Petrouchka and analyses. by

La Belle au Bois Dormant (The Sleeping Beauty) Tchaikovsky-Pletnev and
Stravinsky’s Petrouchka: a study of piano transcriptions comprising performances
and analyses.
Bachelor of Music in Performance with Honours (QCGU, Australia)
Master of Music Studies (QCGU, Australia)
Master of Music (Indiana University, USA)
A thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Arts (Research)
Faculty of Creative Industries
Queensland University of Technology
July, 2005
Piano, Arrangement, Transcription, Orchestral Suite, Tchaikovsky, Pletnev, Sleeping
Beauty, Stravinsky, Liszt, Alteration, Analyses, Introduction, Waltz, Rhythm, Dynamic,
Omission, Harmony.
As the costs for mounting opera, ballet and orchestral concerts rise and as their audiences
dwindle, piano transcriptions of works orchestrated for such concerts can be a viable way
of disseminating the music more widely than if the music was presented only in its original
form. With this in mind, it can be argued that piano transcriptions of music originally
written for instrumental ensemble is still a viable form of musical expression, because the
piano is still the most widely used medium for the performance of art music in the Western
world. Transcriptions of instrumental and vocal music expand the listening audience for a
composer's music while they also increase the repertoire of music for the piano for both
amateurs and professionals.
The CD recording has the aim of providing a reference on which to base an appreciation of
Pletnev’s work. As the orchestral score is quite well known, the differentiation created by
Pletnev, and the quality of his work, can be immediately perceived by hearing the
execution of his scores and being able to cross reference his reductions with the original
score. Timing references for the piano score have been included to further facilitate this
This thesis comprises two parts:
1. A performance CD of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka (1922 piano four-hand version) and
Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty (1999 solo piano transcription by Mikhail Pletnev).
This accounts for 75% of the thesis.
2. An exegesis, analysing selected portions of the orchestral score of Tchaikovsky’s The
Sleeping Beauty Op.66 and Pletnev’s piano transcription suite, prefaced by an overview
of piano transcriptions from Liszt to Pletnev. This accounts for 25% of the thesis.
The exegesis argues that, while seeking to recreate the colour and drama of
Tchaikovsky’s orchestral score within the context of a virtuosic piano solo, Pletnev has
managed to transcribe Tchaikovsky’s score faithfully with minimal alterations.
(1) Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty
(2) Stravinsky: Petrouchka
Methodology for This Research
Piano Transcriptions of Liszt, Stravinsky and Others
Pletnev and Piano Transcription
The Transcription Process: Pletnev’s Approach
Significant structural differences in Pletnev’s score
compared with Tchaikovsky’s original score.
(1) Foreshortening of phrases and sections
(2) Addition of the Bridging Passages
(3) Reduction of repetitive Passages
Substitution of musical content
Alternative Solution
Alterations in dynamics
Accompanimental Figuration, Rhythmic and Dynamic Alterations
Melodic Alterations
A significant omission from Pletnev’s suite
The work contained in this thesis has not been previously submitted for a degree or
diploma at any other higher education institution. To the best of my knowledge and belief,
this thesis contains no material previously published or written by another person except
where due reference is made.
Signed: __________________________
First of all, I praise the LORD for being able to have so many blissful people nearby during
this time.
Although it is impossible to describe adequately the time and effort of those who have
played a remarkable part to the completion of this thesis, I will at least endeavour to
express my most sincere gratitude to a few individuals whose kind assistance have been
most esteemed.
I would like to thank Associate Professor Adrian Thomas, my principal supervisor, for his
intelligent supervision and guidance through its various stage of evolution. I also thank
Dr. Robert Davidson, my associate supervisor, who is more than willing to offer a helping
hand all the time.
Many thanks especially to Dr. John Varney during his hectic schedule, as it would have
been much more difficult without whose help and valuable suggestions as they have been
extremely thorough and insightful.
A special word of thanks must also be reserved for close friends and family: Erica Yang,
Frank (Shinn-Sheng) Yang, Jenny (Shu-Hui) Wu Yang and Gary Chung, for their constant
prayers, support, understanding and unwavering encouragements.
Methodology for This Research
The methodology of this thesis includes performance as an integral component to clarify
and inform Pletnev’s contribution to Tchaikovsky’s work. Many conclusions can be
justified by resourceful arguments but the true and final test of the effectiveness of an
adaptation of a famous work consists in hearing it played. This furthers the common
musicological practice of treating printed music as text, analysing it, and through this
process, interpreting the composer’s intentions. As Pletnev has transcribed only selected
sections of Tchaikovsky’s full score, I have varied the analyses to include some
suggestions for alternative workings, thus providing further insights into the transcription
In order to recreate the colour, movement and spirit of the dance and to avoid a piano
performance that was merely a concert performance not specifically related to the dance,
an extensive range of orchestral performances of The Sleeping Beauty and Stravinsky’s
Petrouchka were auditioned in highly regarded versions. These include:
Tchaikovsky The Sleeping Beauty:
• Antal Dorati, conducting the London Symphony Orchestra, Philips SR29126
• DVD with Kirov Ballet, Image Entertainment 9282RA.
Stravinsky Petrouchka:
Pierre Boulez, conducting the Cleveland Orchestra,
Deutsche Grammophone 435 769-2
Diaghilev Paris Opera Ballet, 1790.A1 P37 1991.
In terms of analyses, because of the nature of the exegesis and the fact that it is equivalent
to 25% of the research, only selected samples of the piano score are referred to and/or
analysed, and mostly at critical points where it diverges from the orchestral score. Using
this process, the intention is that this will expose problems and their solutions in
transcribing the ballet for virtuosic piano performance.
Keyboard transcriptions and arrangements of orchestral, vocal and instrumental works
have long had a place in the musical repertoire. Since the fifteenth and sixteenth century,
lute and keyboard collections contain intabulations of motets, sections from masses,
madrigals, and other music. In the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the
practice of transcribing from one instrumental medium to another was cultivated.
In the nineteenth century, when the piano transcription became an integral part of the
musical environment, no type of music was beyond the arranger’s reach. The
transcription contributed a great deal to the musical life of the century and became a
significant factor in the development of the potential of the piano. The home-music
market expanded greatly due to the growing popularity of the piano; therefore settings of
popular works for piano solo and piano duet were common.
The nineteenth-century world of music produced composers who represented an
unprecedented variety of idealistic dreamers, artisan craftsmen, socially emarginated
introverts and highly individualistic extroverts. Musicians like Schubert, Chopin,
Musorgsky chose isolation and were unaffected by the work of their contemporaries while
Liszt, Schumann enjoyed its trends and were even influenced by contemporary literary
connections. Much affected by this vogue, Tchaikovsky became the idol of piano
transcribers. Many of his ballets were subjects for piano transcriptions, a tradition which
was carried on into the twentieth-first century by Pletnev.
In the twentieth century, pianist-composers expanded piano transcriptions even more.
Although many important musicians from all over the world contributed significant
examples to the body of transcription literature, the Russian school represents, overall, a
most powerful champion of the piano transcription in technical, musical, stylistic and
formal terms. Horowitz, Godowsky, Rachmaninoff and Pletnev, like Liszt in the
nineteenth century, overshadow all other transcribers of this genre.
From its beginning until the present day, piano transcriptions have fallen into four
a) Uncomplicated and straightforward extraction of ballet (and other) music to piano, with
the aim of playing it for rehearsals.
b) Faithful and strict arrangements of symphonic works, songs and operatic extracts.
(Ravel: La Valse, Mother Goose and Musorgsky: Pictures at an Exhibition
c) Thematic arrangements: free rendition and style of songs and compositions in the
romantic period, principally operatic fantasies which appear under a variety of titles
such as “fantasies,” “reminiscences,” “caprices,” “impromptus” and “variations.” The
omission of extended passages from the original may then leave space for an operatic
paraphrase, as exemplified by Liszt’s Fantasy on Bellini’s “Norma” and Horowitz’s
Carmen Fantasy on Bizet’s themes.
A mixture of b) and c) – Aiming to remain faithful to the original work as much as
possible, with a few exceptions that would involve an ornamental approach which
sometimes might interfere with an accurate transmission of the original work.
