Hi, ya'll -
I've been struggling with another Rachmaninov piece. Most of the struggle was due to the fact that two programs that are supposed to help to make things easier just plain "crapped out" on me. I think that the complex rhythms and numerous meter changes were too much for them. So I had to pretty much enter every note myself (into the notation program), then, of course, to make the performance version 'acceptable', about 75% of the notes have to be individually 'tweaked', whether for slur purposes or separation purposes in a sequencer program (Sonar 5PE).
Anyway, this is Rachmaninov's Variations on a Theme of Corelli. The theme is from Corelli's sonata, Op. 5, #12, entitled "La Follia". Translated, it means "the madness" and is named after the Spanish dance that starts out calm, but builds in its wild gyrations. The Rachmaninov version is apparently not a very well known piece. My friend, who is a piano teacher and also teaches music at the community college, was not aware of this piece.
The "La Follia" theme, though, dates back to the earliest of written music and, probably, back centuries before that. The Rachmaninov piece was done in 1931 (his last solo piano piece). So this theme has been used by the premier composers of the day for well over 500 years!
The La Follia theme is probably my "all time" favorite melody. In addition to numerous MIDI files I have collected from various composers, I have 3 CD's that are nothing but pieces on that theme. Probably the most outrageous piece is one where a chain saw is cutting through a piano soundboard with the strings attached! But, I guess if you have heard the basic theme for a half dozen other short pieces, the mind can make anything into what it wants.
This Rachmaninov piece has a theme, 20 variations, an intermezzo and the obligatory coda. So it is fairly long, even though any section is only about 30 seconds long.
True to Rachmaninov, it explores pretty much the entire breadth of the keyboard. This makes it somewhat difficult to arrange for ensembles. I had to ignore the lowest octave and also modify the top octave so that the alto sax can play it. (I think that I will also do a string version so that I can include just about all of the notes that Rachmaninov wrote).
There are also some wild leaps, both up and down. This is particularly evident in the last three variations (I guess as it is supposed to be this way if you have gone totally "mad" toward the end of your dance).
I have tried to stay very faithful to the score. The first half has a lot of p and pp passages. (The loudest parts are -1.6dB upon playback). The last half is somewhat louder, but more frenetic. Some of the dynamic contrasts between parts didn't make a lot of sense to me (like the melody was p, but a chord in the accompaniment was marked mf. So I ignored some of those). I also included many more "rit." than were marked in the score.
I wanted to minimize, as much as possible, the number of parts. The instrumental score, expanded from the original piano piece, has 13 parts (but, of course, not continuously). I managed to bring that down to 9 parts by eliminating duplicate octaves for long-held chords. (I think for the string version, I will have a 'chamber orchestra' so that I can include all parts).
So this is scored for 2 soprano, 2 alto, 2 tenor, 2 baritone and 1 bass saxes (a la Bricault) - a sax nonet. The 2 sopranos can be played by 2 (additional) altos, but I like the difference in timbre between the two. A third baritone could be used in place of the bass, but I included as many low Ab, A, Bb and B's as I could, so the bass is useful.
I must admit to being in that group of people that was unaware of this piece, but I'm sure glad I listened. It is quite a "magnum opus," and you did a terrific job of scoring it for this particular group. I really admire your painstaking dedication and "stick-to-it-ivid-ness" to achieve such great results.
This piece reminds me of the last 'exercise' book I used when taking private lessons. Actually, it was a book of trombone duets, and I enjoyed playing with my instructor since that didn't happen very often (I'm an 'old' Fagot player). It was a 'tour de force' in tricky rhythms. Plus, when the Rachmaninov piece is going from 9/8 to 6/8 to 4/4 to 3/4 to 2/4 in some variations, it makes for interesting listening (and sequencing).
Yes, the saxes get quite a workout. I think that all of them spend some "quality time" in the altissimo range, and those with the melody get to do runs into that range and back down.
I'm sure that semi-pro and better players would have no problem with it. And, I understand that better high school players can manage the altissimo, nowadays, with the improved instruments.
I forgot to mention that Rachmaninov dedicated the piece to Fritz Kreisler. In a way, it is reminiscent of the Paganini Caprices (Opus 1). The last of those caprices is the theme that Rachmaninov took for his Variations on a Theme of Paganini, for piano and orchestra, one of my favorites.
Frank Newman - Houston, Texas, USA, Earth, Milky Way (for our 'extended' viewership)
Vista Ult SP2, i7 chipset, 12Gb, 500Gb (int) + 1 & 1.5Tb ext., E-MU 1820, Sonar 8.5PE, VSampler, CME UF5, AcousModules (for 3D playback), GPO/JBB/CMB
This, I am sure was a lot of work. I will be honest and say that I don't understand how you guys can do this. I sometimes hate all the hours I have to put into my own pieces, I just don't see me ever doing this for someone elses piece of music. I understand that you, in fact, make it your own when arranging, but it is still beyond me.
Doing this piece from scratch has been a lot of work. If the two other programs (that failed me) worked "as advertised", then it would have been much less work. But, because I am a collector of the La Follia pieces, and I didn't have this one, I felt it has been worth the effort to make arrangements other than the piano version (which I already had in MIDI form, but was totally unusable for transcription purposes - MIDI recorded as a single speed not related to any of the tempi within the piece).
Hey, man, I marvel at people like you (and most of the others posting on this forum) that can create their own compositions. I am absolutely inept at doing so, so I must borrow other's 'genius' and "do my thing" with them.
For those very few of you that may have any further interest in this piece, I am about half finished with making the arrangement for chamber string ensemble (4 violins, 2 viola, 5 celli, 2 basses). So far, it is, overall, very esoteric sounding. If you enjoy a Beethoven or Brahms string quartet for your evening relaxation, then the string version of the Rachmaninov Corelli Variations would be appealing to you. Personally, I like the sax version a whole lot more. It is lively, engaging and shows nuances that I just don't hear with the strings. (As an example: The variation where there is a chromatic cascade starting with one instrument, then expanding to 4 instruments over the next couple of measures - it sounds great with the saxes, but is quite disjointed with the strings).
One bright spot with the strings, though, are the variations that lend themselves to pizzicato. These are simply great. I have included one such variation, just to demonstrate how nice it turned out (only 35 seconds).