Over the past few months, I have not had much of a chance to arrange--or post anything to this blog--as I have been involved in other projects at Al Young Studios, but I have started posting both old and new arrangements online again. I have posted the sheet music to the Stars and Stripes Forever arrangement posted on Flag Day this year. The sheet music is available under the cc-by-nc license like the Rachmaninoff 3rd Transcription.
Two new arrangements: a SATB/Piano/Organ arrangement of "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" and an SATB or Piano arrangement of Away in a Manger. The "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" was from last year, and the Away in a Manger is from this year.
If I have time and can manage it, I will also have a new "The First Noël" and possibly an "O Holy Night" ready by Christmas.
I have reposted the first movement of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto Transcription to YouTube as a single video rather than two partial videos. I also have two versions available now: one with the original cadenza with its strong, powerful chords "pulling out all the stops" and another with his later cadenza that is less intense but no less difficult. I had a user request to see both cadenzas in-context in this transcription, so now we have two complete versions.
There has always been a passionate debate over which cadenza is better, so over the next three months on this blog (on the side menu) and our facebook page, we're running a poll to see which cadenza is preferred by our audience (as I still can't decide between them!) and we'll post the aggregate results here in a follow-up post. If you have a YouTube account, like the video of the version you prefer.
Cadenzas in both videos start at 10:30 in the video timeline.
For Flag Day, I have finished this solo piano arrangement of Sousa's famous Stars and Stripes Forever. The work is dedicated to all United States Armed Forces. The sheet music will be made available as part of the next website update from Al Young Studios.
Last night, a YouTube user very graciously asked me two excellent questions whose answers are long enough and valuable enough, that I decided to respond with a public blog post:
How long did it take you to arrange Rachmaninoff's 3rd Concerto?
I'd made several short, ill-fated attempts to achieve what I wanted some years ago, but only when I revived the project in February (on the 25th) did I start getting the results I wanted. The First Movement was published on April 29th, and the Third Movement was published on May 5th. The Toccata Cadenza was published on May 28th, but I hadn't been working on the project between that time (I started that section three or four days earlier). The Second Movement remains unfinished--I have it composed but not written it down: I have yet to decide if I want to try and quantify my rubatos, or not try and incorporate them into the score.
So the main work was done over the period of two months, with occassional work after that.
How much did it help you understand the piece and improve as a musician by arranging it?
It helped a great deal. It increased my understanding, appreciation, and interpretation of it.
The Rachmaninoff 3rd is extremely intricate--all of the Rachmaninoff Concertos are, but I find this one the most dense, complicated, and beautiful. The First concerto has many wonderful moments and a fantastic second movement (but sadly the concerto is always overlooked); the Second is very passionate and makes brilliant use and variation of simple motifs throughout the entire concerto; and the fourth has one of the best concerto introductions and finales ever written; but the third is entirely it's own creation. It begins with a magnificent theme and then it enters a world of virtuosity and theme mixed together to make pure music, and the only way to appreciate the nuance and creative genius in it is to carefully explore the score by constantly taking it apart and putting it back together--as Rachmaninoff did when he wrote it.
Whenever I do an arrangement, it's like the composer is giving me a guided tour of the their invention, showing me every rivet, every detail, and every idea behind it and demonstrating how all of the rather rudimentary structural elements of a piece come together to make it a masterwork. For example, I just finished three transcriptions this week of works by Grieg, Ippolitov-Ivannov, and Sousa, and each of them opened new worlds on works, I thought I knew intimately. Going through the Rachmaninoff 3rd to rewrite it, forced me to carefully study the score, and I found articulation, harmony, and subtlety that I had missed or taken for granted.
For me, when doing an arrangement, it is much harder to miss notes or articulation marks: unfortunately, as a pianist, when I sit down, I enter an "emotive" autopilot, and I usually sight-read very quickly through a piece--feeling too much and reading too little, and then, years later, I find there was a nuance in the score that I hadn't seen the first time (and then of course, I convince myself that the composer or publisher added it the piece after I had looked at it).
After, I was about one third of the way through the First Movement, I started seeing patterns I hadn't imagined were in the concerto (Nikolai Lugansky's video for the London Philharmonia has a good introduction to these). Ironically, one of the things that brought those patterns to light was the edition I had; I was working from the Muzgiz edition from the late Soviet Union (that copy is in the public domain, while the Schrimer's edition and other are not in the US), and this edition has dozens of major errors--particularly in the orchestra part (expect an error on every other page); now this was a great problem as a arranger, because I would look down at the page and wonder how they managed to get 5 quarter notes in a 4/4 measure, which force me to always ask "what was Sergei thinking?" because I could never be sure what exactly he had written because of the errors. Studying the concerto in that light, I began to see much more ingenious layering and structure, because I had to reconstruct so much of it.
Whether it's been the Grieg A Minor Concerto, the Rachmaninoff 3rd, or Stars and Stripes Forever, writing an arrangement of any masterwork, always forces a musician to increase their skills, their understanding of theory and the composer, and their musical depth. There is no way I can do a good, sincere arrangement of a work, without immersing myself in the score with new eyes, rethinking every assumption I have about a piece. Happily, not everyone needs to become an arranger to appreciate music or improve one's musicianship--for me arrangements are the most rewarding, but I start by relistening to the best recordings of a work, even if it's a masterwork I didn't like the first time. (It took me several long attempts to enjoy the Medtner concertos, which now I can't get enough of, and it took me seven years to finally like the Prokofiev 3rd instead of always "enduring" it.) After I've listened and relistened to the best performances of a piece and compared them, then I constantly revisit the actual score: even if I have a piece memorized, I frequently review the score and see if I missed something: I try to see something new. All articulation marks, all notes, all instructions are put into a work for a specific reason, I always try to revisit the reason that something is in a work: I attempt learn the entire history and every facet of a work.
All composition posted to http://alyoung.com/, with the exception of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto Transcription, are now available under the Creative Commons Attribution license (cc-by) license rather than the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial (cc-by-nc) license--so the works may be used for any purpose as long as I am cited.