Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Oh Elgar

This morning on the way to school I heard a snippet of Elgar's orchestration of Handel's Overture in D minor on ABC Classic Breakfast. Heck! it was AWFUL!

Why oh why did he have to do it? There were massive trombones in big walls of sound, booming away in what should have been a nice Baroque walking bass. There was a screaming piccolo. Now, I have nothing against piccolos - for obvious reasons - but that piccolo should have been gagged and put back in its box. And there were tense vibrating violins all over the place. Urkle.

It was interesting, though, pondering the fashion for orchestrating different repertoire at different stages in history. Stokowski did a bunch of these things, not quite as awful as the Elgar but still not a good idea. I once had to orchestrate one of Boulez's Structures which is originally for two pianos and has no meter. The only way to do it was very sparsely indeed, and of course put in a meter because funnily enough musicians en masse like to know when to come in and how long to play for. Fortunately the thing was never heard, as it was an examination question, but it was actually a really good thing to do for the technical challenge.

Thank goodness that changing entirely the character of a work from a certain period by adding bits here and there is no longer such a good idea. I wonder if Handel would agree.


Katie said...

Love it! A fascinating peek into your magical music world.

Maria said...

I should clarify that I certainly don't think all orchestrations of existing works are awful hideous travesties! Ravel's orchestration of the Mussorgsky "Pictures at an Exhibition" is just brilliant, as is the "Alborada del Gracioso". But really, Mr Elgar, what were you thinking?!