Recognized for his “ability to create ambience, character, and drama in everything he performs,” Paul Merkelo has been Principal trumpet for the Montreal Symphony Orchestra since 1995. He has held the [...]
Baroque Transcriptions: trumpet & organ
They spoke about it
The art of transcription, the adaptation of a composition for an instrument other than that for which it was originally written, has always existed. One need only think of the countless Renaissance songs adapted for keyboard or of the transcriptions made by composers such as Liszt and Busoni, or, more recently, by Gould and Godowsky. And of course, there are the Vivaldi concertos that Bach arranged for organ.
When making a transcription, it is often difficult to be completely true to the original composition. Indeed, as Liszt’s transcriptions of Schubert’s lieder so eloquently prove, some transcriptions go so far as to actually transform the composer’s ideas. The following examples, taken from this recording, illustrate the range of a transcription’s faithfulness.
In the Bach chorale preludes Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland and Ich ruf zu dir, the hymn melody is simply transposed from the organ to the trumpet, and in the Trio in B minor, the upper voice is played on the trumpet rather than on one of the organ manuals. These transcriptions thus adhere rather well to the originals. However, the transcription of Albinoni’s Adagio is of a different order entirely since it is, in fact a reconstruction. In the manner of Maurice André, from whom we borrowed two short cadenzas, we have removed certain passages, rewritten others, and added a number of ornamentations.
Henry Purcell’s works for trumpet often served as interludes in vocal works or incidental music. The Sonata in D major, originally for trumpet, strings, and continuo, probably played a similar role. In this interpretation, we have spread the string parts among the manuals and pedalboard of the organ and expanded the third movement by inserting repeats, allowing the trumpet to add ornaments.
Suite No.6 in D major for harpsichord comes from A Choice of Lessons for Harpsichord or Spinnet, a collection of eight short suites dedicated to Princess Anne and published by Purcell’s widow in 1696. Composed in the French style, the individual movements of these charming pieces are quite short. The cheerful “Hornpipe” is a good example.
Johann Sebastian Bach
It is believed that the original incarnation of both the Trio Sonata for Two Flutes and Continuo in G major (BWV 1039) and the Sonata for Viola da Gamba and Harpsichord in G major (BWV 1027) was a sonata for two violins and continuo that has been lost. Three of the movements of this lost work were probably transcribed for organ by the German composer Johann Peter Kellner (1705-72).
Among the significant changes he made were the simplification of the bass line to make it playable on the pedalboard, and the removal of six measures in the second movement and of eleven measures in the fourth movement. Since the third movement was missing, we reconstructed it from the version for viola da gamba and harpsichord and the version for two flutes and continuo, the second voice borrowed from the former and the bass line from the latter.
The three voices of this Sonata in G major are distributed as follows: the highest voice is played on the trumpet, the other voice on one organ manual, and the bass line on either the pedalboard (1st and 3rd movements) or the other organ manual (2nd and 4th movements). Since it is physically impossible for the trumpet player to connect long phrases without breathing, the trumpet and organ exchange certain passages of the upper line.
The Trio in B minor for organ is a near complete transcription of the Sinfonia in D minor (BVW 790). The adaptation is probably the work of Leonhard Frischmuth, a student of Kellner. In this version, the trumpet plays the upper line, while the two other voices are played on two manuals of the organ. The bass line, played by the left hand, sounds, among other things, a very low stop, the 16-foot bourdon of the Great organ.
Bist du bei mir comes from the Notebook of Anna Magdalena Bach. The aria was written by Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel (1690-1749) on an anonymous text that evokes a serene contemplation of death: “Be thou with me and I’ll gladly go to death and to my repose.” In our simple and uncluttered version, the harpsichord provides the only accompaniment, allowing the trumpet to sing freely above.
The Advent chorale Nun komm der Heiden Heiland (Now Come, Savior of the Nations) is part of the Leipzig collection of chorale preludes. The mysterious, poignant beauty of this piece, in which the trumpet plays the vocally ornamented melody, summons the image of abandoned pagans imploring to the Savior.
The 45 chorale preludes of the Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) can be divided into three large cycles: Christmas, Easter, and Christian Life. The poetic qualities of these enlightening tableaux are best appreciated through the eyes of faith. The bright sound of the organ’s plein jeu is wonderfully appropriate for the text of the Advent chorale Herr Christ, der einig’ Gott’s Sohn (Lord Christ, the Only Son of God): “He is the star of morning, he spreads his light so far, brighter than all the other stars.”
In the chorale Es ist das Heil, uns kommen her (Salvation Has Come to Us), Bach’s solid, candid writing is a musical affirmation that faith, rather than deeds, is what brings us closer to Christ. Once again, the plein jeu of the organ serves the music well.
In Ich ruf’ zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (I Call to You, Lord Jesus Christ), from the “Christian Life” cycle, Bach paid special attention to the chorale’s second line: “I pray thee, hear my lamentation.” Here, the melody is played on the trumpet, while the two other voices of the trio, played on the organ, accompany this mournful song.
The Preludes in A flat and E, respectively from the first and second volume of The Well-Tempered Clavier (1722, 1744), have been freely adapted by the Russian trumpet player, Timofie Dokshizer. Italian musicologist Alberto Basso sees the Prelude in A flat as an “allegro” movement from a concerto.
The Prelude in E, which resembles a suite movement, shows the interest Bach demonstrated for the two-part form in a number of the second volume’s preludes.
George Frideric Handel
Handel’s pleasant Sonata in G major, Op. 1, No.5, for transverse flute and continuo also exists in a version for oboe. The sonata has five short movements, ending with two dances, a bourrée and a minuet. It is played on piccolo trumpet, whose brilliant timbre lends the music a certain sparkle and cheerfulness.
Handel’s famous Largo is in fact the aria “Ombra mai fù” from the first act of his opera Serse (1738). In the opera’s opening scene, Serse, the king of Persia, sings the praises of a tree (“Never has the shade of a tree been so dear”). This touching melody, played here on the organ, is coloured by the use of the 2 2/3-foot nazard, a stop that also sounds the fifth.
The celebrated Albinoni’s Adagio is actually a creation that dates from 1945. Remo Giazotto (1910-98), an Italian musicologist who wrote fictionalized biographies of several Italian composers, including Albinoni and Vivaldi, constructed a new work for strings and organ around a bass line and six measures of melody by Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1750), fragments that probably came from the slow movement of a trio sonata. The Adagio contributed greatly to the rediscovery of this Baroque composer. The colour of the B-flat piccolo trumpet gives its poignant melody added intensity.
To achieve a greater variety of instrumental colour, Paul Merkelo used three different trumpets during this recording: trumpet in C, piccolo trumpet in A, and piccolo trumpet in B flat.
© Luc Beauséjour, 2003
Translation: Peter Christensen