Piano Rearrangement and Liszt’s Idea of Piano music


How does Liszt’s idea of superiority of instrumental music influence the status of musical rearrangment in the history of music? And how does this idea influence Romantic and Modern composer’s compositional attitude? The above two questions are worthy of exploration. The follow article attempts to search for an answers. And let us know more about the development of the new musical genre from the 19th century onward — The Piano Rarrangement.


Arrangement’ is applied to any kinds of music based on or incorporating pre-existing material: variation form, the contrafactum, the parody mass, the pasticcio, and liturgical works. In the history of music, ‘arrangement’ can be firstly found in the medieval trope and clausula as well as motets, however, vocal arrangement was more popular than instrumental arrangement at that time. Starting from 1600, the practice of transforming vocal music into keyboard music boosted and in 19th century, piano arrangment was widely accepted only after the release of the Franz Liszt’s piano arragement. Franz Liszt was the most important arranger to establish the state of ‘arrangement’. He divided arrangement into two categories: (1) paraphrases in which the arranger can alter the original freely and add his own fantasy around it; (2) transciptions in which the arranger must recreate the original faithfully.

Liszt’s paraphrases include the operas by Mozart, Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi, in which Liszt fully presents his talent of music, like adding an entire act in a 15-minute concert piece and combining the original themes in it. The most famous paraphrase is Bellini’s Norma, which got a coda with a combination of two main opera’s themes —- ‘Deh! Non volerli’ and ‘Ite sul colle’. On the other hand, Liszt’s transcriptions are so faithful that they are called ‘gramophone records of the 19th century’. The greatness of Liszt’s transcriptions are his inventiveness as he can find out all individual piansitic solutions when he encountered various problems in translating mucis from one medium to another. After examining Liszt’s transfer of the Beethoven symphonies, Tovey remarked him that ‘they prove conclusively that Liszt was by far the most wonderful interpreter of orchestral scores on the pianoforte the world is ever likely to see’ Therefore, Liszt helped establish the status of arrangement in the history of music in 19th century.

In the 19th century, after Liszt establishing the ‘arrangement’, more arrangers joined this queue. For instnace, Brahms’ orchestration of his Variations for two pianos on a theme of Haydn (1873); Joachim’s orchestral version of Schubert’s Sonata in C for piano duet d812 (‘Grand Duo’) Even in 20th century, ‘arrangement’ is still important, but new elements are added. For example, in Ravel’s orchestral version (1922) of Pictures at an Exhilbition, he enriched the black-and-while originals of Musorgsky by colours. Then composer-arrangers increasingly appear and they often cross the stylish divide between their own work and that of the past. Schoenberg’s arrangement of Brahms’s G minor Piano Quartet op.25 (1937), gets even more than his earlier ones of pieces by Monn, resulting that Bach and Handel seems to constitute a conscious act of identification with the past. The interpretation of music also affects the ‘arrangement’ of previous work, like Webern’s orchestral version of the six-part ricercare from Bach’s Musical Offering (1935), sets out with the opposite intention of adapting the past to the language of the present. However, Schoenberg uses a slightly expanded Brahmsian orchestra in a more or less Brahmsian way.

In fact, by the turn of the 20th century, people put less respect on the ‘arrangement’. There was a growing insistence on ‘authentic’ performance and a new emphasis on scholarly objectivity embodied by the Urtext. Arrangements in general came to be regarded as second-class music. During the two world wars, few pianists ventured to play the arranged repertories in public. An inimitable treasury of piano music was ignored and forgotten. It is Brahms that declared Liszt’s operatic paraphrases lay ;the true classicism of the piano’, then the spirit of ‘arrangement’ can be kept afterwards.

The influence of Liszt on ‘arrangement’ can also be noticed in today’s commerical world. There are a lot of old popular songs are rearranged to become the latest popular songs, like in Hong Kong ‘分分鐘需要你’ by 林子祥 is rearranged to become a song of a TV programme and is sung by林子祥; ‘Amazing Grace’ is a religious song but is arranged and sung by 容祖兒。 Consequently, although ‘arrangement’ appeared by thousands of years, it has caught people attention largely after Liszt’s arrangement of previous works, and it becomes important since then.

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012-03-22 (published)

Ways of Listening: Aesthetics, Metaphors, and Quotations in Music – Part VI



Part VI

    The work begins with an orchestral tutti playing an “out-of-key” scalic descending melody and is accompanied by a percussive “street beat” pattern.  This opening “mistaken” sound seems to inform the listeners that this piece is neither written for any concert nor amateur band, but is written as a record of the composer’s past listening experience of street performances.  Ives seems to capture such performances from a nebulous memory of childhood.  Although the form this work is not that of a March, the themes are designed in the style of March, portraying a high spirited but affectionate festive atmosphere.  The quoted tunes are always placed on the top of the sonic layers.  Fragment of London Bridge appears most, serving a role similar to that of the Countermelody to support other borrowed tunes.  For example, an altered fragment of The Girl I Left Behind Me follows immediately the first appearance of LondonBridge in mm. 24-28, but the residue of London Bridge is still lingering in the sonic background. 

    As I have mentioned before, Country March Band consists of a hotchpotch of quotations in different styles, but they are molded into a framework of March-like piece.  By adding a collage of tunes related to the main tunes and to one another by melodic resemblance, genre, or extra-musical association, the thoughts of the listener, who may be reminded of other tunes that sound similar, or of pieces the band has played before, or of other musical pieces recently heard, or hear more and less extraneous music in his/her mind at different points, as he/her mind wanders and refocuses.[1]  In fact, it is not important whether a listener could identify all the quotations from the piece.  Just as a daily life event that we do not need to count how many apples, oranges and bananas are there in a basket in order to recognize that it is a basket of fruit.  Now, more important is the entirety, not the partial.  Ives’ uses of a hotchpotch of quotations in the Country Band March produces a similar effect to listeners.  Such a cluster of borrowings, mostly marches and patriotic tunes, and several popular songs surrounding the main tunes, therefore, could never fail to evoke a sense of festive experience in our daily life.  Certainly this is a boisterous and lively moment with procession music of March and Patriotic tunes pervaded.  As such, for listeners who are familiar with the American cultures or New England cultural milieu, the entire borrowed clusters, perhaps, may represent a high-spirit affectionate caricature, reflecting the heydays of Ives’ hometown.  To those listeners of non-native background, for instance, as Hong Kong Chinese, my listening experience could associate to the celebrative occasions related to the Disney Visiting. 

    The procession music is not difficult to recall a HongKongese’s experience of visiting and watching Disney’s Shows in the Park.  In fact Disney is a worldwide symbol of fantasies and dreams.  They significantly represent an illusive world of manufacturing happiness and laughter.  Celebrative music in March style is easily heard in every corner of the Disney world.  Parade music becomes one of the signs of worldwide Disney’s world.  As such, the collage quotations in Country Band March are really the “Disney experience” captured in some Hong Kong listeners’ memory.  The metaphor of “Disney Visiting” is no doubt created from one of the Hong Kong popular cultures.  Apart from seeing quotation in Ives’ music as photos in a photo-album or a painting contained many paintings, we can also understand quotation as a reflection of the past in terms of “flashback effect.”  This is the third metaphor conceptualize our minds on the understanding of quotation.

[1] Burkholder, All Made of Tunes, 386-87.

To Be Continued…..

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012-01-27 (published)

Ways of Listening: Aesthetics, Metaphors, and Quotations in Music – Part V



Part V:

Whether the borrowed tune and the last fading sound is an experience of mourning for the nostalgic loss, or acclaim of the past, a preserved value of the childhood or any other kind is no longer the matter.  What is most important is that the series of quotations juxtaposed in this song is a perception of the sonic world which denies interconnectedness, continuity, but which confers on each moment the character of a mystery, leaving a space for us to search what happened and what was there.  The Quotations in the form of song, therefore, is as evocative as the photo images in a private album.  They can always be capable of linking our distant past with that of the present, bringing us a sense of emotional responses in that particular moment.      


If the different quotations in The Things My Father Loved are like the “photos” collected in an private sonic album, Ives’ another piece, Country Band March, which comprises a hotchpotch of borrowed tunes of March, Folk and Pop, will somewhat resembles a “photo” or “painting” which contains many other sonic photos or paintings.  This comes to the discussion of the second metaphor of quotation. 

Quotation: “Paintings” inside a Sonic Painting


Paintings/photos often depict things.  Things depicted, albeit an image, often have values.  To have things painted and pout on a canvas or recorded down on a photo is unlike buying it and putting it in your house.  If you have a painting/photo, you obtain also the sense of the value of the “thing” it represents.”[1] An art lover is possible to possess all the paintings he liked by owning a painting painted with his all beloved, just like the following painting, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Private Picture Gallery by David Teniers (1582-1649, see example 1).

