Sunday, 12 June 2011

Friedrich Kalkbrenner

I've recently been reading Chopin's biography, and as I'd expected, the bio mentions Chopin's musical friends while in Paris (Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz, Mendelssohn etc.). I also came across a name I'd never heard of before: Friedrich Kalbrenner, a pianist. According to the biography, Chopin thought very higly of Kalkbrenner, and Chopin even said once that he 'felt unworthy of untying his shoelaces'.

I grew interested about this guy, so I looked him up on the internet, and was astounded to find that he had written more than 200 piano works, piano concertos and operas of which a few have ever been recorded. He was also the first pianist to introduce rapid octave scales into the piano repetoire.

I think it's time to revive Kalkbrenner on Youtube! I'm currently transcribing his Brilliant Variations on a Mazurka by Chopin (Op. 120), and hopefully I'll finish it someday.

Friday, 10 June 2011

How To Train Your Dragon Two Piano Transcription

John Powell is, along with Hans Zimmer, one of my favourite film composers of today. While Hans scores in a very simplistic, self-taught 'German' style (nothing wrong with that of course, just makes you wonder why you never thought of his melodies in the first place), John Powell's extreme flexibility leaves you wondering what type of soundtrack he will compose next (in other words, he can compose electronic music just as well as orchestral).
Therefore, as I have already done transcriptions of some of Zimmer's works, I decided to do something by John Powell. Immediately I went for his HTTYD score, which not only is WAAAY better than the score to 'The Social Network', but is easy to listen to and would be doable as a two-piano transcription.
I then decided which piece to do. I was thinking of doing either 'Test Drive' or 'See You Tomorrow', but as the spirit of tomekkobialka goes, I had to choose something that would be almost impossible to play on the piano. So I took the 10 minute battle music and decided to do that.
My main point in doing this transcription was to experiment with how different orchestral techniques can be recreated on the piano. Powell's orchestra contains more than 100 players:
·         2 Flutes
·         1 Piccolo
·         2 Oboes
·         1 Cor Anglais
·         3 Clarinet
·         2 Bassoons
·         1 Contrabassoon
·         12 French Horns (yes, 12!)
·         4 Trumpets
·         4 Trombones
·         2 Bass Trombones
·         1 Tuba
·         Timpani
·         Tubular bells
·         Piatti (cymbal)
·         Sustained cymbal
·         Anvils
·         Gong
·         Tam-Tam
·         Chinese Cymbal
·         Snare Drum
·         Bass Drum
·         Piano
·         2 Harps
·         Full SATB Choir
·         30 Violins
·         12 Violas
·         10 Celli
·         8 Double Basses

You can imagine what I felt like when I saw this. How can you convert all these voice parts into two pianos??? can't, so I had to leave stuff out. (I also thought to myself how does John Powell get his head around so many instruments? He obviously had a lot of orchestrators at his disposal, in fact, he had 10, probably because it took one orchestrator a week to orchestrate one track!).
N.B. - unlike many lucky musicians out there, I don't have perfect pitch, so I can only rely on the original orchestral score :(
For example, have a look at this page from the original conductor's score (this bit comes from between 5:40 - 5:48 in my transcription) (click on image to zoom) :

I mean, where do you start?! It takes a long time to decipher which instruments are being doubled and which ones to include in the transcription etc... in this case, I felt tempted to take the harp part, the horns and trumpets playing the melody and the...bass clef of the piano part (if the pianos already in there then why not use it again? :) ) So it all went well, but after two bars I could see that the flutes play these slides up. Now how do I add that into the transcription, it seems almost impossible!

This kind of problem solving was very common. Here's another example (between 6:25 - 6:34):

This time, the problem is the strings. Those lines tell the string players to slide their fingers from one note to another, while playing a continuous bow stroke. And on top of that you have the double basses 'slapping'. Now how do you recreate this sliding effect on the piano? To solve this I had to use lots of pedal and chromatic notes going up and down to create the general idea of chaos. You may also notice that in the second bar, the piano and bass woodwinds play a B-flat, but the main melody, played by the tuba/trombones and cello/DB, is a B natural. You can't hear this in the recording, as there is so much going on, but if I recreated this clash in the piano, it would be very evident. So again, I had to point these mistakes out (and there are actually quite a lot of these in the whole score, some of which I doubt were intentional...)

So there! I hope you enjoy my transcription, and I hope maybe someday some duo will be brave enough to play it. 

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Toccata Grottesca - Hamelin Etude No.5

My next video is an audio + sheet music one of Hamelin's recently-released complete Etudes (which he has been composing for over 20 years!). It is the beginning of my next project which is to finish off Hamelin's etudes so that an audio + sheet music of every of his etudes will be available someweher on Youtube.

Please comment and rate!

Friday, 4 February 2011

What IS musicality?

A very broad topic, of course, but one in which I am interested in.

My Youtube uploads have covered a vast area of music, ranging from Liszt to Finnissy. And I cannot help but notice how so many people comment on Finnissy's videos (I have uploaded some of th English Country Tunes) quite negatively. On one video, otovioandradas writes:

"the funny thing about the people who seem to enjoy this music is that they HAVE TO LOOK at the score to actually say things like: wow, it 's so complex!", or "wow, this must be so difficult to play!". These people seem to ignore the very basics about music: that it is SOUND. And as far as SOUND goes, this music is DULL."

marcphilos writes:

"If dog vomit had a sound, this would be it."

JianyuTheLegend writes:

 "theres actually people who think this is music lol
they must be insane"

And it is clear when you listen to the video (at the bottom of this post) that there is a significant difference between the melody and harmony in it than the melody and harmony in e.g. Jingle Bells or the Beautiful Blue Danube.

And so what is musicality? Why are some pieces of music 'less musical' than other pieces?  Why is banging seemingly random chords on the piano considered as 'dull sound'? There seems to be some strange perception in everyone's brain where a C major chord sounds much more pleasing than the bottom two keys of a piano played together. 

To be completely honest, I think that there is no such thing as a piece that's scientifically more musical than another. Musicality is an illusion in our brain that we were born with, which gives us emotion based on a series of sounds which somehow fit so well together. A piece of music cannot be totally proven to have a certain level of musicality. You can say that a piece in G major is more musical than a dissonant, Finnissy-type piece, but why does the major scale fit so well to the ear? What's so special about WWHWWWH that makes the music feel happy? Why not sad?

Musicality is an illusion in our brain, that's why.

Friday, 21 January 2011

Miklos Rozsa - Ben Hur

Almost all of us have heard of the 1959 film 'Ben Hur', the 11 Academy Award winning biblical epic. But not a lot of people would be able to tell you who wrote the dramatic score to the movie. Well, the answer's Miklos Rozsa. He was a very popular Hollywood film composer back in the mid 1900s, but today seems rather forgotten. I recommend people to listen to the soundtrack of Ben Hur as it really is fantastically composed and includes a lot of 'upbeat' music (ie. roman marches). Below is the music from one of the rowing scenes in the movie: