The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

11 December 2006

No substitutions

Over at Mystic Chords, John Salmon links to a YouTube video of Alison Balsom performing Paganini's Caprice No. 24.

Balsom plays trumpet, not violin, so Salmon offers this caveat:

[F]or those who are pissed off when pieces are transcribed for instruments different from the ones they were originally written for, you needn't listen.

I'm sure such people exist, but I am not one of them. In fact, I've heard this Caprice on piano and guitar — here's a guitar version — and I assume I'd enjoy hearing it on any instrument with comparable range.

Then again, range (I'm guessing) may be the issue for some people, since transcriptions are often in a key different from the original. If you generally dislike transcriptions, I'd like to hear why.

Posted at 7:38 AM to Tongue and Groove


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My son has moved from the guitar to the violin, and has discovered Nicolo Paganini, who was also a guitarist. So: here's a nice performance of a Paganini caprice on the guitar, and the same piece performed on the trumpet.......[read more]

I participated in a solo competition in high school - I played a Mozart piece transcribed for my particular instrument, the tenor saxophone.

One of the judges took points off, saying that Mozart wasn't really made for saxophones (the other judge said I did a fine job capturing Mozart's style).

I couldn't disagree, but I had a hard time discerning how that reflected negatively on me; not only did I not to the transcribing, but I chose this particular solo with great help from my band director, a situation I'm sure was similar for most of the soloists competing.

I thought maybe he was that person of which you speak. He did later admit that there are some successful recordings of Mozart on saxophone - he gave me an 800-number from which I could order those recordings. My guess is he was just a shill.

Posted by: Joel at 1:51 PM on 11 December 2006

Thanks for the link.

Adapting violin pieces for trumpet often wouldn't work, simply because brass instruments can't be played with the same kind of speed and flexibility as a violin, guitar, piano, or saxophone. But I think Balsom does a fine job with the Paganini.

No, Mozart wasn't written for saxophone; and Bach wasn't written for piano, either. Not a problem, if you can nail the style.

I think the problem with classical music on saxophone tends to be the sound-most of the classical people who play sax sound more Guy Lombardo than Sonny Rollins.

I think that a light, silky sound, like Paul Desmond's on alto, or maybe Stan Getz's on tenor, would work nicely for a lot of the classical repertoire.

Posted by: John Salmon at 4:47 PM on 11 December 2006

Our jazz band practices were at 7 AM, wind ensemble at 8 AM; the switch in styles was always pretty strange, particularly that early in the morning (night person, sorry).

Mozart is particularly tough on a intermediate sax player like I was because of the light, jaunty nature of many of his compositions. Light tonguing was something I always struggled with (we're still just talking about the saxophone, right?), something essential in playing Mozart.

The most idiot-proof way to fix your sound on a saxophone is with mouthpieces - metal gives you the brighter, brassier sound for jazz, plastic the smoother, mellower sound for classical.

There are plenty of subtle things you can do as well, though I'm sure I was successful at very few of them. Since then I decided to take up a much less nuanced instrument - the drum set.

Posted by: Joel at 5:14 PM on 11 December 2006

I did send the link to a trumpet player of my acquaintance; she was impressed.

Posted by: CGHill at 5:30 PM on 11 December 2006