Sunday, January 20, 2019

Debussy for violin and guitar

This is another in my series of posts of transcriptions I have made for violin and guitar. The inspiration for these was the desire to have something to play with my violinist friend. We found the usual repertoire of Giuliani et al to pall rather quickly and she begged me not to make her learn the Paganini sonatas (though we have played a lovely little piece by Paganini that is not so technically difficult). So I started transcribing what I thought might work on violin and guitar. The two Shostakovich preludes I put up recently certainly qualify as does the piece I am putting up today, one of my favourite Debussy preludes "Des pas sur la neige" which translates as "Footsteps in the snow." this is from his first book of preludes for piano. Here is the transcription. Again, there is no fingering for either instrument. I have made as few changes as possible from the original. The guitarist will have to work out the fingerings for some passages as the harmonies get rather complex!

The score poses a couple of interesting philosophical questions as well. I am largely of the school of thought that instrumental music does not express garden variety emotions as such, but rather moods and atmosphere. But Debussy certainly challenges that with this piece. An integral part of the score are the textual expressive indications, one of which we run into at the very beginning. The tempo indication is not too bad: "triste et lent" which means "sad and slow" but what are we to make of the instruction for the accompaniment: "Ce rhythme doit avoir la valeur sonore d'un fond de paysage triste et glace"? "This rhythm needs to have the sonic value of a deep countryside sad and frozen"? Uh, ok, how does that effect how you are going to play this rather subtle rhythm? Whatever I am going to do with that rhythm likely can't be put into words, so how do the words Debussy wrote influence how we play? Good philosophical question which I do not have the slightest intention of answering in this post. The "sad" part can be expressed with a dragging or lethargic treatment, but the frozen? There is also a challenging instruction for the violin on page two where it says a melody should be played "Comme un tendre et triste regret." Again, the sad should be possible, but the tender regret? What I suspect performers do is to read the instruction and try the melody in different ways until it feels a bit like the text suggests.

In any case, this is an absolutely lovely piece and it works very well indeed on violin and guitar. Try it out and let me know what you think! Here is a performance on piano.


Maury said...

The violin triple stop in m12 is not possible at the stated pianissimo. Maybe depending on the bow a mf could be managed but forte is far safer for triple stops.

Bryan Townsend said...

Funny, I have performed this several times with a violinist and she never complained about the dynamic of that chord?

Maury said...

I don't think that she would complain about something like that. Did she play it louder or did she finesse it with the Gb as a grace note and then a double stop? I'm just noting that triple stops are quite tricky at pianissimo. If the piece wasn't overall so quiet and ethereal I wouldn't have mentioned it.

Bryan Townsend said...

I will have to ask her!