Rearrangement of left-hand music for two hands


My own opinion about this is very firmly against it - even if I - of course - may be convinced that it is done with the best intentions. But - there are musical, practical and ethical issues which should be seriously considered:

1. Many of the works - especially for piano and other instruments together - are written in a very special way so that the other instruments or an entire orchestra takes care of those musical lines and textures that would be difficult or even impossible to bring out with only one hand. Rearranging the music for two hands would then mean that you would have to re-score the whole piece. The works by Franz Schmidt and Erich Wolfgang Korngold are very good examples here.

2. A pianist with two well functioning hands can play (or should be able to play) with one hand alone. For obvious reasons the opposite is not possible.

3. For the suddenly invalidated pianist a whole world collapses: Never again will he or she be able to play the great concertos of Mozart, Beethoven or Brahms - or any their great solo works. If he wants to fight back at Fate and stay in business, he will be compelled to playing the works written or arranged for one hand. Even though the repertory is enormous with hundreds of suitable works - it is the sad fact that there is no Emperor concerto, no Tchaikovsky B flat minor, no Mozart D minor K466  etc. among them. It just takes that little respect to realize how important it is to leave the works written for one hand alone - as they are! And it just takes that little stupidity to jump to the wrong conclusion that I am arguing for some kind of freak show. Oh - no - I leave that kind of immorality to record companies who will make money on any mentally or physically invalidated person just for the sake of - well - yes: freak show - and the money involved!

(there is of course a fourth issue - and that is to rearrange the music for two hands without changing one single note - just because you can't play it - but that is not very sporting - is it?. Ravel was said to have been forced to use both hands to play his concerto - well so much for his pianism!)

There have been made some recordings of some works by Franz Schmidt for piano and orchestra or chamber music with piano, but only during the last decade or so have we had the original versions for one hand. The others have been in a Friedrich Wührer's arrangements for two hands. When Wittgenstein heard of that he was understandably very upset, but Mr. Wührer defended himself with the claim that it had been Schmidt's dying wish (!). 
First of all I really don't think I believe Mr. Wührer and secondly - if I did - he ought to have known better. During his last years Schmidt was a very sick man who never became the same great person he once was. And when he was close to dying, his mind was so clouded that he could be mentally raped by anybody. Thus he even embarked on writing a grand cantata: "Die Deutsche Auferstehung" (The German Resurrection), celebrating the revival and the unification of the Germans under Adolf Hitler.
Schmidt's widow tried to come to Mr. Wührer's rescue resulting in a very long correspondence with Wittgenstein in which Frau Schmidt contradicts herself, runs away from promises and argues in such an inconsistent way that even a child can see through it. 
Today the general interest in the real thing has turned the whole situation and hopefully Mr. Wührer's arrangements will soon be just as forgotten as he was as a pianist.

Strangely enough this misunderstood practice of rearranging has always been restricted to the so-called minor composers I cannot think of any pianist of renown being so stupid as to try to rewrite Ravel's concerto, and even Profofiev quickly gave up any idea of rewriting his 4th piano concerto.

But then - why accept arrangements "the other way round" - that is pieces for two hand arranged for one? Are the technical, musical and ethical problems not the same? Well - yes and no.

Arrangements have always been there and will probably always be there. Indeed I can hardly think of a composer who hasn't made arrangements of other composer's works. Even the greatest among them have sort of legitimized it - for different reasons: If Bach had not made his arrangement of Vivaldi's concerto for four violins into a quadruple harpsichord concerto very few Germans would have been able to enjoy this work, for Vivaldi was not that well known in Germany at that time. Mozart made an arrangement of Handel's Messiah (even adding an aria of his own) at a time when it would be almost unthinkable that anyone would perform an oratorio by Handel in Vienna, Beethoven even made arrangements of his own works for other instrument (f.ex. the septet) and Haydn, Beethoven, Grieg, Britten and many others have made thousands of arrangements of folk music.

One of the greatest arrangers was Franz Liszt and it is easy to understand why this work of his was indeed very important: With his arrangements of Beethoven's symphonies for piano or the songs by Schubert and many others this music was presented to a public that would otherwise never have heard it - remember this was all in the pre-CD-days.

And just think of all the other romantic pianists producing hundreds of fantasies, variations etc. on famous opera tunes. I don't think these have robbed the real composer of anything - it is more or less two different works - just sharing a tune and if I had been an opera composer at that time I would feel ashamed if nobody cared to make some fantasy on my tunes; it was sort of expected. 

Liszt even went further - at least in private and in front of his pupils. He just might play a new work through as it was written, but then he would play it again with his "corrections" and "improvements". Once a young and unknown composer presented one of his works to Liszt who sat down at the piano and played it with corrections, improvements and all. Afterwards he turned to the composer with a charming smile and said: I think this was what you meant - and the young composer beamed with joy and pride. Then again - when Brahms visited Liszt and presented one of his works Liszt did not change one note. Perhaps he might have been tempted - but besides being a brilliant musical mind he was also a man-of-the-world who knew very well where to draw the line.

Franz Liszt c.1864
Archiv für Kunst und 
Gechichte, Berlin

This line was very rarely crossed and politeness and patience were two things that he could afford - being a very unique person and musician - and knowing it. But on one occasion he crossed the line and this story ought to included here since it is not well known. 

Ole Bull

Once the aging Norwegian violinist Ole Bull visited Liszt and they played a duet which started all right. But then Bull made some mistakes and the music stopped. Even though the fault was Bull's Liszt excused himself, smiled and they started all over again - but with the same result. The third time Ole Bull was at his nerves' end and made a capital blunder in directly blaming Liszt for the faults - which is wasn't. This was where the line went. Liszt rose from the chair, seized it and smashed it to the floor screaming at Ole Bull: How dare you say that - you old buffoon - to me - Franz Liszt. Your name will be long forgotten when the whole musical world is still kneeling in awe and admiration at my grave!

...and some grave!

With Godowsky (and for that matter Brahms and his Weber arrangement) the issue is a little different. Here we are talking og piano compositions made into new piano compositions. Godowsky explicitly called them paraphrases and not arrangement, which they are not. In all of them (whether for one or two hands) he takes Chopin's notes and in some way pinpoints their difficulty (as if that was necessary)  - mostly by making them even more difficult: changing right and left hand, mirroring one hand  with the other, changing the accompaniment to make an intricate polyrhythmic web and even (twice) combining two etudes (f.ex. the two in G flat major: Butterfly and Black notes). The last of his paraphrases has unfortunately never been found - here he ventures into the seemingly impossible of combining three etudes in A minor. Some pianist today have tried to reconstruct it but - alas - they are no Godowskies, and as a great friend of mine once said - (about another artist, Lauridz Melchior - but it goes for Godowsky too): When God had created him - he destroyed the mould.

The best defense for such work as Godowsky's is that he hasn't robbed Chopin of anything - indeed on the contrary. Godowsky composed these works out of admiration for Chopin of whom he was a great admirer and interpreter and - in fact - he shows us - listeners and pianists - how "hard-wearing" these etudes are: When you return to Chopin after Godowsky you will appreciate them even more and understanding them in a new way as the unique masterpieces they are. 


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