(Pletnev’s transcriptions of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker Suite)
Transcriptions, which show the output of composers and musicians alongside their unique
musical language and talent as arrangers or transcribers, remain an important key to
musical history. They reveal the sensitivity of those composer/musicians and perceptions
regarding their stylistic individuality. With the piano transcription’s historical framework
thus outlined, the following discussions will examine the importance of the genre from
both a practical as well as an artistic perspective and, moreover, will reveal the insightful
role performed by the transcription as a musical prototype in the art of critical commentary.
Piano Transcriptions of Liszt, Stravinsky and others
In the nineteenth century, it was the piano transcription that was used as a popular form by
pianists to entertain audiences. The latest symphony or opera of the time was heard only in
live performances and, therefore, piano transcriptions helped to promote pianists and the
music alike. In the nineteenth century, apart from Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Academic
Overture(piano duet), String Quartets No.1, Op.51/1; No.2, Op.54/2; No.3, Op.67 (piano
duet), Mendelssohn Capriccio Brilliant in b, Op.22 (two pianos), and Schumann Andante
and Variations, Op.46 (two pianos), Liszt was certainly one of the most well-known and
successful virtuosic performers and composers who, moreover, principally played his own
piano transcriptions in concerts.
As an early champion of piano transcriptions, the paraphrases Liszt made of vocal/operatic
works by Rossini: Soirées musicales, Ouverture de l'opera "Guillaume Tell", La
pastorella dell'Apli (Tirolese), La partenza, La pesca (Notturno), Wagner: Fantasy on
Themes from Rienzi, Spinning Chorus from The Flying Dutchman, Ballad from The Flying
Dutchman,Overture to Tannhäuser, Schubert: Ave Maria, Erlkonig and Verdi Rigoletto or
instrumental works as exemplified by Beethoven’s 5th and 6th symphonies, Berlioz’s
Symphonie Fantastique and others indubitably established the importance of piano
transcription within quite a short period.
The result was that audiences were delighted and the ability of the musicians was exalted.
These transcriptions of the above composers made their music more widely known
throughout the western world as they became part of the concert repertoire of pianists of
status comparable to that of Liszt. Importantly, Liszt was the leading virtuoso of his time
and his personal advocacy of these transcriptions was a major factor in broadly publicising
the music.
It is believed that to be highly successful, you have to not only be not born in the right
place at the right time but also have been opportunely educated and been able to work in
certain ‘golden’ periods. Liszt was among those people who lived and experienced such a
period. It is probably fair to comment that Franz Liszt and the piano came of age at the
same time. The Erard family had definitely and quickly recognized the possible benefits
to their firm of providing Liszt with one of their newly invented Grand Piano Fortes when
they first met.
During the early years of Liszt’s career as a composer, the grand piano had undergone
several improvements, including use of the one-piece cast-iron frame, installation of
cross-stringing and use of the sostenuto pedal. These were exciting steps for composers
who were interested in expanding piano techniques to the utmost. As Liszt himself was
of this mind, he had witnessed the invention and participated in the encouragement of the
new developed instruments from the leading manufacturers, including Bösendorfer,
Bechstein, Chickering, and Steinway. Out of all the innovations, Liszt was particularly
fond of the new sostenuto pedal effect and used it in many of his transcriptions for piano.
By 1830, Liszt was playing an instrument which was substantially the same as the piano
we know today.
Liszt’s potential career as a musician was evident at a young age. It was perhaps destiny
that Liszt naturally became the father of, and guide for, all piano transcriptions. His
teacher, for eighteen months, Carl Czerny (1791-1857) and the virtuosic violinist Niccoló
Paganini (1782-1840), commented many times about his gifted talent and there was no
doubt that Liszt was born to be a virtuosic pianist. It is, in fact, thanks to Paganini and his
concert performances that Liszt attended, that he developed a new concept of piano
virtuosity and dedicated his six Études d`exécution transcendante d`après Paganini in
homage to Paganini. Five of these pieces are transcriptions from the Twenty-Four
Caprices for Violin by Paganini. Like Paganini, Liszt became a touring virtuoso,
travelling and performing his original piano works and transcriptions. The Paganini études
were particularly performed during the years between 1832-1849.
Liszt composed nearly six-hundred pieces for pianoforte, of which only one-third
(two-hundred-eighteen pieces) are original. According to the Grove Music Online
(Walker, 2004), Liszt has three hundred and sixty-eight transcriptions and quite a number
of them are multiple entries. The works include combination of transcriptions for piano
and piano duet, such as compositions from Bach, Beethoven, Berlioz, L. Bertini, Bukhalov,
Bülow, Chopin, Cui, Conradi, Dargomizhsky, D. Ferdinand, Dessauer, Draeseke, Franz,
Gounod, Hummel, Lassen, Mendelssohn, Meyerbeer, Mozart, Rossini, Rubinstein,
Saint-Saëns, Schubert, Schumann, and Weber.
One obvious reason for promoting piano transcriptions was its capacity to popularize
music. The fame of these works of other composers was achieved as much through the
activity of transcribing for piano those which were originally written for other media, and
by the concert pianist’s performances of those transcriptions, as it was through the
performances of their original works for piano. Liszt greatly influenced the direction
concert-life was to take during the 1830s and beyond, and consequently laid the foundation
for modern concert practice.
In the twentieth century, there are leading composers such as Busoni with Brahms’ Six
Chorale Preludes for Organ, Op.122, Finnish Folk Tunes, Bartók: Dance Suite, Seven
Pieces from Mikrokosmos (two pianos), Petite Suite, from 44 Duos for Two Violins,
Debussy with his own works as duets: La Mer, Prélude de L’Enfant Prodigue (originally a
cantata), Godowsky on Chopin’s Arrangement de Concert (of Rondo), Paraphrase de
Concert, 53 Studies Etudes and Waltzs, Gershwin’s Improvisations for Solo Piano,
Horowitz’s Bizet-Carmen Fantasy, Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody, No.2, No.6 No.9, Kodály:
Dances of Marosszek, Prokofiev: Divertimento, Op.43 and Romeo and Juliet,
Rachmaninoff on Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Musorgsky’s The Fair at
Sorochinsk: Hopak, Ravel: La Valse, Mother Goose and Stravinsky: Agon (two pianos),
Concerto in E-flat (two pianos), Three movements from Petrouchka (solo and piano duet),
Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). Horowitz, in particular, has transcribed
many of Liszt’s works himself.
Having Liszt as an example and Ravel as a good colleague, Stravinsky followed the trend
toward piano transcriptions, and in particular with reference to Petrouchka. Stravinsky
and his ballet Petrouchka enjoyed great recognition thanks to his arrangements of it for
solo piano and piano duet. The ballet of Petrouchka, commissioned by Diaghilev, a
friend and publisher, received and strengthened Stravinsky’s world reputation in the
premiere in 1911. Some declared that the story line of Petrouchka somewhat resembled
low-class Russian life and was understood, appreciated and received immediately into the
hearts of many. In "Modern Russian Composers" (New York, International), Leonid
Sabaneyeff claimed, that "the brightest place among Stravinsky's compositions belongs to
Petrouchka. The solo piano work of Petrouchka, which achieved such enormous
popularity was commissioned by and dedicated to Arthur Rubinstein in 1921. Stravinsky
insisted that the Petrouchka “Three Movements” was not a piano reduction of the ballet’s
orchestral score, but "piano music." Before the piano version, Stravinsky had not written
many works for piano as a solo instrument even though he had always used piano as a
central interest of his compositional career (Druskin: 1983, 89). Keeping in mind that this
work was for Rubinstein, Stravinsky produced a tour de force of chords, octaves, ninths,
tenths, double octave glissandi, chromatic scales in thirds and an arpeggio technique which
incredibly produced a way of writing that makes the piano sound exceptionally brilliant
and orchestral. The four-hand duet version of Petrouchka was a piano reduction of the
1912 full score and was published in 1947 which was also well received.
