Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Piano Transcriptions of Famous Symphonic Works

 "To compare Gould's piano version [of the Beethoven 5th] to an orchestral version would be like comparing a great wine to a great meal." - an Amazon reviewer

Well they are not all symphonic works, but Piano transcriptions of famous works for a solo instrument or voice, an ensemble of instruments and/or voices, or even a piece originally for solo or ensemble piano doesn't look like a more adorable title.

This playlist features piano transcriptions of Beethoven's nine symphonies (by Liszt), Dvorak's New World Symphony, late symphonies of Mozart and Schubert, Mahler's Symphony No.1 "Titan", Bruckner's 2nd, Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, Debussy's La Mer and his arrangement of Wagner, Tchaikovsky's Symphony No.4 and 6 "Pathétique", Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring, Prokofiev's Symphony No.1 "Classical", Smetana's symphonic poems My Country, Shostakovitch's Symphony No.10 (played by the composer) and his piano arrangement of Honegger's Symphonie Liturgique. And Glenn Gould's last recording, his piano transcription of Wagner.

As well as chamber works such as Mendelssohn's Octet, Franck's Violin Sonata (by Cortot), Richard Strauss' Serenade For 13 Wind Instruments (by the composer), Schumann's piano quartet (by Brahms) and quintet (by Clara Schumann). Amazingly, there are even piano arrengments (reductions?) of Fauré and Verdi's requiems, Mozart's Masonic Funeral Music, and Beethoven's Missa Solemnis.

Too many Liszt transcription of romantic lieders out there, so I only put in some hightlights, for Bach it's the same (virtually all Bach played on piano are transcriptions). In my other playlists you can find Brahms's own transcription for most of his symphonic and chamber works, and piano four-hand version of Mozart and Beethoven operas. I left them out of this one to avoid duplication.

I don't think there would be an organ transcription playlist so I also included organ transcription of the Mahler 5th and Bruckner 8th.

Here's the Spotify playlist: Piano Transcriptions (335 tracks, total time: 1 day) It may work better in Album view (easier to tell one piece from another) If you find other interesting transcriptions please leave a comment or send to my Spotify inbox. Thanks.

If you find this one too overwhelming, go to the end of the playlist and listen to James Rhodes play the solo piano version of the Romance from Chopin's Concerto No.1.


  1. Thank you for this - I love playing and listening to orchestral transcriptions on the piano. I remember sitting in the front row of a thrilling Duo Crommelynck recital about 20 years ago, and also a 4H version of the Tchaikovsky 6 at the Edinburgh Festival.

    One of the masters of the form was Earl Wild - his Art of the Transcription is on Spotify.

    I'm a big fan of Godowsky's "Renaissance" transcriptions of (pre-)Baroque works. Some of my favourite renditions are by Edvard Syomin on the Russian Piano School disc.

    There's a disc of Rimsky-Korsakov works by Artur Pizarro and Vita Panomariovaite: Scheherezade, Capriccio Espagnol,...

    If you really want to go wild, listen to some of the transcriptions for four or six pianos e.g. Orford Pianos doing themes from Bizet's Carmen,

    There's other great combos, sadly not on Spotify: Gershwin Piano Quartet, and Anderson/Roe duo (check their Billy Jean transcription on Youtube)

  2. Thanks Mike, I added the recordings your mentioned into the playlist, and embedded the Bill Jean video, it's such a delight to watch and listen to.

  3. Oh, brilliant! Saw it on Reddit. Thanks. :-)

  4. Very impressed, many old favorites here.
    Only by listening can i tell who each symphony was
    written by. If I did not know, how would i find out.
    For instance No 1 "Classical" is Prokofiev's.
    How do i find thia info within Spotify.
    How does this metadata work, where do i get it.
    I take it that it is not always avaiable???
    Exccuse my super annuated ingornarnce. Love the
    depth of your classical listings, stuff long thought
    to have vanished in some cases.

  5. Great playlist! Thanks. Piano transcriptions are getting more and more obscure, but in Japan there's a trend that is reviving this art form. Very talented pianists are taking heavy metal songs (typically from anime) and transcribing them using classical piano techniques. The results are very popular, with some transcriptions even getting several million views on YouTube.

    Unlike the fantastic Anderson/Roe duet above that extend the harmonic structure of the song, or even the Volodos Turkish March which retains the original chord structure but adds harmonic coloring, the Japanese transcriptions typically remain completely faithful to the original harmonics of the songs. This stays in the tradition of Liszt and Busoni. However, the Japanese transcriptions use classical techniques in interesting and fun ways to create intense, driving rhythms. The results bridge classical piano with today's pop music surprisingly comfortably.

    Some of the better transcriptions are by a pianist who goes by the handle "Animenz". I'd recommend these as a start:

    Guren no Yumiya - from Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan)
    My Dearest - from Guilty Crown
    Jiyuu no Tsubasa - piano duet with TehIshter, also from Shingeki no Kyojin

    When you search, just add "piano" or "Animenz" to the title and you should get quickly to the youtube videos. I'd also google the original songs for a sense of what these transcribers are accomplishing.

    I've found these transcriptions are great at getting young people interested in classical piano. The two pieces from Attack on Tital are particularly popular because that show has been imported to America on regular TV and the related video games retain the original music (google "teens react to Attack on Titan" and you'll see that about half the teens are already familiar with the show).

    I'm glad that in Japan the piano, and piano transcriptions, are so popular. Despite their harmonic simplicity, I don't think the pieces above should be dismissed, because the effectiveness with which they translate heavy metal and other pop music genres to piano is both novel and impressive.

    Thanks again!

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