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Grand Scenes
Album No. 20 | Recorded 2000


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About the Album

In all work there is the element of music, besides the "color" of the instruments for which the works were written. The strictly musical value is above the instrumental value, and it should predominate. Why, then shouldn't it be transferred to other instruments? Bach did it consistently: why shouldn't we do it?

-Pablo Casals, Conversations with Casals

As the great cellist and conductor Pablo Casals observed, composers from the time of Bach forward have freely transcribed music for various instrumental combinations. In part, this served a utilitarian purpose if the ideal instrumentation were not available for a given performance. It also allowed new music to be heard in venues where it otherwise would not have been performed.

Wind music scholar and conductor Dr. David Whitwell made an exhaustive study of music arranged for wind ensembles and documented a great number of arrangements either done directly by composers or at their request. The majority of significant orchestral compositions appeared in one or more wind arrangements, often with the composer's involvement. Whitwell commented that Beethoven considered the music more important than the medium, and that Beethoven suggested arrangements be made of a number of his works, including four different versions of his Septet, Op. 20 (one of these for winds).

The practice of operatic music being transcribed for winds was one known to Mozart and practiced during the lifetimes of Beethoven, Weber, Rossini, Wagner, and Verdi. In their Wind Ensemble Sourcebook and Biographical Guide, Stoneham, Gillaspie, and Clark identified a partial list of 18th- to 19th-century arrangements for winds in various European libraries. Of the 677 identified. 551 were drawn from opera, 83 from ballet, and 43 from symphonic literature. Opera arrangements dominated the French music market from the 1770s, and a similar phenomenon was found in Austria in the 1790s.

This wind harmonie (with its pairs of oboes, clarinets, French horns, and bassoons) first appeared around 1760 in Austria and the present-day Czech Republic, and was known to Johann Christian Bach, Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn, and Schubert. These ensembles were often attached to imperial courts and were a vital part of the social/cultural life of their cities. From the beginning, opera and ballet were the central sources of their repertoire, however, these wind arrangements were not the "potpourri-type" medleys found in the late 19th- to early 20th century concert hand movement. They were intact transcriptions of entire scenes (or entire operas) presented with minimal alteration to the original. Among the earliest was Mozart's own wind arrangement of music from his Entführung aus dem Serail from 1782.

The most active transcribers for harmoniemusik were Johann Nepomuk Wendt (1745-1801). Josef Triebensee (1772- 1846), and Wenzel Sedlak (1776-1851). These and other transcribers prepared extended wind settings from over 150 operas and numerous ballets, many encompassing 15-20 individual scenes from each parent work. The corpus of harmoniemusik literature is estimated to encompass as many as 12,000 individual selections by over 2,400 composers and arrangers, to include operas by Bellini, Donizetti, Cherubini, Herold, Auber, Spontini, and Meyerbeer, in addition to many less well known operas and composers.

While the instrumentation of pairs of woodwinds and French horns was well established by the late 18th century, the manner in which these instruments were used underwent a significant change when Anton Stadler (1753-1812) and Johann Stadler (1755-1804), brothers and both exceptional clarinetists, arrived in Vienna around 1780. Prior to that time, there had been no great clarinetists in Vienna, but their virtuosity displayed the full capabilities of the instrument, leading to its eventual prominence over the oboe as the primary soprano voice of the ensemble.

The predominance of the clarinet in harmoniemusik was greatly furthered by Wenzel Sedlak, himself a clarinetist. Sedlak came to Vienna as early as 1806 and around 1812 joined the musicians in the court of Prince Alois Liechtenstein. It was his role in the imperial court that solidified the role of the clarinet. Sedlak transcribed excerpts from Beethoven's Fidelio for octet in 1815, and arranged as many as 35 operatic works for harmoniemusik, 23 of which are confirmed, another 12 are attributed to him. Sedlak centered on the harmoniemusik instrumentation, but some transcriptions occasionally added extra instruments such as a flute, two trumpets, or a trombone.

Wind writing in opera can be observed in two broad contexts: the figurative use of wind instruments as signals or representational icons and the literal incorporation of wind groups (as stage bands) into opera In the former sense, one finds winds in Mozart's Magic Flute, Wagner's Siegfried (notably the famous horn call and the representation of birds in "Forest Murmurs"), in Beethoven's Fidelio, and in the ghost scene of Verdi's Macbeth, to name a few. In the latter sense, stage bands can be found in operatic productions dating to early use of processional bands in English and German stage works. Examples of operas featuring prominent use of winds (on stage and from the pit) include Rossini's Ricciando e Zoraide; Spontini's La vestale; Donizetti's Maria Padilla, Anna Bolena, and Alfredo il grande; Massenet's Manon; Süssmayr's Der Spiegel von Arkadien; Mozart's Don Giovanni; Verdi's Nabucco, Rigoletto, and La traviata; and Puccini's La Boheme.

The practical and functional role of transcriptions in allowing music to be heard by a wider audience was encouraged by audience demand. When live music was the only music (apart from a few mechanical devices, often considered less than satisfying) transcriptions were a valued substitute, Franz Liszt transcribed the Beethoven symphonies for piano and prepared operatic fantasies on the music of his son-in-law Richard Wagner. In their own lifetimes. Berlioz and Wagner heard their music performed in transcriptions for winds and spoke approvingly of the adaptation. Ponchielli transcribed Italian operatic repertoire for winds while the music director of town bands in Piacenza and Cremona between 1861 and 1874. In the 20th century, Mahler, Ravel, Walton, Schoenberg, and Respighi transcribed music from other forms for orchestra, and Granger, Ruggles, and Schuller have transcribed music for winds. Richard Strauss once conducted an entire concert of excerpts from his operas with the Municipal Band of Barcelona. Beyond the work of these composers to adapt their own music and that of others for winds, great conductors to include Arturo Toscanini, Leopold Stokowski. Eugene Ormandy, and Daniel Barenboim have led performances of operatic music transcribed for winds.

There is a dimension about this music that provides unique musical challenges, cultivating a style of expressive playing deeply rooted in the vocal tradition, and not found in any other genre. Having established the historical provenance of these wind transcriptions and knowing that both distinguished composers and conductors have endorsed them, we return to the undeniable fact that this music is engaging to the audience and satisfying to performers. Were it not so, wind transcriptions of operatic and ballet excerpts would not have so consistently populated band concert programs from the time of Mozart and Beethoven, through the era of John Philip Sousa and the great professional bands, and continuing to the present day programs of the United States Marine Band.

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1. Richard Wagner (arr. Arthur Seidel): Grand Fantasie from Die Walküre

2. Giaochino Rossini (trans. Wenzel Sedlak): Overture to William Tell

3-9. Jules Massenet (trans. Verne Reynolds) Ballet Music from Le Cid          

3. Castillane        

4. Andalouse        

5. Aragonaise      

6. Aubade             

7. Catalane          

8. Madrilene        

9. Navarraise       

10. Pietro Mascagni (trans. Carl Ruggles): "Regina Coeli" from Cavalleria Rusticana

11. Jerónimo Giménez: Intermezzo from La Boda de Luis Alonso

12. Giuseppe Verdi (trans. Donald Patterson): "Le Ballet de la Reine" from Don Carlos