The work Petrouchka evoked the individual sonorous brilliance of native Russian
instrumental intonations. It released the energy of the diatonic Russian melos in all its
breadth and fullness, as Stravinsky declared “the supremacy of mode as a free, independent
principle no longer obedient to the dictates of major and minor and suitable only for
stylization and archaic coloration.” (Asaf’yev: 1982, 21) From the point of view of
construction, the music of Petrouchka is extraordinarily simple, but rhythmically elastic
and capricious. The harmony and character of the work, however, as a sequence of
episodic impressions from life (played by the puppet), marks it as impressionistic theatre
with revolutionary dynamism and expressiveness.
It is beyond the scope and intention of this exegesis to analyse Stravinsky’s transcription of
Petrouchka. It is a well known transcription and, since it was published almost a hundred
years ago, many analyses and essays have been written about the tonality, harmony and
approach of the work as well as its style and more.1 However, I have studied this work
closely and a piano four hands performance of it with associate artist Maggie Chen2, is
included in the thesis as part of my expanding concert repertoire of piano transcriptions.
Pletnev and Piano Transcriptions
“A good pianist must be a good composer, must know the orchestra, as well as other
music apart from the piano repertory. He should strive for musicianship in the broad
sense of the word.” (Zuilberquit: 1983, 430)
Pletnev was born on 14 April, 1957 in Arkhangelsk, one of the most northern cities of the
See for example, Mikhail Druskin: Igor Stravinsky: His life, works and views London: Cambridge, 1983.
pp. 89-91, Robert Craft: Stravinsky - Selected Correspondence I. New York: Random House, 1982. pp.
391-397, Edwin Evans: Stravinsky: The Fire-Bird and Petrushka. London: Oxford, 1933. pp. 84-85.
Full details of this performer are shown on the notes that are accompanied on the compact disc.
USSR, by the sea. Born into a musical family with parents being both musicians, Pletnev
was not encouraged to start the learning the piano until he reached the age of seven when
they moved to Kazan in Tatarstan. It was perhaps due to this late commencement that
Pletnev was able to absorb more than piano practice in his early childhood and was
exposed to much art-related contact, such as musicianship, theatre, paintings, symphonic
repertoire and more. At age thirteen, Pletnev enrolled in Evgeny Timakin’s piano
preparatory class at the Moscow Central Music School and, a year later, he was the winner
of the Grand Prix, an award given by the International Jeunesses Musicales in Paris.
However, it was Yakov Flier and Lev Vlassenko, two of the most influential figures for
Pletnev, who developed his great gift and made possible his of becoming a brilliant
During his college years, Pletnev fell in love with ballet music. It was then that he
became familiar with piano transcriptions when he attempted to rearrange music from
many ballets, including Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.
Perhaps his passion for piano transcriptions of ballet music began with his awareness of the
limitations of the piano repertoire - he noted that there were not enough impressive and
expressive works available for musicians, especially for glamorous international
competitions like the Chopin, Tchaikovsky and more. “It seems to me everything that
could have been written about competitions has already been written. I shan’t be original
in saying that there is some duality in competitions.” (Zuilberquit: 1983, 407)
For Pletnev, the piano transcription of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty obviously provided
diverse possibilities for performance. After winning the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition
in 1978, Pletnev was flooded with endless invitations to tour the world. As the Berlin Wall
came down, Pletnev was in the process of extending his musical talent as an organizer,
founder and principal conductor of the RNO (Russian National Orchestra). It took until
1989 for the final draft of the piano transcription to be completed and published in Moscow.
This piano transcription later appeared as a much more thorough and careful work on an
award-winning set of Tchaikovsky’s six symphonies with Deutsche Grammophon, released
in 1996, when Pletnev had gained much more enlightenment. Audiences have described
how Pletnev made use of the work as a game with his listeners. As each participant takes
this journey through the ups and downs, excitements and gloom, they have experienced the
true essence of The Sleeping Beauty.
Despite Harold C. Schonberg’s comment in his The Great Pianists From Mozart to the
Present, that Pletnev, together with recent concert pianists, including Gregory Sokoloff,
Alexander Slobodyanik and Dimitri Bashkirov has “come and gone, making no particular
impression.” (Schonberg: 1987, 474) Pletnev’s dual capacity as virtuoso arranger and
virtuoso performer has served him well throughout his musical career. In addition to his
world-class skills with the baton and at the keyboard, Pletnev is also a better-than-average
amateur violinist, and finds the time to compose orchestral pieces and chamber works.
Following Liszt, Rachmaninoff and Horowitz, Pletnev has broken new ground for the
piano with his piano transcriptions. A large percentage of Pletnev’s touring repertoire
consisted of his and other composers’ opera and orchestral transcriptions which are,
unfortunately, not included among his published works.
Pletnev’s perception as a twentieth-first century pianist is that he is in direct competition
with the orchestra, and being one of the best known Russian concert pianists at present, has
a tendency to treat the piano as an orchestra. Presumably it was this orientation which
initially attracted him to the activity of transcribing orchestral works for the piano. It is
obvious that Pletnev is motivated by his fragment performance of works of Tchaikovsky
with the RNO (Russian National Orchestra) and on solo piano to cultivate an enthusiastic
passion for Tchaikovsky’s works. This passion saw him develop ideas and concepts
concerning writing a piano transcription for Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty.
Pletnev was influenced, in terms of his orchestral transcriptions, by the orchestral literature
of Liszt and Horowitz in improving and creating new techniques for the keyboard. “If we
were to speak of the technique of piano literature of the nineteenth century on the whole,
the compositions of Liszt and Chopin present two most important elements in it…roughly
speaking, Liszt’s technique has grown out of Czerny’s in its essence, because all of Liszt’s
passages are positional. That is the key to understanding how to perform them perfectly.”
(Zuilberquit: 1983, 427) Incidentally, Horowitz is also a composer of a distinctive artistic
ability. “He made transcriptions for the piano. He knows what it is. Sometimes
Horowitz takes a small piece and writes a different end to it.” (Zuilberquit: 1983, 430)
Pletnev was influenced for transcribing The Sleeping Beauty would not appear to be
self-indulgent. The accuracy of the transcriptions, with regard to faithfulness to the spirit
of the original score, is explored in this study as well as a comparison of the piano version
of Tchaikovsky’s score in terms of its sound-world, forms and structure. Pletnev’s success
or otherwise in achieving pianistic solutions to complex orchestral effects are also
The detail of the section being transcribed into the piano is listed in the “Significant
structural differences in Pletnev’s score compared with Tchaikovsky’s original score” in
the following chapter. As Pletnev’s treatment of the “Prologue” is representative of his
overall approach, my analysis focuses principally on this section of the music, interspersed
with suggested alternative transcriptions that I have composed.
The Transcription Process: Pletnev’s Approach
A piano transcription is the reorganization of musical material to reduce a work for a larger
number of instruments to an arrangement which enables it to played by, usually, a single
player while conserving as much as is possible of the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic
content of the piece, remaining faithful to its form and attempting to reproduce the
composer’s overall musical intention on what may be a reduced scale. The approach of
this thesis to the idea of transcription includes its analysis, reinterpretation, assertion and
It is often difficult to distinguish between original works and arrangements when
examining and listening to the works of Pletnev. Pletnev’s proficiency as a conductor,
composer, virtuoso pianist, sight-reader and improviser, combine to advance his
contributions to piano playing, which went far beyond merely overcoming difficulties of
execution. In trying to convey to the audience, what he thought was the essence of the
composer’s original intentions, Pletnev’s piano transcriptions contain a number of
selections from the orchestral score. In Tchaikovsky’s work there are many places where
the same melody would appear a number of times – Pletnev would make a selection of
movements so that the principal themes would appear once only, which is normal practice
for any composer or musician seeking to make a suite from extended composition such as
a ballet score. Pletnev’s selection of movements for The Sleeping Beauty is listed below.
Music not transcribed by Pletnev is shown by a dash (─).
Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Score
Pletnev’s Piano Suite
Dance Scene
Pas de Six
Act I
5. Scene
6. Waltz
7. Scene
8. Pas d’action: Rose Adagio –
Dance of the Maids of Honour
and the Pages – Aurora’s Variation-Coda
9. Finale
Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Score
Pletnev’s Piano Suite
Act II
Scene 1: “The Vision”
10. Entr’acte and Scene
11. Blindman’s-Buff
12. Scene and Courtly Dances
13. Farandole
14. Scene (Prince Florimund and the Lilac Fairy)
15. Pas d’action (Aurora and Florimund)
16. Scene
17. Panorama
Scene 2: The Awakening’
18. Symphonic Entr’acte (The Sleep) and Scene
19. Finale
ACT III: “The Wedding”
20. March
21. Polonaise (procession of Fairy-Tale Characters)
22. Pas de quatre
(Gold, Silver, Sapphire & Diamond Fairies)
23. Pas de caractere
(Puss-in-Boots and the White Cat)
24. Pas de quatre
(The Blue Bird and Princess Florine)
25. Pas de caractere
(Red Riding-Hood and the Wolf)
26. Pas de deux (Aurora and Florimun)
27. Finale – Apotheosis
Apart from the complete Ballet score, there exists a concert suite of movements from
Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty by Silotti. This published version is performed regularly
and popularly.
The development of orchestration is one of the greatest technical contributions to music of
the nineteenth century. Tchaikovsky has a recognised talent for embellishing his musical
concepts in an orchestral context by combining the art of composition with the science of
acoustics. The suite gives an opportunity for the appreciation of his skills as heard in The
Sleeping Beauty. However, this is not a work arranged by Tchaikovsky himself, but rather
one by the pianist Alexander Siloti published in 1899 as Tchaikovsky’s Op.66A. The
contents of this suite compared with the movements used by Pletnev are as follows:
Orchestral Suite (Siloti)
Pletnev’s Piano Suite
Introduction - La Fee des Lilas
Adagio Pas d’action
Pas de caractere
Significant structural differences in Pletnev’s score compared with Tchaikovsky’s
original score.
Tchaikovsky expressed the opinion that a work loses its essential character when cut short
or reduced to a different musical context, as in the case of the concert suite discussed
previously. He ultimately rejected this type of arrangement. At the same time
Tchaikovsky himself was well aware of the difficulties involved in achieving appropriate
balance when reducing a score for full orchestra to any instrumental arrangement including
a piano. Tchaikovsky’s music is well known for its use of layers of colour. It is
interesting to observe how Pletnev has taken this into consideration when rearranging for
the piano. When comparing the two versions, it is understood that Pletnev takes the ideal
of Liszt’s approach to virtuosic sound and acoustic effect but still remains within the style
of the great Russian composers like Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky himself.
In this section, a number of cuts in Pletnev’s piano transcription will be discussed. The
removal of the passages discussed here are the most notable ones that have been taken out
and, at times, pasted into new places. Before proceeding with a detailed examination of
some specific examples to illustrate this consideration, it is first necessary to outline the
various means by which the piano transcriber assumes the role of commentator. The
resultant changes may be divided into three categories: Foreshortening of phrases and
sections, Additional Bridging Sections and Repetitive Passages.
Foreshortening of phrases and sections refers to passages that are shortened or omitted in
the transcription, it attempts to deliver the reason for those shortenings. Reasons for this
may take into account the appropriateness or effectiveness of these passages when
translated to their new medium. Some passages which rely heavily on orchestra colour may
need to be reduced when played on the piano and others which require strong contrasts in
timbre or certain dynamic effects my have to be left out altogether. Additional Bridging
Sections may be required, for example, when a transition that is achieved through clever
orchestration is not possible, or when there needs to be a substitution for a loss due to
foreshortening. The need for Repetitive Passages may arise when changes of mood that
are created by layering of instrumental passages are not possible but a comparable effect
may be achieved through repetition using dynamic contrast.
(1) Foreshortening of phrases and sections
Pletnev added short phrases of introductions or postludes and invented bridges to connect
individual movements. There are many places where sections are exchanged, but one of
the most immediate and striking transformations introduced by Pletnev is that of using the
original theme and connecting it to different sections. Nevertheless, by the use of new
placements of material Pletnev was able to bring the work into a new listening context. In
order to facilitate continuity between movements on the piano, Pletnev has employed
cutting and pasting in many places of the piano score, with the most obvious and
significant examples being in the movement “Prologue”. Examples 1 and 2 show the
original version of Tchaikovsky’s orchestral score, followed by Examples 3 and 4, which
are from the piano version of Pletnev’s transcription.
Example 1
The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 19-31
It is clear that in this section Tchaikovsky has used a thick orchestral texture where the
melody is performed in unison by many instruments (x). There is also the strong use of
percussion instruments which help to create a sense of pressure and anxiety. However,
when the movement glides into the Andantino section (y), the atmosphere relaxes
immediately when the harp introduces the new section through a glissando. The
movement then continues to develop, creating another climax as shown in Example 2.
Example 2
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 17-19
Example 2 shows an exposed passage for strings. This section, in Tchaikovsky’s score,
happens after the Andantino section (y). However, when compared with Pletnev’s piano
score, the order of x, y, z has been changed (see Examples 3 and 4). Pletnev has placed
“x” as Tchaikovsky indicated then switched the positions of y and z. (See piano version
of x, y, z)
Example 3
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 20-26 (CD Track 1, 0’36”)
The piano version at this stage continues with this melody until it resolves to “Andante” at
a much later stage, shown as Example 4.
Example 4
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 126-129 (CD Track 1, 2’53”)
The piano version in Example 3 has followed the orchestral score most faithfully (Example
1) until the orchestra concludes this section leading into the Andante in Example 2. The
piano, however, with a brief connection of bar 22, continues its allegro staccato effect.
This section appears in the orchestral score at a much later stage as in Example 2. As the
cut is a major leap from section one to another, perhaps this change is possibly due to
Pletnev’s intention of keeping the dynamic and tempo more uniform. If he followed the
orchestral model, it would be forte in this section, then piano in the next, then forte again,
then piano again. Even though the piano is possibly capable of following the orchestral
score and keeping to the dynamic changes of the orchestra, the piano, as the way it is
manufactured, might not be able to adequately present the dynamics of forte, piano, forte
and piano effectively all the way through the movement. Another reason could be that a
more complete sense of movement is obtained by beginning with an impressive opening
like the orchestra and gradually lead to a more “Andante” figure as in Example 3 and finish
the work quietly. It would also give a better preparation for the next movement. If a
movement finishes in ‘piano’ and the next starts with a forte it would catch the attention of
the listener. Perhaps it was for the sameness of the key that Pletnev decided to make this
cut but its exact reason is yet to be examined.
2) Addition of Bridging Passages
In addition to the cuts, Pletnev has placed a number of small bridges and connections to
accommodate the gaps between his cuts. These additional links that occur in the piano
score are generally transparent and do not exist in the orchestral score. Such connections
are used to cover the change of the setting and structure of the original work. They play
an important role in negotiating transitions, as short as a few bars or as long as a phrase of
up to six bars. In the examples which follow some bridging sections that Pletnev used are
Example 5
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 176-183
B 176
Example 6
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 119-125 (CD Track 1, 2’42”)
In these examples, the melody and harmony of the woodwind are given to the right hand in
the piano score while the left hand plays a reduction of the rest of the instrumentation with
a strong B-flat octave covering the roll of the timpani. It is at bar 180 of Example 5 that
the orchestra continues with this theme with different modulations while the piano, in the
last line of Example 6, finishes this section with a chromatic arpeggio effect. This
passage does not exist in the orchestral version but is necessary for the piano version of the
work. If the piano had remained strictly faithful to the orchestral score it would have had to
continue in ff for the next few pages resulting in two problems: Firstly, the piano would be
more likely to lose its intensity and second, the physical endurance required might be
excessive for a pianist. Perhaps a reason for Pletnev’s additional bridges and connections
might have been to maintain the excitement of the work in a pianistic way as well as
respecting the physical capacity of the pianist.
In addition, the piano uses these three bars to complete the exciting phase of the movement
and changes its settings to the more romantic and relaxed surroundings of Andante. The
pianist can use this opportunity to relax his muscles as well as concentrating on expressing
some melodic phrases that are only played once on the piano but many times in the
orchestral version.
