Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Transcriptions

Dr. Bob Prescribes: Piano Duets

Transcriptions Today, we take for granted our ability to hear any music at any time. We live in the golden age of the couch potato; we have merely to flick our fingers (or thumbs!) and almost anything is available to us, much of it for free. Ah. But in 1840, there was only one way to hear on demand orchestral, operatic, and chamber works, and that was to either play them in four-handed arrangements or listen to someone else play them four hands.  It was thanks to transcriptions that four-handed piano music truly went viral. By the mid-nineteenth century, the demand for new four-handed piano music was, like my 10-year-old son Daniel’s lust Legos, insatiable. Even as pianos were mass-produced and mass-marketed to an ever-wider demographic base, so the business of making and marketing piano transcriptions took on industrial proportions. For example, between just 1852 and 1859, seven different and competing four-handed transcriptions of Mozart’s symphonies were published.  Things got to the point that the public demand for four-handed transcriptions came to be considered by some as unhealthy: as an obsession, as even an addiction! The Erotic Message For those disposed to see the popularity of four-handed playing in terms… 

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Dr. Bob Prescribes: Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 1 – 9, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt

This is a long piece. Its length is a function of intersecting thematic lines: a number of topics we’ve been discussing on the site – tempo and metronome markings in general; tempo and metronome markings in Beethoven’s symphonies; the piano, pianists, and the virtuosity of Franz Liszt (in particular) – all intersect in this post. Let’s start with my recommendation and move on from there. Cyprien Katsaris (born 1951) performing Beethoven’s Symphonies, transcribed for piano by Franz Liszt. While I write these words I’m listening to Katsaris’ performance of the breakneck fourth movement of Mr. B’s Symphony No. 4, and I’m doing everything I can to focus on typing and not jump out of my skin! In Katsaris’ hands, the symphony is easily as exciting, visceral, and slam-dunk powerful as it is when performed John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantic. Katsaris’ performances of these transcriptions have to be heard to be believed. I do not kid; I do not exaggerate; and I would never waste your time or money: you must have this recording. Stop reading, go on Amazon (or wherever), order it, and then come back. I’ll wait. I’m going to make a statement, for some… 

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