Here's the scenario: composer x writes a work for solo instrument + orchestra that is naturally enough called a Concerto. The composer then produces a piano reduction of the orchestral material of the Concerto and calls this new version of the work a "Sonata".

What do you think of this idea?

I can think of a specific example of a composer doing this.

I understand the logic behind doing this; it's easier to get perfomances when only two players are required, however I'd have trouble myself going as far as calling a concerto a "sonata" just because the instrumentation was different. 


You need to be a member of Composers' Forum to add comments!

Join Composers' Forum

Email me when people reply –


  • Traditionally they call this "transcription", or "clavier", and this is essentialy different music, sometimes good, sometimes bad.

    Orchestra and piano are different things. You cannot represent Aivasovsky's paints using the technique of gravure, and you cannot represent Benvenutto Cellini's sculptures by color. The most expressive elements of symphonic orchestra, and the most expressive elements of piano are very very different. Of course, you can do without them, but does it worth the paper?

    List and Goldenweiser transcribed Beethoven's symphonies mainly for popularisation, not claiming that this is the same thing.

  • I agree with you.

    The composer I know that did this is teaching composition in a University Music Dept. which makes it all the more surprising to me.

    It becomes a different work, and sometimes the piano reduction can be very effective in its own right, other times very much less good than the original for the reasons you give.

    It makes me think of time when I approached a (inter)nationally known player with my own Viola Concerto, and his first reply was "have you got a Sonata?"! That would have been very convenient to have pulled out a sticky label with "sonata" on it and stuck it over "concerto", but of course, even though I took a good couple of months to produce a workable and good-sounding piano reduction for my Concerto, it was/is still a Concerto to me.

  • I'm not sure what the problem is. As long as both versions are seen as one piece in two different forms.

    There are many instances of works being scored for reduced forces right down to piano solo. 

    Obviously, it depends on the nature of the music whether tone colour and texture are vital. In my experience and for my tastes, the essence of the work is in the notes. The Rite of Spring for piano duet is one example where the lack of orchestral colour and sheer volume is compensated for by the clarity with which the harmony is revealed. A chamber version of Cosi with a band of 5 or 6 is still Cosi. 

    I would consider it a sound practice to create a version for instrument + orchestra and for instrument + piano.

  • I agree too that it's a sound practice to create a version for instrument + orchestra and for instrument + piano. The problem, really a small detail that for some reason has captured my interest, is nothing more than the interchangeable use of the two words concerto and sonata; as labels they both carry a lot of historical baggage - for me it's about the labelling, rather than the music itself.
  • Labelling is always a problem. It's really a matter of convention and perception. A concerto for violin and orchestra is a violin sonata in everything but name. Just as a symphony is a sonata for orchestra. One expects a concerto to have an orchestra and a sonata to one or two instruments because of, as you said Nigel, historical baggage. 

    At least that's how I view it. 

  • if one wants to be precise, it's a transcription of that concerto for solo piano (and/or any other instruments it might involve after transcribed). But, provided it is in sonata form, I'd say yes, you can call it a sonata. 

    After all, you can surely not call it a concerto when there is only a solo piano playing. 

    My only problem lies in the way this is presented. Is it presented as a new piece? Or is it going to be known, by the composer himself, that it is a transcripion of a concerto, a piece deriving from a concerto , yet reformed based on the ability of the piano?


    I have a CD somewhere, labeled overtures vol 2, by beethoven. In there there is a march funebre, fully orchestral and soon after listening to it I just found the exact same piece being the 3rd movement of the piano sonata no.12. 

    It must be noted though that the overture was under the Woo catalogue.

This reply was deleted.