(3) Reduction of repetitive passages
The major differences between the orchestral score and piano suite are the omission of
large sections of original music containing numerous thematic repetitions. There are
several major thematic repetitive passages in the Introduction to The Sleeping Beauty.
Examples 7a to7e below illustrate one of the most important and frequently repeated
passages in the orchestral score which is played in only one passage in the piano version.
Example 7a
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 37-40
Melody is given to clarinets (→)
Example 7b
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 67-70
Melody is given to clarinets (→)
Example 7c
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 96-103
The melody is given to english horn, clarinets and bassoons with a louder dynamic range
Example 7d
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 204-211
The melody is given to english horn, clarinets and bassoons
Example 7e
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 261-263
Melody is in different rhythm and is given to flutes, oboes and clarinets.
In comparison to Pletnev’s suite:
Example 8
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 44-49 (CD Track 1, 1’24”)
B 44
This passage is repeated five times during the first movement. The rhythm, compared to
the orchestral score, has been changed on the piano. However, the melody is given to a
variety of different woodwind instruments during those five appearances with different
combinations at times. The piano, unfortunately, is not capable of producing these different
levels of sound effect. In this section the instrumentation differs and the key also changes
when each repeat appears. However, it only appears once in the piano score.
Tchaikovsky employs repetitive passages in many of his works and their use in his
orchestral works allows such repeats to add colour and dynamic; this gives greater
continuity to the listener.
It is interesting to discover that Tchaikovsky has used a great deal of this passage in this
ballet where Pletnev has only used it as a bridge connection to his next passage. Perhaps
it is due to the colour and natural sonority of the piano that this cannot be used as a
concluding main theme in the piano. This effect also happens earlier in Example 3 where
it is repeated many times in the orchestral score.
Substitution of musical content
In his piano transcription, Pletnev has attempted to capture the spirit of Tchaikovsky’s
unique characteristics of orchestration. To recreate the colour and sweep of the original
score he employs the substitution and elimination of notes, changes of dynamics, tempo
and register, alterations in articulation, cuts, and the inclusion of some elements at the
expense of others. This section will discuss his use of alterations in structure, harmony,
melody, tonality and dynamics together with suggested reasons for the changes. It will
also give examples of suggested phrasing on the piano and will discuss the positive and
negative implications of the ‘possible’ arrangements that Pletnev might have considered3.
In general, Pletnev’s piano transcription endeavours to be as faithful as possible to the
original work. To do this, he employs the following techniques:
a. Note for note transcription
b. Markings of tempi and dynamics similar to the original
c. The creation of textures similar to those in Tchaikovsky’s score
d. Exact or extremely similar rhythmic figures
However, there are a few occasions when Pletnev does interfere quite radically with the
formal structure of Tchaikovsky’s score. These will be discussed later in this section.
These structural manipulations are, however, confined to the first number in Pletnev’s suite,
entitled “Prologue.”
In Example 9 given below (“→), the violin passage in semi-quavers has been transferred to
the right hand of the piano score ( →) in Example 10 as a note-for-note transcription.
In the following discussion, excerpts are referred to both as examples and by section
Example 9 Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 156-163
Example 10 Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 92-102 (CD Track 1, 2’11”)
Despite the exactness of the violin melody, there are some alterations in the piano
transcription: In Example 9, there is a diminished seventh chord with an F bass played by
the french horn (→). In the corresponding bar (→) in Example10, the piano plays a
half-diminished 7th chord with a D bass. This is at once a change in harmony, a change of
chord inversion, and most importantly, a different bass line. Similarly, Pletnev alters the
inversion and bass notes in bars 100 and 161. In Example 11a and 11b one may compare
the chord progressions in Tchaikovsky’s score and Pletnev’s transcription respectively.
Example 11a
Chord progression of bass in the Orchestral score Bars 156-163
Example 11b
Chord progression of comparable section of the Piano score Bars 95-102
The intention of this change may have to do with the sound effect the piano is to create.
If the piano plays F octaves in the left hand as an exact transcription, it might lose intensity
in its accent and dynamics since the F (Example 10, bar 96) is very close to the G# sharp in
the previous bar (bar 95).
Without a larger leap, the dynamic quality of the piano might
not be able to express itself adequately. Perhaps also it was omitted because it would be
awkward to play on the piano. Another possible reason is that the F octave would clash
too much with the F# and the G# in bar 96. The same thing occurs in bar 100 where E
flat would clash with E and F#. This does not occur so clearly in the orchestral setting as
the different timbres of the instruments partially mask this effect.
The arrangement of brass and percussion instruments in the piano represents a challenge
for the transcriber.
The many dissonant chords (“→”) in Example 9 are well suited to
these powerful instruments as they are capable of immediately producing a sharp and
decisive impact. In these passages, a tension-filled atmosphere is created instantly when
the brass is introduced. Perhaps it is due to the fact that the piano is less capable of this
type of impact that Pletnev arranged the passage seeking a less strident solution.
Much later in Pletnev’s Prologue, he makes even more radical changes to Tchaikovsky’s
score. The three major significant changes are:
1) Structural changes: The bars are shortened or condensed
2) Harmonic changes
3) Rhythm and texture changes (For example, in bar 95 of the piano score (Ex 10), the
texture is much thicker, and has more dynamic impact, than Tchaikovsky’s bar 156
The following discussion compares bars 254-258 of Tchaikovsky’s score with Pletnev’s
score in bars 148-152.
Example 12
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 254-258
Bar 257
In Example 12 at x, the cello and bass strings plays dotted crochets, while a reiterated
semiquaver pedal of “G” is placed in the first violins (x). This figure creates together
with the second violins, violas, celli and basses a descending scale passage in C major
from E in the bass leading to a triad of B major (y). The melodic part is taken in a block
by most of the higher woodwind instruments with the exclusion of the bassoons. The
melody is first played by woodwind then transferred to the brass (z) towards the end of the
phrase. This passage, featuring the alternation of instrumentation, creates contrast and
motion in the music. The role of the strings is to harmonically underpin the melodic lines
found in the woodwind and brass. When comparing these examples, the orchestra has a
dynamic of mf (mezzo forte) while the piano indicates forte to produce, through dynamic
contrast; an effect comparable to the timbral contrast of the orchestra is presented.
By way of comparison, here is Pletnev’s suite:
Example 13a
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 147-152 (CD Track 1, 4’06”)
When transcribing this passage for the piano in Example 13a, Pletnev has sacrificed the
sonority of the bass line for a clearer melodic outline. By this means, the right hand is able
to concentrate on the melody and express it with a full tone without any distraction. This
will also help the crescendo indicated to be more effective and smooth.
Pletnev’s decision in Example 13a to simplify the right hand in order to produce a clear
melody might be an appropriate solution to this passage. However, other possibilities for
transcription could perhaps have included a more active right hand playing the melody and
the chords as in Example 13b or a broken arpeggio style as shown in Example 13c. In the
next section, we will be looking at other parts of the transcription where the possibilities
will be discussed of other piano-oriented approaches to the ballet.
An alternative solution
Example 13b
Possible arrangements of the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty Bars 150-152
Allegro con brio
I Example 5b, the left hand allows stronger control where it is not as busy. This way, the
left In Example 5b, the left hand allows stronger control where it is not as busy. This way,
In Example 13b, the left hand allows stronger control where it is not as busy. This way,
the left hand is able to prepare the next chord in advance and produce an impressive effect.
Unfortunately, due to the syncopated rhythm, it might also have the effect of disturbing the
original melody in the right hand since it is already full of semi-quaver movement and it
might be more difficult to distinguish the melody. Another possible solution might be
shown in Ex 13c.
Example 13c
Possible arrangements of the Tchaikovsky Sleeping Beauty Bars 150-152
Allegro con brio
In this example, the use of the left hand again reinforces control, while the right hand
engages an extensive chordal effect that would create greater dynamic contrast and tone
and colour in mimicry of the orchestra. This also requires a more virtuosic pianistic level
of playing. However, there is always the danger that the melody could be overpowered
by such a treatment and the transcription loses its intensity and direction halfway through.
