Violin Transcriptions

Greetings and welcome to a new Flute Friday.

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I don’t know about you but I am drawn to transcriptions of violin works on the flute. Perhaps it is my love for romantic music and the dreams I had of being a soloist in my younger days. Or perhaps I am just curious about the way the same music sounds on different instruments using different tone color palates. In today’s blog, we will sit back, grab a cold drink, and enjoy a handful of the most famous transcriptions of violin works, comparing various videos/recordings from renowned soloists on each instrument. What do you think are the biggest difference between transcriptions? Please comment below!

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Prokofiev Sonata

Probably the most famous of the transcriptions, the Prokofiev Sonata actually started as a flute sonata that was later transcribed for the violin. The Flute Sonata in D was completed in the summer of 1943. At that same time, Prokofiev was working on music for “Ivan the terrible”. The flute sonata in D was first performed in Moscow, Russia on December 7, 1943 by Nicolai Kharkovsky (flute) and Sviatoslav Richter (piano). It was later transcribed for violin in 1944, by the composer with the help of violinist David Oistrakh as Op. 94a. The violin version was first performed by David Oistrakh (violin) and Lev Oborin, Piano, on June 17, 1944.


Franck Sonata

According to the Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company website, “Cesar Franck’s Sonata for Piano and Violin is one of the most treasured works in the violin repertoire, a masterpiece of cyclic form with a gracefulness and expressive force almost paradigmatic for the age of musical Romanticism. This work was composed in 1886 and was dedicated to the Belgian violinist and composer Eugene Ysaye. After Franck’s death in 1890 the original publisher of the Sonata, the Parisian house Julien Hamelle, announced an arrangement of the work for flute in 1910. However it has not been possible to locate any copy of this publication. That the flute version of Franck’s Sonata has found a permanent place in the chamber music repertoire is primarily the achievement of Jean-Pierre Rampal who frequently performed his own arrangement of the work. There were no idiomatic violin techniques to overcome, and the cantabile solo part, with its broadly arched melodies, seems perfectly natural on a wind instrument. The present flute arrangement largely adopts the original violin part unchanged, merely transposing those passages that go beneath the flute s range. In such cases the change of register begins early enough to avoid disruptions to the melodic line and the musical context. The balance between the solo instrument and the (unaltered) piano accompaniment remains intact.”


Introduction et Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saëns

The Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso was originally intended to be the rousing finale to Saint-Saëns’ first violin concerto Op. 20, though its success as a solo composition at its first performance led Saint-Saëns to publish it separately. The premiere took place on April 4, 1867 at the Champs-Élysées, with Pablo de Sarasate playing the solo part and the composer conducting.


Paganini Caprice #24

Caprice No. 24 in A minor is the final caprice of Niccolò Paganini’s 24 Caprices, and a famous work for solo violin. The caprice, in the key of A minor, consists of a theme, 11 variations, and a finale. His 24 Caprices were probably composed in 1807, while he was in the service of the Baciocchi court. It is widely considered one of the most difficult pieces ever written for the solo violin. It requires many highly advanced techniques such as parallel octaves and rapid shifting covering many intervals, extremely fast scales and arpeggios including minor scales, left hand pizzicato, high positions, and quick string crossings. Also, there are many double stops, including thirds and tenths. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caprice_No.24(Paganini)).


Mendelssohn Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64

According to Calvin Dotsey, “During the summer of 1838, Felix Mendelssohn wrote to his longtime friend and collaborator Ferdinand David: “I should like to write a violin concerto for you next winter. One in E minor runs through my head, the beginning of which gives me no peace.” Indeed, it would not give him peace for another six years, when he at last found time and inspiration amidst his busy concert schedule to complete it. He consulted David regularly throughout the composition process regarding violin technique and, ever the perfectionist, continued to make minor adjustments to the concerto unto its premiere in Leipzig on March 13, 1845. Composed at the height of Mendelssohn’s brilliant career, the concerto became an instant classic and remains one of the cornerstones of the repertoire.” https://houstonsymphony.org/mendelssohn-violin-concerto/


Khachaturian Concerto

According to Daniel Jaffé, “In 1939 Khachaturian heard first-hand for the first time Armenian folk music and singing, elements of which infused the melodic writing in his Violin Concerto composed the following year. Working closely with the Soviet Union’s star violinist David Oistrakh, he completed the Concerto in just over two months in the summer of 1940. Much of the work’s character was enhanced by Oistrakh’s suggestions; indeed, the violinist rejected Khachaturian’s original long cadenza in the first movement, replacing it with a masterfully composed version of his own.

Possibly due to its direct, lively and melodious character, Khachaturian’s Concerto has all too routinely been underestimated. Yet for all its ebullience, most apparent in the opening and final movements, melancholy never seems far away. Perhaps the Concerto’s heart is to be found in the twilight world of the central Andante sostenuto, one of whose themes derives from a funeral song Khachaturian originally composed for the film Zangezur (1938). For all its bitter-sweet quality and the cool Gymnopédie-style opening, there is a sense of grief that is finally unassuageable, met with a strikingly bleak ending as the soloist’s final sustained A flat remains at odds with the orchestra’s chillingly implacable A minor descent. Yet the work ends with one of the most ebullient finales in concerto literature. No wonder the Concerto became so popular during World War Two, its mournful slow movement speaking so eloquently to a people resisting a brutal invasion, followed by this brisk and ultimately optimistic conclusion.” https://www.boosey.com/cr/music/Aram-Khachaturian-Violin-Concerto-in-D-minor/3465


Sonata in E-flat Major, Op. 18 by Richard Strauss

According to John Henken, “Strauss was also an accomplished pianist and violinist, and it shows in the idiomatic virtuosity of the Violin Sonata he composed in 1887 (premiered the following year). The composer was only 23 at the time, but he already had behind him a substantial body of abstract instrumental music, including two symphonies, two concertos, two piano trios, a piano quartet, a string quartet, and a cello sonata, as well as dozens of songs. The Violin Sonata was completed just before Strauss began his first burst of tone poem creation – Don JuanDeath and TransfigurationMacbeth – and it often presages the densely woven, highly interactive texture of those works, although it would be just as apt to remark that the tone poems continue the instrumental brilliance of the earlier abstract pieces. The nobly aspiring outer movements remind us that E-flat was also to be the key of Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben (A Hero’s Life), as it was of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. Consummately crafted, they have a refined sparkle that overcomes the dark intrusions with confident energy. Strauss had already come to regard sonata form as a “hollow shell,” but one that he filled here with characteristic thematic ebullience and sophistication. The first movement shifts meter freely for different themes, and even has the two instruments playing in different meters at one point. The Finale begins with a hushed, premonitory prelude for the piano, before launching the energetic main theme, which is closely related to the opening (and emphatic closing) of the first movement. It is emotionally and technically turbulent, but relatively stable harmonically and metrically until Strauss shifts into the triple-meter variant in C-flat presaged by the piano introduction. The Violin Sonata was composed the year that Strauss first met the soprano Pauline de Ahna, whom he would later marry, and it is not hard to hear suggestions of romantic ardor in the lush lyricism of the work. This is particularly true of the rapt, long-breathed Improvisation, the Andante cantabile middle movement, which proved so popular that Strauss allowed it to be published separately.” https://www.laphil.com/musicdb/pieces/3483/sonata-in-e-flat-major-op-18

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What is your favorite violin transcription? How do you think the flute transcription compares to the original violin work (besides the obvious fact we cannot perform double stops, chords, or pizzacato)? Are there any violin transcriptions that should be added to this best-of list? Please comment below!

Happy fluting!

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