Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Composer and Arranger

Whether arranging a popular song for an instrumental group or making a transcription of one's own original works, there's always a lot to learn through the process of working with pre-existing music.  The skills learned can and should be applied to the process of composing original works.  In fact, most original compositions have a phase in their creation that is very much akin to arranging anyway.  The stage when the generated materials have to be "put in their places" so to speak.  Many of the greatest composers have reworked their music for other formats. 
Alfred Blatter, in his book Instrumentation / Orchestration, describes the difference between transcribing and arranging that I fully agree with.  Transcribing involves moving notes from one medium to another and doing one's best not to change the music's actual content.  Arranging implies the addition of newly composed materials to pre-existing materials and enhancing what was already there.  Below I've tried to define the different ways that composers and writers deal with pre-existing musical materials.  I believe strongly that it's important to use the correct terminology.  "Arranging" should not be used as a misnomer for some of the terms below.

Arrange / Arranging / ArrangementAdding newly composed material to an already existing work–i.e. original introductions, transitions and modulations, re-harmonizations, secondary lines, endings, etc..
Transcribe / Transcribing / Transcription - Expanding, reducing or otherwise changing instrumentation without changing the overall content of a work.  Transposing might also fall under this term.
Orchestrate / Orchestrating / Orchestration - Expanding a work, usually from a piano score, to be for orchestra or another large ensemble (band, dance band)–can be synonymous to transcribing.
Adapt / Adapting / Adaptation - [This one's tricky, I had to look it up.]  This is similar to re-orchestrating or de-orchestrating a work, especially if the composer himself has done it.  For example, reducing an orchestral score for piano so that it can be used in rehearsal, like with ballet or opera.  Concertos are made into piano reductions, so they can receive recital performances.  There is usually some very practical reason for "adapting" the work to a different format.  Other examples: the need to use the instruments that are available at hand; or a reduction done in order to hire less musicians.  [Here's an ugly truth about the bottom line!  Richard Rodger's music is always best with the full orchestrations!!]
Set / Setting (noun and verb) - This usually involves a pre-existing text which is "set" for one or more singers, chorus alone, or chorus and instruments.
Edit / Editing / Edition - Providing new interpretive markings to an existing piece.  This is not arranging, I don't care how many instrumentalists out there claim it is!! [The number of editions (and transcriptions) of the Bach solo cello suites is dizzying!] 
Compile / Compiling / Compilation - The gathering together of music from disparate sources, usually for publication.  This may involve some editing as well.
Here are three other types of procedures:
Extraction / Abbreviation / Medley - [I feel these are related so I grouped them together.]  Examples would be suites derived and abbreviated from larger works, i.e.  Romeo and Juliet Suites 1 & 2 by Prokofiev.  Instrumental movements are extracted, and sometimes altered, from theatrical works for concert performance–opera overtures for example. Medley's are usually significantly arranged and orchestrated as well as extracted.  Examples might be Highlights from "Showboat" or An Irving Berlin Tribute.

Integration / Quotation / Collage - Inserting,  juxtaposing, or overlaying pre-existing materials into a piece–usually the works of others.  So many pieces of Charles Ives fit this category.  Richard Strauss quotes his own music in Ein Heldenleben.
Re-create / Re-creating / Re-creation - Great examples are Stravinsky's ballet Pulcinella (which he also transcribed for cello and piano), and Rachmaninoff's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.  Here the composer makes the pre-existing materials completely his own through invention and transformation.  The pre-existing music is used as a basis to form something completely original.  These type of works are usually considered original works because of their uniqueness.
In 2005 I wrote a piece for six cellos called Fantasy Variations on "Scarborough Fair."  I created so much material around this medieval tune that I consider the piece to be an original work in the re-creation category.  I started out to write a straightforward arrangement but things got out of hand.
© 2010 Steve D. Matchett

No comments:

Post a Comment