In terms of Pletnev’s more radical changes, it is worthy of note that the most striking
instances of dynamic reorganisation occur at crucial moments.
The following examples demonstrate changes of harmony employed in Pletnev’s score.
Example 14
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 38-43
In Bars 38-43 (Example 14), for instance, the orchestral score indicates a subtle crescendo
to the climax of bar 43, while the piano, below in Example 15, continues more evenly with
the right hand taking the melody from the flute and violins and the left hand harmonising
the lines of the tuba and bass . A drastic change occurs in Bars 42-43 (o), Example 14,
where the orchestra continues to crescendo with an falling chord progression while the
piano in Example 15 (p) alternates between the dominant and tonic of f minor. The piano
continues with a crescendo, but in a lower pitch level than that of the orchestra, then it
reduces intensity by applying a ritardando before going back to the Andante, Tempo I.
This has the effect of reinforcing the return to the Tempo I. Indeed, highlighting the
intensity at crucial textual moments is a recurring feature of Pletnev’s transcription, as
evidenced here, and it is an important example of the orchestral colour effects which
Pletnev strived to represent in his transcriptions.
Having marked the movement “Andante,” the piano understandably uses a darker sound
where the chords move between the dominant and tonic of f minor while the orchestra
modulates to a bright spread of harmonic texture. The indication of “Andante” leads the
listener to expect that the movement would not contain too many exciting passages.
By comparison, Pletnev’s score:
Example 15
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 71-85 (CD Track 4, 3’17”)
Alterations in dynamics.
As with alterations of notes and texture, it could be seen to be more effective if the
dynamics for piano were to stay in a softer and less dramatic tone, creating the particular
atmosphere desired by Pletnev in this movement. As the orchestra continues to modulate
to other keys (see Example 14) and moves to the climax, più mosso in “ff”, the piano,
however, instead of the climax to ff, uses this opportunity (q) to reduce its volume and
return through a ritardando to a Tempo I with a dynamic of pp. It is also here that Pletnev
has added two extra bars for the connection of the next section which goes back to the
main theme Tempo I. Pletnev has retained fidelity to Tchaikovsky’s score, in this case,
probably only in the rhythmic figurations. One note, Ab (Example 15, bar 76) determines
the minor/major pivot that changes that whole context of sound, dynamic, phrasing,
interpretation and more. By changing the major chord (r) that Tchaikovsky indicated in the
original orchestral score, Pletnev has taken it to minor (x) and continued. Is it a clever
change of note that creates a smooth link to the next section? The change is small but
subtly necessary for this movement. It is physically impossible for a pianist to perform a
virtuosic work for thirty minutes without little rests at intervals. The break is not a
complete stop, but a few moments reserved for slower and more exquisite expression of
the work. Such a passage may also prove interesting for the audience. The shooting star
might look interesting at first but few people will continue to be excited if they keep looking
at shooting stars for ten minutes.
The reason for this change might be that of Pletnev attempted to compensate for the loss of
tension. Tchaikovsky builds tension from Bars 38-42 by a vast crescendo and a gradual
thickening of the structure, also, in an essentially major tonality. Pletnev keeps this
passage in F minor, which could be expected from the preceding E minor passage –
changing from Tchaikovsky’s A natural to an Ab that would probably not be noticed by the
casual listener – and then inserts a crescendo which attempts to compensate for this
harmonic change. Is it successful? Partly. In his version, in Example 15 bars 81-82
now leads to a dominant 7th on Db, with a ritardando and decrescendo substituting for the
massive cut he has made and allowing the music to change mood at tempo I (bar 85).
This demonstrates how Pletnev applies a harmonic solution to a problem of dynamics. He
applies a similarly indirect approach to technical problems introduced through
note-for-note transcription.
Example 16
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 168-179
Bar 176
In the section above, Tchaikovsky carries out a gradual decrescendo to pianissimo pp with
a rather short pause. However, the piano score in Example 17 shows the dynamic
changes Pletnev has made, from a smorzando and a pause in Bars 116-118, followed by the
Allegro risoluto in fortississimo fff in Bars 119-121. A pause in bar 118 which, if
interpreted by a pianist, would generally be a long one, was particularly necessary before
the change – to create a greater dynamic contrast by stretching the time frame of this
section. The message is clear: acknowledge ambiguity, contextualize the change of
dynamic focus. This exhaustive change of dynamics underlines a specific need – that of a
pianist to express an orchestral effect.
Example 17
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 107-121 (CD Track 1, 2’27”)
Accompanimental Figuration, Rhythmic and Dynamic Alterations
Leaving the right hand to reproduce an exact transcription of the strings in the orchestral
score in Example 16, Pletnev in Example 17, has transformed Tchaikovsky’s rather static
figuration into a smoothly flowing left hand triplet pattern which infuses a degree of
fluidity into the transcription, creating an effect strikingly similar to accompanying figures
found in Tchaikovsky’s nocturnes. In approaching the transcription of Tchaikovsky’s bars
168-179, Pletnev has:
a) Transcribed strings accurately to the right hand but has lengthened Tchaikovsky’s eight
bars to twelve. The reason for this extension could be that if it is longer in piano, it is
easier for a pianist to develop a smoother decrescendo in order to effectively show the
following fortissimo.
b) Continued the exact melodic and harmonic structure an octave above.
c) In the pause, the piano is resting on the last note E (see Ex 17 “y”) while the orchestra
had the fermata placed on the rest (see Ex 16 “x”).
d) In bar 172, the orchestra indicates a double forte where Pletnev in bar 119 asks for
triple forte. The reason for this is simply that Pletnev is trying to create a loudness
that would hopefully aim to give the impression of an orchestral dynamic level.
Example 18
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 282-293
Bar 282
Bar 288
Example 19
Tchaikovsky-Pletnev: The Sleeping Beauty Bars 187-199 (CD Track 1, 6’02”)
Bar 187
Melodic Alterations
In addition to the change of dynamics, the primary devices of melodic alteration employed
by Pletnev are 1) addition of a single theme or change in accidentals, 2) cadential
prolongation of an existing phrase, and 3) addition of improvisatory flourishes between
phrases. A primary example of the second type of alteration may be found in Bars
187-190 in Example 19 of the transcription, where Pletnev has interpolated the same
thematic phrase to close the movement. Pletnev has used the original melody as the
source of the new modified passages. This modification also results in the change of
dynamics at the end of the movement as discussed earlier.
The word translation is used representing an attempt to establish a middle ground between
‘transcription’ and ‘arrangement’. However, in Derrick Puffett’s notes about Zemlinsky’s
Maeterlinck songs, he stated that the terms of ‘transcription’ and ‘arrangement’ can be
interchanged and, according to the literature, it would seem “pointless to try to distinguish
between them now” (Puffett, 2003: 46). If so, one is able to state with confidence that
transcription, rearrangement and recomposition are merely translations of an existing work,
being the translation of one work in one art form into another.
The major considerations contemplated in this chapter focus on how Pletnev solved the
problems encountered in transcribing orchestral scores to the piano and, hence, how he
used changes of harmonisation, rhythmic alteration, mirroring of themes, and
deleting/reduction of repeated passages. It has also discussed whether his solutions were
successful, whether his transcriptional techniques were modified over time and has
suggested reasons for his changes. The changes made in the piano transcription occur
principally in the Introduction and Act I of the Tchaikovsky Suite which approximately
takes sixty minutes.
A significant omission from Pletnev’s suite
Pletnev’s version of The Sleeping Beauty has largely conserved Tchaikovsky’s original
thematic material, though a notable exception occurs in respect of the Valse movement. If,
in the process of transcription, sections of a work are omitted, this is more often a matter of
necessity than of convenience as most transcribers aim to remain faithful to the original
work – at least in spirit. As in literature, translating from one language to another can
cause a work to lose its beauty if overdue emphasis is placed on imparting its exact
wording. The source of beauty of a work is its expressive meaning rather than how it is
transcribed. As with Tchaikovsky and many Russian composers, this principle applies in
Pletnev’s piano transcriptions. The extreme application of such an approach can result in
the deletion of an entire passage. The entire Ballet Suite is approximately two hours and
thirty minutes whereas the piano suite lasts only thirty five minutes. It is impossible to
include the complete ballet in the piano transcription and, as a result, it was inevitable that
some movements would have to be omitted since Pletnev was trying to include only the
essence of The Sleeping Beauty. However, it is surprising that Pletnev would omit what
is often considered to be as the essential movement of the work – the Waltz.