Example 1: Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in His Private Picture Gallery by David Teniers

Numbers of paintings inside a painting can show Archduke Leopold Wilhelm’s sights: sights of what he may possess and want to possess.  This painting of private picture gallery could be a symbol of his wealth, fame, taste, and contribution.  But these quotes might have more values that they actually acquired.  When we appreciate such painting, we also appreciate the value of the entire collection bestowed upon it.  It is not necessary for a viewer to identify all paintings, but more important is the emotional responses aroused from such perceptive experiences.

Similarly, all quotations collected in Ives’ private sonic album, the piece Country Band March, are “things,” and thus possess values.  Country Band March, in fact, is a vivid sonic picture of an amateur band playing with beats dropped and added, parts of step, miscues, mistranspositions, spontaneous solos and general high spirits.  Interestingly, Wiley Hitchcock calls it “an American equivalent of Mozart’s Musical Joke.”[1]  The borrowed fragments consist of various styles of tune: London Bridge, The Girl Left Behind Me, The Battle Cry of Freedom, Arkansas Traveler, Semper Fideles March, Yankee Doodle, British Grenadiers and at least two popular songs, Violets and My Old Kentucky Home.[2]  Some of the quotes are patriotic and celebrative, while others are nostalgic, folk and popular.  To Ives, capturing all sonic elements of the past in this piece could be a way of preserving the most valued “things.”  These sonic “things” belong to the past, for example, a sense of remembrance and love, or nostalgia of a beloved person, and place, or an experience of past life.  By appearing in form of quotations, these “past” things become present, become values.  When listeners are invited to search what were there inside this collection of sonic photos, what values could we find? 

To Be Continued………

David Leung (theorudavid0

2012-01-11 (published)

[1] Hitchcock, Ives, 73.

[2] James Sinclair lists all borrowed tunes in the program notes of the full score of Country Band March (Bryn Mawr,   Pennsylvania: Merion Music Inc, 1976).

[1] John Berger, Ways of Seeing (London: Biritish Broadcast Corporation and Penguin Books, 1972), 83.

Ways of Listening: Aesthetics, Metaphors, and Quotations in Music – Part IV



Part IV:

Not only does the first quotation in the song The Things Our Father Loved work like a sonic photo that invites us to share the experience with Ives, all the rest of the quoted tunes function similarly.  After the “Kentukcy” tune of “long ago” brings us to Ives’ imagined “home,” the borrowed old folk song of On the Banks of the Wabash comes next.  The piano sonority becomes more and more dissonant.  Perhaps, it is a kind of appassionate dissonance.  The music of “aunt Sarah’s humming from the organ on the main street”[1] is another sonic photo that we can experience.  While the sense of religious faith emanated from the borrowed Gospel of Nettleton is still haunting us, the patriotic song of The Battle Cry of Freedom suddenly intrudes into our muse of devout.  The block chord accompaniment in the right hand and the swing-like skipping bass in the left hand seem to raise listener’s spirit courageously higher and higher.  The effect of the quoted songs now is no longer the halcyon remembrance or pious meditation, but is changed to a kind of patriotic bravey.  But how does this effect influence our sensation and experience?

To listeners, the march-like music stepping restlessly forward until reaching the climax is particularly a high spirited moment.  We can hear the highest sounding of the piano chords, contrasting with the inexorable descending low bass, to reinforce the voice singing, “all red, white and blue, now!”  This is a moment that Ives attains his “liberty,” or more directly, Ives’s “liberty” in terms of ours, that is, a moment of all made of memorable tunes!  Not for a second, a sweet quoted family folk, In the Sweet Bye and Bye, furtively emerges from the biosterious climatic reverberation.  When the running semiquaver arpeggios are still keeping their rapid chromatic motion, listeners’ sensations are caught up again in this conclusive time.  What are the “things” our father loved?  It is an out-of-key, even distorted, nearly unrecognized fragmental tune from the Sweet Bye and Bye, singing, “in my soul of the things our Fathers loved.”  The unresolved G# dominant ninth chord in the piano suspends softly in the open air, seeming to call listeners to search what was there once again.  It is the final sonic photo in Ives’ private collection.

To be Continued…..

David Leung (theorydavid)

2012/01/07 (published)

[1] The text of the second phrase of this song is, “I hear the organ on the

Main Street

corner, Aunt Sarah humming Gospels.”

