Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

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Lance
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Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by Lance » Wed Aug 31, 2016 1:50 pm

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Transcriptions have been and always will be. Everybody did it from Bach and before to the present time. When one thinks of great orchestral works, such as the mammoth Ma Vlast (My Country) by Bedrich Smetana (1824-1884), it might be hard to think about hearing it on one concert grand piano played by two people and their combined four hands. Such a recording has been issued by the distinguished Dabringhaus und Grimm company in Germany.

For me, it doesn't "quite" work, even though Smetana wrote the 4-hand version. (We must remember that he became deaf in his lifetime.) The piano, as great as it is, in a masterpiece of this kind, cannot convey and project the music in the manner of a full orchestra. Still, it's an interesting thing to hear once or twice, maybe more if you were on a desert island and had no copies of the orchestral work. The Piano Duo Trenkner/Speidel perform this music on a Steinway concert grand dating from 1901, so the piano sound would more likely emulate the way pianos sounded around 1874 to 1879 when Smetana originally penned the work. Duo Trenkner/Speidel are masters at the job and keep everything going as it should. The sound is excellent, except for me as a concert piano technician, I hear characteristics of an "old" piano in the higher registers, i.e., perhaps a lack of "singing" quality or "flatness" not in tune, but in sound. It sometimes happens when older instruments are rebuilt.

If you are are a four-hand piano aficionado, then you will probably want to hear this disc. As usual, MDG's sound is first-rate with the performance recorded in January 2016. This is among the oddities among transcribed works for piano/pianos and as such, will probably appeal to those interests.
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John F
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by John F » Wed Aug 31, 2016 2:29 pm

Does it say who made the piano version? If it was done by a publisher's hack working from Smetana's orchestral original, then I'd say its musical interest is nil. If Smetana himself did it, or an important musician known to him, that would be different. The piano versions of Brahms's orchestral works were made by Brahms himself, who of course was a piano virtuoso and who played through these works usually with Clara Schumann as his partner. There are a few details in the keyboard version of the Haydn variations that aren't in the orchestral score, one of them quite delightful. Even so, it strikes me as odd to listen to these works in black and white when Brahms composed them in living color.

About that detail in the Haydn Variations: it's at the very beginning of Variation 7, a mordent in the treble as a witty reminder that the tune (and the dance rhythm of this variation) dates from the 18th century. 9:35 in this recording:



The mordent wouldn't work in the orchestra but it's completely idiomatic on the piano.
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by Lance » Wed Aug 31, 2016 4:08 pm

John, Smetana, himself, wrote the four-hand piano transcription, which was also published. I have updated my original post to include some additional information.
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by Wallingford » Wed Aug 31, 2016 4:16 pm

And, lest we forget, piano 4-hand/2-piano transcriptions are a remnant of the days when there was no such thing as radio and records.
If I could tell my mom and dad
That the things we never had
Never mattered we were always ok
Getting ready for Christmas day
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by John F » Wed Aug 31, 2016 6:08 pm

Wallingford wrote:And, lest we forget, piano 4-hand/2-piano transcriptions are a remnant of the days when there was no such thing as radio and records.
Quite so, but nowadays there are such things as radio and records, so we can experience the full orchestral versions at home without having to pound them out on our pianos, which we don't have anyway. :D The old days weren't always the good old days.

I've been reading up on Brahms recently, and in his day he bemoaned the piano's usurpation of home music-making in place of singing and associated skills such as ear training. He saw this as a decline in music literacy. Brahms wasn't against sound recording as such - he played one of his Hungarian Dances into Edison's phonograph - but no doubt he'd be scandalized at the millions of music lovers today who are passive listeners and really are musically illiterate, that is, they can't read music at all.
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by lennygoran » Thu Sep 01, 2016 6:13 am

John F wrote: but no doubt he'd be scandalized at the millions of music lovers today who are passive listeners and really are musically illiterate, that is, they can't read music at all.
What would he say I'm missing out on? Regards, Len :(

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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by John F » Thu Sep 01, 2016 7:26 am

I don't know what Brahms might say, but one thing we non-players miss out on is the experience of actually making music, of feeling the music our way and playing or singing it as we feel it, instead of the take-it-or-leave-it experience when other musicians play or sing it for us.

