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Music transcription by ear

Posted: Fri Jul 01, 2016 8:45 am
by FolkeNauta
Hi fellow Pianophiles,

To start straight away: one of my favorite musical challenges (beside playing the piano professionally) is to transcribe music by ear from recordings. At age 14 I already put to paper the Chopin Tarantella and the Rachmaninov Elegy op. 3/1, among other pieces. Now the original of those pieces can of course be found on sheet music everywhere, but a true challenge is to transcribe music of which there is ONLY a recording. For example, the unfortunate Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt lost most of his manuscripts in a fire in 1970, but some of his pieces turned out to be still existent in a recording. Some of them are already being reconstructed from the recordings.
Do any of you know of similar cases? Of course it would be even better if there was a general need to have a lost piece of music be brought back to life by reconstructing it, and if funds were thus available to pay me for the job (which can take quite some time).

Best regards,

Re: Music transcription by ear

Posted: Fri Jul 01, 2016 9:57 pm
by HullandHellandHalifax
Welcome to Pianophilia Folke, it is good to have new faces that ask interesting questions and so far you are ticking all the boxes.
One of the greatest if not the greatest transcribers by ear was Glazunov, it was a party trick of his friends to have him listen outside a room when a visiting composer was playing his latest piece and then to come in and confound the poor chap by playing it perfectly after having heard it once standing outside the room. I believe thanks to his fantastic memory and gift he was responsible for completing the Borodin 3rd symphony at least in piano score having heard Borodin play it once to him on the piano.
Of course in the field of organ transcriptions from recordings there are a number in the 20th century that come to mind. The great improvisors like Louis Vierne and Pierre Cochereau were recorded and Charles Tournemire did for Vierne what J. Joulain did for Cochereau, transcribing their improvisations. I believe the English organist David Briggs has also transcribed some of the improvised organ symphonies etc. that Cochereau recorded.
There is of course one mammoth task facing you if you have the time and the necessary patience and that is to transcribe from the tapes the 500 or more improvised Sonatas by Gunnar Johansen which are held at the library of the University of Wisconsin I believe.
I am sure there will be more but none that come to mind at this moment, at least not among the pianists.
good luck with your search

Re: Music transcription by ear

Posted: Sat Jul 09, 2016 10:37 am
by FolkeNauta
Thanks for your welcome Brian! Yes, there have been plenty of organ improvisations, and of course in the field of jazz almost everything is improvised. I never heard of Gunnar Johansen before but after you mentioned him I searched around the Internet.
I guess there is much more music on sheet that has never been recorded than recorded music of which the sheets have gone missing :) . But still, after several (world) wars and their bombardments you would expect that quite some scores have been burned to ashes.

Re: Music transcription by ear

Posted: Sat Jul 09, 2016 10:59 am
by HullandHellandHalifax
Hello Folke,
Yes you are absolutely right about the destruction of scores and recordings too during the world wars. However I am sure you are also well aware that many of the archives, both on paper and on tape that were in existence after the 2nd world war in the old East Germany disappeared to Russia and other places. From personal knowledge I know of one East German composer, Hans-Georg Burghardt, whose manuscripts were at home in Breslau and lost them all during the blitz but before that time recordings had been made and publishers held copies of his music. After the war he reused the Opus numbers again and very rarely an old manuscript surfaces from the pre-war days. I am convinced that many more exist as he wrote them out by hand for friends and colleagues both before and after the war. The recordings however have not surfaced yet but I hope still exist in an unknown archive in Russia.
You may be interested to know that his works are in the process of being published by a Music Institute in Regensburg, I reset the scores in Finale from the manuscripts for the publisher of a number of the 12 Piano sonatas and the Cello Sonata.
Of course he is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to music lost during the conflicts and here's hoping more music that was thought lost is found again.
best wishes