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.


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.

It makes more sense the less you think about it.

I learned that this bar was a nasty polymeter only a few days before my recital, so I just made sure that whatever gesture I did was enough to lead to a clear downbeat in the next measure. Counting this would have been the other option...

Dotted quarter in 11/8 = quarter in 4/4

The other 11/8 bar comes a few lines later. The difficulty with this one lies in the annoyingly vague metric modulation mark that is in the score but not in the cello part. There are no 12/8 bars anywhere near this measure, so as far as I (and my accompanist) can tell, each dotted quarter in 11/8 is the same as a regular quarter in the preceding 4/4. The "eight note of 12/8" marking refers to eighth note triplets in 4/4, an otherwise totally different note value, but one that kind of makes sense if you look at what comes before in the orchestra.

Transpositions and Rewrites

There is an article by Sam Suggs in Bass World Volume 41, No. 1, 2018 where he discusses creating "living transcriptions" that "preserve the musical work through analogies of both composition and execution" and avoid "unnecessary" virtuosity. Samuel Adler also talks about transcriptions sounding "necessarily different" in their new medium, and given the perils of playing cello repertoire on bass, I knew going in that I would have to make some changes in order to create a successful transcription. Thankfully, the changes I had to make were minor: a couple of short re-writes and a few octave transpositions.

Rewrite 1: 1 after reh. 10

The first rewrite just involved turning octaves into something more bass-friendly. Fourths and fifths seemed idiomatic and harmonically-neutral. The second rewrite isn't pictured since all I did was omit a note from some arpeggiated sixteenths to create a triplet.

I didn't have any strict rules for transposing. Most of the soaring, sorrowful melodies I kept at pitch because I felt the original octave better aligned with the character I was seeking. I took down other passages when they became "unnecessarily virtuosic," like this one:

As played on bass. Still rough from a rough draft.

Sometimes, I took lines down in the middle of a passage to avoid playing past the fingerboard or to keep the bass in a flattering register. This one occurs just after reh. 28. This is the third statement of this figure, and it's where I drop an octave (on the circled A) so I'm not playing a fifth past the end of my fingerboard a few lines later. Plus, this is where the line begins to reascend anyway so that transposition is less discernible.

Going beyond the fingerboard's end wasn't an automatic qualifier for transposition, however. In many cases, those really high notes can be played by pulling the string to the side or using a harmonic, as you can see me do in this photo. I mostly did this for weepy passages at moderate dynamics, so at least I can say I tried to be tasteful...


I still have more to talk about, but I will end this post here for now. Check out part 1 and this tangentially-related post on cross-bar tuplets if you missed them and let me know your thoughts on Schelomo in the comments below!