One of the most well known melodies in The Sleeping Beauty Suite is that of the “Valse,”
which is possibly the only theme from the ballet known to music listeners who do not
usually listen to classical music. Having been featured in the Walt Disney film of the
same name, this work is heard also in a broad range of contexts such as weddings,
conference functions and television advertising. Tchaikovsky himself indicated his
preference for the inclusion of this Waltz when giving Siloti the authority to make a suite
from the ballet, declaring “The Waltz must, of course, be included.” (Lloyd-Jones, 1989: 2).
When trying to publish the work, Tchaikovsky suggested that instead of the suite, which
could be assembled according to popular choice, he would definitely favour publishing the
score of “the Waltz first, then the Panorama.” (Lloyd-Jones, 1989: 2). However, almost
fifty years later, no sign of this music is to be found in Pletnev’s piano version of The
Sleeping Beauty.
Pletnev could be expected to have been as aware of the popularity of the Waltz as anyone
else, so one must ask why he purposely neglected this movement? Might he have felt that
it had been over-exposed in the sense that the music has been excessively misused and
would have, in his eyes, degraded the value of his transcription? Perhaps he thought it
might not work very well in a pianistic context? Could it be due to the way in which he
planned his piano transcription that no suitable place remained for the Waltz?4
Since the complete ballet work lasts for more than two hours, it would be expected that
Pletnev make cuts to suit the form of his thirty-five minutes piano work. However, this is
a particularly significant and notable omission that Pletnev has made. No significant
omissions of well-known melodies had been carried out until the excision of the Waltz. In
this section some considerations will be contemplated with the aim of suggesting a reason
for the elimination of the movement as well as proposing possible arrangements that might
facilitate its inclusion in a piano transcription and discuss the use and purposes of those
suggested arrangements.
More detailed investigation and discussion may probably be made feasible by carrying out
a more detailed analysis of the Waltz. The orchestral version has a straightforward theme,
first performed by the strings then, later, carried over into the woodwind for contrast. Its
character is simple and light which suggests a sense of joyfulness. So what were the
technical and musical difficulties that might have persuaded Pletnev not to transcribe the
Waltz? These could be identified as follows:
1) expression and articulation. The piano is capable of but finds it difficult to articulate
an excessively long phrase
2) melody, themes and timbre. This piece is based on a homophonic structure. The
melody is repeated four times, with simple phrasing from the beginning to the end
3) timbral/legato Difficulties. In the orchestral version, the main theme is stated in the
violins, then repeated and embellished with woodwinds for variety. Later in the Waltz,
this treatment is repeated. On the piano, any attempt at such embellishment would
adversely affect the legato line and the melody. The possible alternatives to repeating
the melody four times with embellishment, would be monotonous. Even attempting
to create variety by using octave displacement, playing the melody itself in octaves or
playing the repeats at different dynamic levels, would mostly likely be less than
However, there are ways to circumvent such difficulties and produce, arguably, a
satisfactory transcription of this section. Example 20 below shows the orchestral
instrumentation at the beginning of the Waltz.
Attempts have made to contact Mr Pletnev and the responded from his General Manager, Thomas Jung
from Konzertgesellschaft has stated that Pletnev has a busy and international concert schedule and would not
be able to response to interviews and questions.
Example 20
The Sleeping Beauty Suite, Bars 1-18
Bar 7
Bar 13
In this introduction there are many repeats while the melody is shared between a
combination of flutes/piccolo, clarinets and strings. The gradual climax of the orchestral
score in crescendo shows a steady growth of the sound, surrounded by the double basses in
an F prolongation that continues until bar 16, bringing out an impressive dynamic
progression. However, such a wide and extended dynamic contrast is not easy to translate
to the piano. As well, the piano does not easily have the capacity to replicate the F
prolongation in the orchestral score. To simulate this on the piano would require a rolling
bass similar to that in the first movement Allegro of Beethoven’s Pathétique sonata
(Example 21).
Example 21
Beethoven: Sonata Op.13, Pathétique, Bars 11-14
However, the Beethoven’s bass is prolonged on the tonic only for four-and-one-half bars,
not the fifteen required in the Tchaikovsky score. The option of leaving out the prolonged F
bass in the piano transcription is hardly feasible, as the pedal on the dominant (F) of the
tonic key Bb is essential to create tension and forward momentum towards the climax at
bar 16.
As in Cum mortuis in lingua mortua of Musorgsky’s Pictures at the Exhibition, one might
comment on the octave rolls in the right hand. It decidedly creates an orchestral character
and the intensity of this effect is recognizably significant. In spite of this, this kind of
arrangement simply does not display the piano at its best. Having a “timpani roll” in the
bass of the left hand simply produces a less elegant and efficient effect on the piano
especially when the left hand alone can do many things itself – if the left hand is occupied
by the roll all the time, it is unable to share the burden of the right hand. Therefore, the
best solution is probably to keep this passage as short and intense as possible.
Example 22
Musorgsky: Pictures at the Exhibition: Cum mortuis in lingua mortua, Bars 1-4
The next section illustrates a few possible approaches to transcribing The Waltz, The
Sleeping Beauty. These brief samples will discuss some aspects of the arrangements.
Examples 23a and 23b shows how the bars, melodic lines from the orchestral score might
he transcribed for piano.
Example 23a (arr. V. Yang) Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Waltz, Bars 1-21
The example above shows how this treatment would introduce much virtuosity into the
beginning of the piano work. It is pianistically impressive and, due to the use of the octave
roll and low octave crescendo in the last few bars, it would represent a majestic entrance
before the Waltz. Unfortunately, if placed in this way, the piece would lose its orchestral
effect and the octave roll, as mentioned above, would interfere with the melody in a way
that might perhaps limit the brilliant effect it could have had.
The introductory bars of the orchestral ballet score of the Waltz is based on a simple
repeated motive (♩▪♪♫) over an ascending chord progression: Bb, c, d, Eb, C7, F7.
is probably the first immediate difference between the orchestral and piano versions - the
introduction to the orchestral version begins with a thirty-two bar passage. In my
proposed piano version above, (Example 23a shows bars 1 to 20- after bar 16, the F chord
prolongation continues until the end of the introduction in bar 36), the original introduction
has been shortened and the chord progression has maintained the F prolongation to the end.
The reason for this is that transcribing all of the ascending major chords in the original
version would be of little effect since it would be difficult for the piano to produce such a
long and majestic melody as prescribed in the orchestral score.
It can also be observed that for the first nine bars of the introduction, the first note of the
melodic line, which is also the root of the chord, is found in the second note of the right
hand chords. This is to control the tone quality and also add greater weight and stronger
colour to the piano sound. In this way the transcription becomes more pianistic.
Unfortunately, oboes, bassoons, and all brass instruments (see Example 20) have long
notes or chords on the second beat at different stages where it is not suitable to include
these in the piano score. I have not attempted to replicate this on the piano in this example
because it would be difficult to sustain the melody if chords on the second beat were given
to the right hand, unless the right hand is given an arpeggio effect. The left hand
simultaneously, will be occupied by the octave roll making it impossible to include
additional material. Under these circumstances, they are omitted because they play a less
important part in the work: the melodic line given to these instruments is already included
in the piano version and, for this reason, there is no need to put second-beat chords into the
piano version thus disturbing the melody. However, this will also affect the fullness and
richness of the section. Such changes might be appreciated by some and decried by
others. As with Zemlinsky’s transcription of “Als ihr Geliebter schied,” this modification
of removing the less important voices was pleasing to Adorno but condemned by
Schoenberg. (Everist, 2003: 80) These alterations of harmony, tempo and rhythmic
figuration mirror a single objective – to express the composition as an effective musical
Example 23b (arr. V. Yang) Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Waltz, Bars 1-21
Having placed the arrangement this way, it is now closer to a more exact transcription.
