For example, she writes: “Performing the piano version of The Rite of Spring, which was created by Stravinsky for the Ballets russes rehearsals, brings this massive work down to the size of four-hands. The experience is much like seeing the composition of a large painting outlined on paper. Just as color, scale and texture are absent in Picasso’s 1907 study for Demoiselles, the piano version of The Rite removes Stravinsky’s brilliant and seductive orchestration, leaving us, simply, with musical lines. The pitches and rhythms remain unchanged, but the color and dynamic scale are dramatically reduced as instrumental timbres are replaced by the homogenous sound of the piano.”
She continues: “Most composers work at the piano, using the keyboard instrument much as a painter may use pencil and paper. The first score of a large orchestral work is usually written within the staves of piano music, with penciled notations for future orchestration. And so listening to the piano version, with instrumental colors removed, brings unexpected insights — beyond the fun for the audience of watching two pianists scramble to produce the equivalent sounds of 100 musicians. We see with immediacy the hand of the composer, the lines of compositional form. We quite literally experience a black and white version of the score, and in so doing, the musical materials are thrust starkly into the foreground. The harmonies are defined only by pitch; there is no mix of reeds, strings and brass to inform the sound.”
Read Sarah Rothenberg’s complete program notes here. Notes copyright Sarah Rothenberg.