Posted in Project 2: String Quartets, Uncategorized

Exercise 5.5

This exercise is about making a piano arrangement of the first 30 bars of Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 18 No. 1. The brief specified to include some basic background information regarding the piece, which I will commence this post with.

Beethoven’s Op. 18 is consisted of six string quartets, commissioned for Prince Joseph Lobkowitz and published in 1801. In composing the quartets, Beethoven drew from the legacy of Haydn and Mozart, even copying Haydn’s Op. 20 and Mozart’s 1785 quartets, in order to understand how to write for the medium (11). I found this especially interesting – although he had studied violin in his apprentice years and had played viola in the Bonn orchestra, Beethoven was primarily a pianist who improvised and composed at the keyboard (10), and as such he had to study the genre. Along these lines, it is not surprising that he had heavily revised quartet No. 1, writing to his friend Karl Amenda: “I have greatly changed it, having just learned how to write quartets properly.” In this sense, the quartet is an important evidence of Beethoven’s growth as a musician and composer, showing his mastery over the quartet texture he had recently started exploring.

The first movement, Allegro con brio is in F major in 3/4 follows, opening with a two-bar motif that is boldy stated in unison. The motif permeates the whole movement, overlaid into Beethoven’s rather complex contrapuntal writing. The motif also introduces the organization of two-bar segments in terms of the metrical beat, with the first being strong and the second weak.

My arrangement of the first 30 bars for piano is below:

In my opinion, the first half of this segment was quite easy to arrange. I didn’t have to alter anything in terms of pitches. The articulation also remained mostly the same, except for two instances of dynamic reconsideration at bar 14 and 16 in which I could only retain diminuendo, but not the initial crescendo due to the differing nature of the instruments. While the violin could easily achieve the rising and falling dynamics of a long note in a single sustained bow by altering pressure, this is impossible on the piano due to the percussive nature of keys.

The second half however, proved a lot more difficult, especially in terms of the pitches. The first troublesome instance appears in bar 18, where the second violin descends and viola ascends to reach the same pitch of B. I ended up weirdly changing the notes of viola from the left into right hand. In bar 19, I also had to change the lowest C in the cello an octave higher, since the gap is rather wide – a tenth. While some people may easily play this, I personally can’t reach the keys and decided to have a more natural progression rather than jump.

More difficulty arises from bar 21 until the end of the segment. The main difficulty was the gap of an eleventh between the first and second violin. I chose to transpose the first violin an octave lower in order to make the section playable, though this change in the register slightly alters the characteristic of the original music. The same goes for the last 3 bars, in which it was hard to accommodate all double stop notes.

After I have completed this arrangement, I was curious to find out how different arrangers approached the same problems. I found two versions, one by Gustav Rosler and one by Louis Winkler.

This is Rosler’s version:

Comparing to my arrangement, while there are practically no differences in the first half, Rosler approached the eleventh gap by switching the places between viola and second violin – something I haven’t considered at all. I think this is a better solution than mine in terms of keeping the register of the original. In the final three bars, Rosler kept the repeating of the chords by committing some notes – something I could have considered. On to Winkler’s version:

In my opinion, his version was a lot more liberal in terms of adding notes and changing registers – for example already in the first half he lowers the main motif for an octave.

In conclusion, I found this exercise very insightful. This was my first time attempting to arrange a segment of music on another instrument. In general, while some bits proved to be quite easy to transfer to piano, others were quite a challenge. Comparing my version to others, which were achieved by more experienced musicians was very important, as it showed me new strategies that I could employ in the future. I definitely feel like I need a lot more experience, but I would definitely love to do this again!

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