Piano Transcriptions

Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 (1st movement)

  • Vienna Philharmonic | Carlos Kleiber | Deutsche Grammophon 2007
  • Piano transcription by Liszt: Lambis Vassailidis 2017

As a pianist myself I have occasionally had to suffer through playing some pretty terrible transcriptions of orchestral music (accompanying an amateur dramatic society’s rehearsals of Gilbert and Sullivan springs to mind!).  I think they can sometimes be very clever and effective however, and this is a good example.

Beethoven’s first movement of this famous symphony is very dramatic and I think the piano can convey the drama reasonably well – Liszt uses lots of octaves to help with this as well as some deep rumbling bass passages.  What I think the piano version misses is the symphony orchestra’s variety of colour; however ingeniously you write for the piano you can’t quite recreate the difference in sound between the strings, woodwind and brass.  The crescendos are also much more extreme and dramatic in the symphonic version, particularly because these instruments are capable of crescendoing through a sustained note, which the piano can’t do.  Liszt’s version does I think capture the spirit of Beethoven’s composition though, and he cleverly manages to incorporate most of the melodic lines and harmonies into the piano part (albeit for a rather virtuoso pianist!).




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