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Subject: Re: orchestration and tuning (diapason)
From: Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Jon Goldberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Wed, 21 Jun 2017 20:20:00 -0400
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Transpositions go UP as well - it's not always about compensating for notes that are too 
high. The most common example, certainly, is sopranos taking "Una voce poco fa" up a 
half step. One of the odder ones is Sutherland taking up "Tu vedrai che amore in terra" 
(the cabaletta following the Miserere in Trovatore) up a half step. (It's on the full-length 
recording she did with Pav and her hubby - and she also did this at the Met.)

We seem to have this iconic picture of every composer being like some mad Beethoven-
esque figure, sternly scratching notes onto manuscript with quill and ink, with a sort of "zo 
it is written, zo it shall be done" attitude. What's closer to the truth is that many 
composers would quite often (and still do) go to great lengths to tailor their music to the 
performers - singers and musicians alike - so that the music can actually be performed. 
That includes keys being changed. A composer like Bach, who often recycled music and 
adapted them for other instruments (or turned them into vocal pieces) seemed always to 
consider a new key for such an adaptation, so that the fit would be right. One example is 
the Concerto for 2 Harpsichords (BWV 1062) in C minor, which was based on the famous 
Double Violin Concerto (BWV 1043) in D minor - the former was transposed because the 
harpsichord didn't go quite as high as the violins did. ;-) 

And certainly any singers or pianists who have done lieder know that a good deal of the 
standard song rep is published in "low voice" and "high voice" versions, and often "middle 
voice" as well. Regardless of what key the songs were actually penned in. And singers have 
and do choose by individual songs at times - so that some performances of song cycles 
might actually involve keys from various editions. (So much for sticking to some 
immovable grand scheme of key progressions from song to song, lol.)

The main reason, really, that more opera doesn't get transposed is the practicality issue. 
It's one thing to transpose a piano accompaniment or a small chamber piece. When you're 
dealing with a huge number of individual orchestral parts, that's a lot of work. So, though 
there are certainly a number of standard transpositions available in any opera company's 
library ("Di quella pira" or "Che gelida manina" for example), doing new ones is costly. 

Les mentioned "bridges." Well, of course, with most operas being through-composed 
pieces, in order to effect a transposition, SOMETHING has to get rewritten at some point to 
get in and out of the new key. What's funny is - though I don't begrudge transpositions - 
when a tenor does take "Pira" or "Gelida" down, and with my having perfect pitch, I can 
always tell where that "bridge" happens - and they always sound weaker to me musically. 
So, though I'm fine with the tenor needing to do it, I do think the transitional moments do 
take away just a bit of musical impact where they happen. But, so be it. 

This happens all the time on Broadway as well. Say, a replacement star in a role might 
need a certain song in a different key, but the dance arrangement that follows should 
obviously stay as was - so the musical director or someone involved in the arranging for 
the show has to come up with a way to transition in or out of the new vocal key, etc. If it's 
done well, it's hardly noticeable unless of course you know the original arrangements inside 
out lol. But, I will say that lots of Broadway fans will clutch pearls over transpositions as 
much as some opera buffs do - "oh my god, she's not singing in the original key!!" The 
fallacy is, there is no such thing as the "original key" per se. The composer generally writes 
the song in the key that he can play/sing it in most easily, and later it's tailored for the 
singer. (And sometimes we do have the documents to prove it - looking at Sondheim's 
manuscript for "Send In The Clowns," he wrote it a third higher than it wound up in the 
show. And at the time he wrote it. he most likely knew that wouldn't be Glynis Johns' key, 
but that didn't matter at that moment.)

So - as I said, the history of composition often involves composers tailoring keys, etc, to 
the performers involved. Transposing is not the "shanda" that some people tend to think it 
is. 

As far as the high F in Puritani - well, as we all know, none of those high tenor notes are 
sung the way they would have been back in their day. Certainly that F was still quite high 
in its own context, but none of those high notes were written to be sung in chest voice. So, 
we're now stuck with various choices - tenors who want to honor the note in a 
contemporary head voice style, or a few who think they can actually do it in chest - or 
those who would rather adapt the moment for a more practical range and sing a Db 
instead. What Bellini would want were he alive to hear this today is anyone's guess lol. 







On Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:32:33 -0500, Les Mitnick <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

>Hi All:
>     Only my own personal opinion which only reflects my own feelings.  I do not have 
perfect pitch either (I guess I have approximate pitch in that I can certainly tell if a singer 
is veering flat or sharp). I started studying piano when I was five (I begged for them and 
my parents were thrilled to indulge me).  I also started listening to opera very early on.  
Until around twenty years ago, I felt transpositions to be a definite "no-no". I had far more 
respect for a singer who tried for a top note and failed than for a singer who would even 
think of transposition.
>     I've moderated my feelings about this considerably. After doing a lot of listening, I 
discovered that in "Norma", both Milanov and Ponselle indulged in transpositions; Tebaldi 
transposed by a half or whole key the finale of Act One of "Traviata"; Corelli transposed "Di 
Quella Pira" downwards into B; other tenors transposed in "Boheme, Marilyn Horne 
transposed "O don fatale" in "Don Carlo" (a role she had no business singing in the first 
place), and I'm sure there are many other instances where singers have transposed 
downwards, or perhaps relinquished a top note immediately after arriving there (Milanov 
seemed to be prone to this on the high C in "O Patria Mia" (though her top C on the RCA 
commercial recording is superb and beautiful ----- no doubt due to the fact that there was 
ample opportunity for her to get it right free of live performance tension).
>     Callas and Sutherland got people used to hearing a top E flat at the end of Act I of 
Traviata because major Violetas before them --- Steber, Albanese, Novotna, Bori simply 
didn't have the note, and for Tebaldi it was a foregone conclusion since she sang the aria 
downwards anyway, but we know that she had no high D (if sung in the key of G major) 
But I would imagine that Melba, Galli-Curci, and sopranos of their period DID and they 
sang it in the original key of A flat. Everyone knows that in "Anna Bolena", a very late Joan 
Sutherland assumption, she had the cabaletta to the Mad Scene transposed down into D 
flat from E flat.  She manages the D flat, but the "bridge" written by Bonynge) to get her 
into the key of D flat from E flat is very strange and not at all pleasant to the ear.
>     I don't expect ANY tenor to take that insane high F at the end of "Puritani".  
Pavarotti's falsetto tone on the F on the Decca recording is NOT what I wanted to hear.  
For me, a high F from a tenor is simply asking too much, and I've never heard any tenor 
sing that awful note with a full voice and sound even tolerable.
>     I've learned to tolerate downward transpositions, such as those I've noted above - but 
I do not sanction a singer employing "bridges" to move from one key to another.  It 
sounds terrible and the whole melodic line is blemished.  
>> On June 21, 2017 at 8:53 AM Jean Michel Pennetier <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>> 
>> 
>> I haven’t a perfect pitch. If I’m exposed to an aria alone, “Che gelida 
manina” or “Nessun dorma”, I certainly won’t be able to tell if it's transposed 
down or not. It's easier during a performance : you "know" when the tenor is transposing 
down “La Pira” and usually you can feel the lack of brightness.
>> But for belcanto, it’ a completely different story for me : I'm usually shocked by a 
transposition : in many Puritani’s last act for example.
>> In other words, are there works, composers, styles that support better transposition 
than others ?
>> 
>> Jean-Michel.
>> 
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