Style and technique in two-piano arrangements of orchestral music, 1850-1930

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Klefstad, Kristian Iver

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Strict two-piano arrangements were rare before the 1850s, but as the nineteenth century progressed, this format became more popular, reaching a peak of production in the years 1890-1916. As with other keyboard arrangements, three often conflicting factors are at work in two-piano settings: textual fidelity, aural simulation, and technical feasibility. Arrangers omit notes, add notes, or otherwise alter passages to effectively reproduce orchestral music on the piano in accordance with the desired balance of the three factors; the use of two instruments allows further possibilities of sharing or separating parts between pianos and duplicating pitches between pianos. Various strict arrangements are examined for their relative balance of the three factors and the techniques by which the styles are achieved, beginning with Liszt’s setting of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and his own Faust Symphony. Liszt’s combination of textual fidelity and aural simulation (often at the expense of technical feasibility) is compared with strict arrangers of later generations, some of whom sought the middle road without the technical challenges of Liszt. Others pushed the limits of textual fidelity in settings of Bruckner, Mahler and Wagner. Throughout this period, the general increase in textual fidelity is accompanied by more frequent sharing of orchestral parts between pianos, as the “symphonic” two-piano arranging style of Liszt is gradually broken down, a trend that culminates in the Bruckner Symphony arrangements of Karl Grunsky, published in 1927.




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