Another thing, though I've managed this to some extent without playing or singing (instead I read a lot and have taken some college courses): noticing and appreciating the countless details of melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, and much else that go to make up a musical composition and that make it special, or not. If we don't or can't do that, Brahms might well say that we aren't really taking in the music at all, and his great effort and knowledge in creating his music have been wasted on us. And he'd be right.

A few messages ago I mentioned such details in the piano version of Brahms's "Variations on a Theme by Haydn," the rhythm of the 7th variation and the ornament (a mordent) in the first three notes. Pianists playing this music would "get it" immediately because their eyes and their fingers tell them as they read and play from the score. Those of us who merely listen, won't "get it" at all unless we concentrate our attention on the music moment by moment to the exclusion of all else, instead of just letting the music flow on as our minds wander or are otherwise occupied.
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by lennygoran » Thu Sep 01, 2016 8:21 am

John F wrote:I don't know what Brahms might say, but one thing we non-players miss out on is the experience of actually making music, of feeling the music our way and playing or singing it as we feel it, instead of the take-it-or-leave-it experience when other musicians play or sing it for us... If we don't or can't do that, Brahms might well say that we aren't really taking in the music at all, and his great effort and knowledge in creating his music have been wasted on us. And he'd be right.... Those of us who merely listen, won't "get it" at all unless we concentrate our attention on the music moment by moment to the exclusion of all else, instead of just letting the music flow on as our minds wander or are otherwise occupied.
Thanks but this is all very discouraging-when we got married and moved to Maplewood there was a piano put in the living room-Sue took 7 years of lessons when she was younger-the piano sat in the living room for years and was never used-one day I decided to give piano lessons a try-I must have been in my thirties by then and had never played a musical instrument--it proved to be a frustrating terrible time consuming experience and after a few years I gave up. I'd have to tell Brahms all this but would add I love his music-he could say you're not really getting it but I'd just thank him and hug him for what he's given me. :D I'd have to admit to him I never listen to music without doing other things-well in the opera house I do listen to all the music but also am concerned with what's going on up on the stage. Regards, Len

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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by John F » Thu Sep 01, 2016 10:51 am

I'm another who was started on piano lessons (when a child), made no progress, and before long my parents gave it up. Then during a summer in my college years, knowing what I had been missing, I signed up with a piano teacher, took a dozen lessons, then the summer was over and that was that. My fingers and maybe my mind just were not nimble enough; I didn't want to play the piano, I wanted to play music, and it would probably be years before I could do that, if ever. So I went back to my first instrument, the record player. :) The special pleasures of making music myself were not for me.

Of course music gives other pleasures, and Mozart was more understanding than Brahms of the likes of us. He once wrote to his father, about a set of three piano concertos he had just composed, "These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. There are passages here and there from which the connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased, though without knowing why." (With Mozart at his best, nearly every bar has something to satisfy the connoisseur.) Most music lovers in the world are "less learned," certainly most of the audience at the Philharmonic not to mention the Oklahoma City Symphony, and it's a lucky thing they are pleased or the orchestras would all go out of business. But you asked what Brahms would think and having read up on him recently, I'm sure he was more demanding of his listeners than that.
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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by maestrob » Thu Sep 01, 2016 1:26 pm

Ma Vlast (My Country) is perhaps Smetana's best-known composition, and long a personal favorite.

Now, if only Supraphon would reissue the disc below, we could have 2 versions of this very interesting transcription:

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Re: Smetana's MA VLAST for Duo Piano???

Post by lennygoran » Thu Sep 01, 2016 4:44 pm

John F wrote:He once wrote to his father, about a set of three piano concertos he had just composed, "These concertos are a happy medium between what is too easy and too difficult; they are very brilliant, pleasing to the ear, and natural, without being vapid. There are passages here and there from which the connoisseurs alone can derive satisfaction; but these passages are written in such a way that the less learned cannot fail to be pleased... But you asked what Brahms would think and having read up on him recently, I'm sure he was more demanding of his listeners than that.
Thanks, I just knew Mozart wouldn't let me down and as for Brahms if he gets to pushy with me I'll knock him down on his lack of opera work! Regards, Len :lol:

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