Tuesday, February 06, 2007

the art of transcribing for the guitar

I'm anything but an expert at this but I sometimes think about this because it seems so many pieces played at guitar recitals are transcriptions of some kind or another. Albeniz, all transcriptions. Bach, Mozart, stuff like that. What goes into a good transcription? It seems to me that the more guitars the goofier the sound but if you have that philosophy then what goes into a good SOLO project? I love Yamashita's transcription of Pictures at an Exhibition for solo guitar and yet if almost any other guitarist did something like that I'd have doubts about the enterprise.

I have been thinking lately particularly of the tendency to transpose the original material into some new and easier key. I don't tend to be into this approach. I prefer to stick with the original key and to transpose pitches by octave when necessary rather than simply put something into a key where open strings are handy. Why, though? I guess I feel that the music sounds best in the key in which it was originally conceived. Chords can be reduced or distilled to their essence and maybe conveniently dropped an octave but I just feel that a guitarist should be willing and able to play in any key no matter how awkward he or she may find the key conceptually and physically.

Why is that? I guess I feel that way because the most challenging and rewarding repertoire for other instruments was not written just with the idea of being easy to play. Beethoven and Bartok didn't just write music for less technically ambitious players. I'd write more but I really need to get some sleep. This is obviously a topic about which I can blog later, not that anyone has a reason to care about what I have to blog about transcribing non-guitar literature for guitar! Still, I'd like to make a case that there are some paradigms you can try out that could lead you to transcribe stuff by Messiaen or Durufle or Hindemith for the guitar, all great composers whose works could and should be more adequately represented in transcription literature if we guitarists are just going to keep playing stuff that was never written for our instrument.