Rameau and Bach

It’s been a while since our last posting – that doesn’t mean that we haven’t been busy! One of us was overseas for a while, then we started transcribing Rameau’s Suite in A minor (1728) to perform at the upcoming  New England Bach Festival. We transcribed the whole thing 3 times – 3rd time lucky! Got to perform it today at NERAM to a packed house and enthusiastic reception. Phew! Mr Tafra (S1) played Mr Thorneycroft’s spruce 2008 Richard Howell guitar and Mr Thorneycroft (S2) played a 1976 8 string Ramirez 1a, kindly on loan from the estate of Dr. Vic Bofinger.

Here are the programme notes:

J.P. Rameau tr. EphenStephen

Nouvelles Suites de Pièces de Clavecin (1728): Suite in A minor (performed in E minor) Allemande – Courante – Sarabande – Les Trois Mains – Fanfarinette – La Triomphante – Gavotte et 6 doubles

The act of transcribing harpsichord repertoire for the guitar is not an uncommon practice, however the art of transcribing harpsichord repertoire for the guitar, and indeed two guitars, is a somewhat different matter. The translating of notes from plucked strings to plucked strings with the occasional octave transposition is straightforward enough, but to translate resonances, registral alignment, clarity of voice, colouristic potential etc into music that is not so much ‘idiomatic’ but respectful in all perspectives, requires a thoughtful as well as creative hand.

The idea of transcription is not simply to reproduce the original notes through the new instrumentation, nor is it to rewrite them in order to (re)create the music as if originally intended for the new instrumentation, but is rather to strike balance by acting act as a kind of curator, taking into consideration historically informed performance practices, motific ideas and phrase structures embedded in the music, colouristic potential etc, as well as the personalities and backgrouds (or indeed, baggage!) of the transcriber(s), performers and instrumentation. Moreover, the translating of music originally intended to be handled by one player on one instrument into music that is handled by two people on two instruments, but acting as a single ensemble, demands careful consideration.

A curator enables the opportunity of weaving an assemblage of what may be seemingly unrelated artwork around a unique thread generated by a set of values, history and circumstances, treading a path through the wealth of available media and creative possibilities which may simply be found as ‘interesting’.

(c) Steve Thorneycroft


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