The left hand is engaged with what had been left out previously in Example 23a. It is
now busier and fuller when playing a bass accompaniment in octaves as well as other
harmonies originally played by the oboes, bassoons and brass. It also immediately
represents a Waltz entrance. However, by placing it this way, the left hand will lose the
intensity of its octave and the extended prolongation will unfortunately be undermined by
the inclusion of other harmonies. The right hand, on the other hand, has now moved to a
higher register establishing a clear melodic line. It is easily perceived by the listener but
the disadvantage of this placement would be that the right hand has now become a single
note melody which, even though similar to the orchestral score, is too weak in a solo piano
Example 24
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty Suite, Waltz, Bars 36-44
As the movement proceeds to its famous theme in the Example 24 above, one readily
observes that the instrumentation of this passage is simple and straightforward. When
compared to the introduction to this movement (Example 20), this section represents a
diametrically opposed situation – most instruments in Example 20 are playing the melody
while here most instruments accompany the melody, which is played only by the strings.
The melody of Example 24 is continuous, uncomplicated, charming and almost effortless.
Such simplicity does not arouse interest in the context of piano performance. Examples
25a and 25b illustrate models for possible piano versions of the Waltz.
Example 25a
Possible arrangements of the Tchaikovsky The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 1-35 (arr. V. Yang)
The piano as an instrument suffers from not being able to prolong naturally the same
melody for a long period, although skilled pianists are able to simulate a true legato very
effectively. If the piano version of the section is to begin with Example 25a, it is essential
that the introduction presents a mixture of elegance and depth. The right hand has
reinforced its melodic line in octaves so while leaping to a lower register to complete other
harmonies, it would not be interfering – at least, not as much. The left hand, concurrently,
is engaged in supporting the harmonic texture with strong melodic chords. Such an
arranged example would explore the possibilities of having the Waltz transcribed without
an introduction. However, this might cause a hidden upheaval of its original simplicity.
The orchestral melody is a straightforward continuous phrase that lasts to the end – by
breaking it into variations the approach in piano style might result in hindering the
single-phrase image that Tchaikovsky had intended.
Example 25b
Possible arrangements of the Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Bars 1-35 (arr. V YANG)
Example 25b is a completely contrasting approach for this movement. The right hand has
started with a single melodic line similar to the orchestral score while left hand has a
lighter approach to the piece. It is simplified to be in keeping with the character of the
music as Pletnev had intended. However, having the simple melody repeated constantly
would soon cause it to lose its intensity and simple charm and result in a monotonous
sentiment. This approach would also be inappropriate in the light of Pletnev’s virtuosic
rendition. Perhaps this is the reason that Pletnev did not consider the inclusion of this
piece in the piano version of The Sleeping Beauty.
Perhaps this simplicity would be more appropriate for amateur or younger age pianists.
Pianists at an early stage would be able to become familiar with a famous orchestral
melody and at the same time, arrangers and pianists are able to benefit from a commercial
project. While a child is taking the time to learn this simple version of The Sleeping Beauty,
it also gives him or her the opportunity to practise the leaps between left hand and learn
how to connect a single line melody in the right hand as well as to co-ordinate the balance
of the work so the melody can stand out.
As a result, there are two options for any attempted transcription of this waltz:
Firstly, ignore the Introduction completely and start the piano version of the Waltz as in
Example 25a. In this way the problem of the octave roll in the left hand (Ex 23a) will
disappear while the entrance to Ex 25a remains a broad and impressive beginning, then
change its speed for a more virtuosic development later in the work. As the technical
difficulties of the transcription increase markedly when the theme is stated in octaves as
shown in Example 25a, the possibility of making this Waltz a triumph becomes realizable.
Secondly, begin the movement with the introduction followed by a faithful transcription of
themes as Example 25b and later develop it into a more variation-like movement. This
will result in a more Lisztian approach if proposed as a possible fantasy-variation piece in
the same way as an operatic theme is used as a vehicle to attain different virtuosic levels.
Such a variation-based work could give a much more vivid and attractive appeal to the
piece when the attention of listeners is constantly drawn to the main tune by using a
variety of different treatments, such as diverse tempi: presto, andante and adding virtuosity
and other effects which mimic the orchestra. This may lead to a more satisfactory
conclusion. This use of examples, however, will unfortunately be far from Pletnev’s
original aim – to keep as faithfully to the work as much as possible.
In summary, it would be possible to transcribe the waltz from its orchestral setting to the
piano through changes of character, tempo, dynamics, style and rhythm which compensate
for the loss of the original intention and musicality of the work in transcription. Such
changes entail an alternative reinterpretation of this romantic and sentimental work.
Clearly such changes suggested in this section represent an effort to provide a transcription
which may equate with the original in both intensity of expression and economy of writing.
It is probably fair to comment that if the piano version of this work were composed
according to these changes, it could be very successful and help to expand the reach of
Tchaikovsky’s music. However, it must be admitted that the suggested piano version of the
Waltz could not be appropriately added to Pletnev’s piano version of The Sleeping Beauty.
There are two main reasons for this: First, Pletnev has not taken any theme or melody
from The Sleeping Beauty and changed its original meaning and character completely.
Second, considering that this is virtuosic piano repertoire, the use of simplified melodic
lines placed in between the movements might not be suitable. Nevertheless, this section
demonstrates that the Waltz could possibly be transcribed as a piano version, but due to the
reasons put forward, it is probably not suitable in the style of what Pletnev nor
Tchaikovsky intended. The significant changes as described above in transcribing the
Waltz for the piano, if carried out, range from expanding the essential homophonic texture
into an intricate web of contrapuntal texture to making the essential simplicity even more
transparent and accessible.
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The art of piano transcription, a genre which had its genesis in the keyboard intabulations
of the fourteenth century, represents a historical trend spanning seven hundred years of
diverse musical styles and rapidly evolving musical developments. For much of its
history, piano transcription has served many important practical purposes in the
development of music. Franz Liszt, following in the tradition of earlier intabulation
practices, utilized transcription both as a means of elaborating new music for his own study
purposes as well as a valuable learning tool in the art of composition.
Piano transcription enables the piano to become the universal instrument. Through the
vehicle of the transcription, it draws all types of composition within its domain, from opera,
song and chamber music to orchestral overture and symphony. Pletnev’s work on The
Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky, which comprehensively forms the most impressive and
creative oeuvre of this genre in the twentieth-first century to date, has been considered
worthy of study. Although Pletnev was not innovative in terms of simply pursuing the
“activity” of transcribing, he was innovative in terms of “treatment.” His priority was not
that of writing an exact transcription so much as reproducing the spirit of the work and its
central focuses – colour, movement, drama, and the spirit of the dance, rich harmony and
soaring melodies. In this he established a unique character among twenty-first century
transcribers. His skill, as discussed in the analysis chapters three and four, is, leaving
without doubt, unsurpassed.
Having experience as a conductor, Pletnev’s mastery with elaborate orchestral scores stems
from his extraordinary skills in musicianship. These skills, as related to his success in
transcribing complex orchestral textures for solo piano, can be most effective, in the
fluency and knowledge of absorbing the orchestral textures details. Pletnev’s unique
talents as piano virtuoso, conductor, and composer, combined to enable him to be able to
“orchestrate” easily on the piano.
In the present study, the definition of transcription has been refined along with that of
orchestral reduction, arrangement and fantasy (in the fashion of Liszt) and the importance
of their existence has been affirmed. It appears evident that Pletnev’s transcription of
Tchaikovsky’s The Sleeping Beauty is more a transcription faithful in spirit rather than a
recomposition, recomposition being taken as the creation of new repertoire from an
existing work. By altering the original models, transcribers offer insightful commentary
on many aspects of composition, including the melodic content, tonal plan, thematic
development, length, rhythmic figuration and emotional intensity of the original work.
The uniquely creative means of expressing these comments represents a radical departure
from all other modes of music discussion. It is for this reason, that the transcription has
lived on through its practical applications and has found a permanent position in the
musical repertoire as an independent art form.
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