Ways of Listening: Aesthetics, Metaphors, and Quotations in Music – Part III



Part III:

Quotation: “Photos” in a Sonic Album

It is the barely audible C major piano sound, despite a little mediocre, that unnoticeably sets off a sonic journey at the very beginning of Ives’s song The Things Our Father Loved.  This C major chord not only serves to prepare the incoming of the singer’s weak, and nearly murmured utterance, but also to offer an imagined space for the listener to contemplate, to experience.  The prologue of the song is somewhat anticipatory, seeming to call you to wait for what is to come next.  Music, in this sense, is an adventure – it advances, it arrives.  But what will be followed after the opening C major sonority?  It is a three-note melodic figure 3^  2^  1^  , singing the lyrical words “I think,” which is also confirmed by the piano C major triad once again.  This is the right time for both Ives, the composer, and us, the listeners, to think what are these “things” that “our father” loved.


The familiar quoted tune, My Old Kentucky Home, albeit with different text setting, is one of the fruits from such process of thinking.  The occurrence of quotation here is a privileged moment in unfolding that juxtaposes different moments of past experiences.  On the one hand, to Ives, it could be a moment to mediate and also to seek his nostalgic restlessness and the never fulfilled sense of childhood loss.  Just as David Metzer has commented, “quotation becomes the means by which the composer participated in that cultural scene. Through the gesture, he could represent the figure of the lost child and the growing gap between past and present in which that figure was caught.”[1]  On the other hand, it could be a moment that all senses of childhood loss could be redeemed.  Larry Starr has once showed his agreement to this view by warning against the common “widespread misconception of Ives as a nostalgic composer.”[2]  Also, Burkholder has concluded in the discussion of The Things Our Father Loved with a saying that, “……this is not an exercise in nostalgia for the songs and scenes of the past.”[3]  Doubtless for both scholars, Ives has not mourned the past with quotations.  On the contrary, he did prize the past as a trove of values that need to be, and can be, reclaimed by himself.[4]  All the quoted tunes in this song, including My Old Kentucky Home, are all “things” that represent all values – the natural beauty of Ives’s homeland, the religious faith, the patriotism, the group feeling and the hope for a future reunion with those he loved, in Heaven if not on earth.  As such, this particular moment could probably be the beginning of Ives’s search for his “liberty,”[5] in which all things of value in the past that his father, or whom he loved could be contained.  Ives is extolling the past and its values through the use of quotations.

For listeners, the recognized tune of Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home could be a retrospective moment that invites a search for what happened, and what was there.  Unlike any other parts of the music, a quotation occurred in a particular moment is not merely a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace, like a footprint or a death mask.  Simply put, it works like a private photo-album containing many precious, memorable photos.  From this sense, Ives here is the collector while we, the listeners, are the viewers.  When displaying a private photo-album before our eyes, the collector is inviting us to share with his/her past experiences.  Similarly, the first sonic photo of Stephen Foster’s quoted tune is just a trace, a footprint in this particular moment.  The moment the quotes are heard is the moment we are invited to search for what was there.  But whether listeners can identify the borrowed songs or think of their words is not crucial; what is most important is the character or the style of the songs, each of which represents a type of song that played a distinctive role in our experiences and is endowed with a particular emotional resonance. 

While some listeners are conjured up with the similar emotion of Ives’ nostalgic loss when hearing the rather slow and sustained, even distorted appearance of the quoted tune, others, perhaps, can sense the “liberty” values that the tune represented.  However, to audiences who cannot recognize the quotation, perhaps, a scene of idyll and lyricism may be evoked.  The folk-like melody of Foster’s song is not difficult to express such pastoral aura of a typical American small town in countryside.  However, if we remember the text of the first phrase of My Old Kentucky Home, “the sun shines bright in the old Kentucky home,” our experience of Ives’ “old home” may link to an imagined “place in the soul” that contains “all made of tunes.”[6]  This “home” is definitely a bright and sunny lovely place, which comes from our private experiences, our imaginiation, not very much from Ives.  We, in fact, experience Ives’ experiences in terms of our experiences. 

[1] David Metzer, Quotation and Cultural Meaning in 20th Century, 16.

[2] Larry Starr, A Union of Diversities: Style in the Music of Charles Ives (New York: G. Schirmer, 1992), 52.

[3] Burkholder, All Made of Tunes, 311.

[4] Ibid., 311

[5] The subtitle of this song is “and the greatest of these was Liberty.”

[6] The text of the first phrase of The Things Our Father Loved is, “ I think there must be a place in the soul all made of tunes.”

David Leung (theorydavid)

2011-12-12 (published)

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