thing.

I don't consider that I am imposing on others (which is perhaps what you mean?), merely saying my thing. I agree with Bob P and Dave as to what happens post manuscript. I suppose an ego like Wagner might have thought differently, but if I were to build a house to play my music in, it'd probably be along the designs of a pub, not a theatrical palace.

26 July 2017

Good morning Ray,
If you think we've digressed a little then apologies, but I still think notational or "primadona" attitudes that Teoh and I referred to have sometimes very much to do with composer's intentions and performer's or merchant's impositions, to suit their own ends.
So I have not finished yet with the subject of transpositions and merchant's manipulations on a score, cause the following manipulation was done while the composer was still alive and kicking in Vienna at the time.
The attached pdf score is a collection of songs by the famous 19th century Italian guitarist/composer Mauro Giuliani, entitled "Sei Ariette", op. 95. You will notice easily that a piano and a guitar part are given as alternatives to accompany the vocal part. Do you think that anyone in his right mind would accompany these songs on a piano ever, or that Giuliani ever meant them for this medium? I believe that simply he or some other arranger wrote a piano accompaniment for them according to Publisher's demands, in hope that the sales of sheet music may be maximized. They are conceived for guitar and voice, full stop. Giuliani apart from being a virtuosic guitarist was also an excellent singer and very well aware of capabilities of instruments involved, balances of sound, but mostly very conscious of moods and sonorities that he was after in this set.
Probably the most famous of the set is the no. 3 "Quan do Sara Quell Di" in E major, beginning on page 10 of the PDF.
Now a days thankfully no one would be so tasteless as to expect them done on a piano as you can verify from this link of various renderings of no. 3 (you can listen to all of them and make your choice).
personally I prefer this one:

Now, on the subject of key change:
The last vocal phrase at the end of the piece climaxes on G#, and descends a 10th to E within 3 bars and that's that, very nice indeed, while the guitar adds a few final nuances (unplayable on piano) and rounds off the piece.
I have been faced in the past regarding this piece with what I referred to as "primadona" demands (both from soprano and tenor singers) as to whether we could do it in D major instead (making that high G# a high F#) which they could handle better. That to me showed their inexperience and lack of knowledge for the accompanying instrument and also their lack of ability.
I think that D major is a beautiful and easy tonality on the guitar, and that the vocal part would sound fine in D, but on one hand I want to respect Giuliani's choice of key and on the other no strait transposition is possible with the capo which would retain his original arrangement and I don’t want to go re-arranging his fine/subtle writing for guitar here, although once or twice I did it to see what comes out of it. Well, as I said not bad in D, and my re-arrangement not bad either, but I still prefer Giuliani's original.

If you take a look/listen to something, I would like your opinion on all these things I referred to regarding both merchants and primadonas.

PDF link

I understand, exactly, about transposition problems on guitar. I'm only an old folk guitar player, but constantly run into problems trying to perform songs in different keys. It's one thing to move up using a capo. It's entirely different to have to move down. Certain riffs and effects are no longer possible. They now are in a different octave or cross strings and don't work well at all. My preference is to use the full length of the strings. A capo is fine, but does change the tuning and timbre of the instrument. This has been brought out to me more because I built the guitar I play. I know what it does best. This combined with what I do best (not much) really dictates how I accompany a song.
By the way (and off topic), Socrates, my wife and daughter have decided they like Bluegrass. So my daughter has taken up banjo, and my wife is learning mandolin.
As to the intentions of the composer? Copyright and royalties being hat they are, I don't imagine John Williams complains much when his music goes from orchestra to concert band to rock band to bluegrass. But then this is a different definition of "composers intent". The thread is about the notes on the page. But there is also the "Hey, I just want to make lots of money, so do what you want with it.", aspect.

Ha, words on paper or in this case internet discussion board. I put up 'sound bites' as an opening to discussion but of course that's not what we do here. It isn't conversation, it's a series of replies based on each individuals reading of the intent in the 'sound bite'. On one hand it's marvellous reading the replies about the thoughts and experiences from folks all over the world but on the other, it's not us all sitting in one room face to face. It's just so long winded and a pain to add qualifying interjection here.

Mike Hewer said:

Ego trip seems a little harsh to me Ray. I feel it as an imperative to my being. I know that sounds poncy, but it is a real thing.

I don't consider that I am imposing on others (which is perhaps what you mean?), merely saying my thing. I agree with Bob P and Dave as to what happens post manuscript. I suppose an ego like Wagner might have thought differently, but if I were to build a house to play my music in, it'd probably be along the designs of a pub, not a theatrical palace.

Fair enough. It is difficult when you take the words as they look and can see no glint in an eye..... a boozer for my symphony premiere though, that'd do, mind you even if the premier was at the Albert Hall, I'd probably go to and stay in a boozer to calm the terror and later ask the nice policeman if I can have my regular cell....sorry Ray, wandering off, will pay attention again...:-)
@Socrates: re: the "prima donna" attitude: I don't think it really applies in my case, as I merely serve as accompanist and generally I just improvise rather than play the original arrangement anyway. The printed music that we use was primarily scored for SATB which makes it ill-suited for piano, and besides none of us actually sings SATB, we just take the S part as a standalone melody. Since we're not talking about a "professional" choir here, it's more a practical matter of changing keys so that people's voices can actually reach the notes without horrible screeching noises or just dropping out altogether.

@Bob & @Socrates re: guitars: one thing I used to do when playing in D, back when I had my own guitar, was to tune the lowest string to D rather than E. It required changing the fingerings of some chords, but a strummed D major chord sounds much more satisfying that way, than the usual compromise of either silencing the low E string, or as I sometimes do, use my thumb to stop an F# on it for added strength (but that gives it a less stable 2nd inversion sound).

Please put full screen on and follow the inscription on the bottom of the screen between 0:56 - 2:37 which explains/tries to justify the story. This sonata has been so much Frankensteinized that is not called the grand sonata in A by Diabeli anymore. Instead the similarly Frankensteinized title "The Diabeli/Bream sonata" is used. Much as I respect Julian Bream as a performer, I don’t think being a scholar is his real force, or a composer for that matter. Even if he could improve on Diabeli and his intentions, do you think such practices are legitimate?

Fuck the performer I say if this can be done and the perpetrator gets glorification instead of condemnation.

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