In a Musical ‘Trans’

THE PREFIX ‘TRANS’ has recently acquired an independent, stand-alone status. Indeed, in mod with-it lingo you may now use it as a noun for a person of a certain ilk or state of evolution without batting an eye.

However, I’m devoting this posting to that Latin prefix when used specifically with the suffixes ‘-scription’ and ‘-scriber’. Even with the noun ‘creation’ I have occasionally used ‘trans-‘ to form my own particular neologism in my blogosphere since launching it a couple of years ago.

But let’s get back to basics! I’ve long been entranced, may I say transfixed, by the wealth of magical musical transcriptions of works by eminent composers that are performed with aplomb by nimble-fingered musicians – mainly pianist-  or violinist-transcribers. For the uninitiated, “a transcription is a subtle arrangement of a musical composition for an instrument or instruments other than that for which it was written.” It is not just a straightforward arrangement, which is a more literal reproduction of an original score.

Take as an example that Bach’s chorale preludes have received so much attention from our pianist-transcribers. Other organ works of Bach have been fairly ransacked from Franz Liszt’s day to our own, by none with greater insight and mastery than by Busoni. One may then conclude that the task of an inspired arrangement – read transcription – is justified as it is creative, serves in its own way to interpret and illumine the original – and leaves one, as it were, in a ‘trans’!

Now let’s get down to piano transcriptions created and performed by such virtuosi as that romantic master, Earl Wild, who illustrates my reasoning.


For instance, Earl’s recasting of George Gershwin standards is a pearl of cascading notes interlaced with the enchanting themes of each tune or song. Then there are his ‘takes’ on the music of Bach, Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Strauss, and on and on.

Listen now to his enduring rendition of Johann Strauss II/Tausig’s Man lebt nur einmal (One Lives But Once):

Another pianist, Priya Mayadas, is my youngest daughter.
priyamayadasjpgShe imparts her selection of a beautiful transcription with just the right feel for, and lilt of, Old Vienna.

Below is a live recording of her recital in Weill Recital Hall/Carnegie Hall, New York of violinist Fritz Kreisler’s Liebesleid (Love’s Sorrow) taken from his Alt-Wiener Tanzweisen (Old Viennese Dance Melodies) and arranged for piano by Sergei Rachmaninoff:

References: Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians; My Miami Journal

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Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

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