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Gareth Montanarello

Transcribing Schelomo: Part 2

Finally getting around to part 2 of these Schelomo transcription blogs. This post is mostly going to be a summary of how I practiced this piece and some of the decisions I made in regards to the actual transcription. Read part 1 here if you missed it!


Solo or Orchestral Tuning?


I decided to play my recital in orchestral tuning, a decision that was largely determined by this piece. Piano parts in solo and orchestral tuning exist for Bottesini and Arpeggione so tuning didn't matter for those pieces, but Schelomo presented some unique challenges since it had to remain in the same key and could theoretically be played in either tuning. I knew the existing transcriptions all used solo tuning, so I went through and noted where things would be easier in solo tuning and vice versa.


A week of practice and experiments yielded results that were contrary to my expectations. It turns out that this piece becomes fairly idiomatic for the bass when played in orchestral tuning, not solo tuning. This is evident even in the opening lines:

Solo strings might make the first two measures a little easier, but you would lose the resonant, reliable open strings and harmonics for the third and fifth measures.


Side note, most of the musical examples come from my transcription. Excuse any formatting errors, I had to take the examples from rough drafts since I lost the final in a freak accident involving a backup folder and a Christmas tune...


Orchestral tuning also facilitates this section. The open G's are brief moments of rest that give you time to shift back to the lower positions while the D and G harmonics can be used to frame the notes in the upper position:


There is also a lot of quartal harmony and lines like this that can be played almost entirely with natural harmonics (more on this bar later):

Bloch divides the piece with several expressive cadenzas, and thankfully each one is in a resonant bass key with, you guessed it, access to harmonics.

Obviously more goes into determining if something is idiomatic to bass than just harmonics, but given how challenging this piece is, the familiarity and the safety of those harmonics frees up a lot of brain space, brain space that can go towards more important matters like interpretation or fitting into with accompaniment.


Scales


All the practice I have put into strange scales (and part 2) paid off with this piece. Many of the scalar lines Bloch wrote are modes that include augmented seconds and several consecutive half-steps, so I spent time practicing scales that include those things. I am 100% not an expert on Jewish music, but working on the modes of the harmonic minor got me in the ballpark, and often I found it easier to simply regroup the notes of a particular passage into a synthetic scale rather than figure out which scale he was actually using.


Modes of the Harmonic Minor

  • Harmonic Minor 1 - 2 - b3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - 7

  • Locrian #6 1 - b2 - b3 - 4 - b5 - 6 - b7

  • Ionian Augmented 1 - 2 - 3 - 4 - #5 - 6 - 7

  • Dorian #4 1 - 2 - b3 - #4 - 5 - 6 - b7

  • Phrygian Dominant 1 - b2 - 3 - 4 - 5 - b6 - b7

  • Lydian #2 1 - #2 - 3 - #4 - 5 - 6 - 7

  • Superlocrian bb7 1 - b2 - b3 - b4 - b5 - b6 - bb7


The 11/8 Bars


Bloch riddled Schelomo with polyrhythms, (incessant) time signature changes, metric modulations, and a couple of odd polymeters, but there are two measures of 11/8 that I want to touch on since they have the potential to cause a lot of problems. This is the first one:

I forgot the "accel." in this draft.

At first glance it's not an issue: it's just a bar of 11/8. But take a look at the full score and you see it is a bar of 11/8 superimposed over an orchestra playing in 4/4.