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BACH: TRANSCRIPTIONS FOR GUITAR - Benjamin Verdery

BACH: TRANSCRIPTIONS FOR GUITAR - Benjamin Verdery

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This title, out of print for nearly 20 years, is now available again exclusively through The Musical Heritage Society. Verdery performs his own transcriptions of Bach's Sonata No. 2 for Solo Violin and Sonata No. 6 for Cello Solo. 

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5 QUESTIONS WITH BENJAMIN VERDERY

5 QUESTIONS WITH BENJAMIN VERDERY

MHS: How do you decide on which of Bach's works are best suited for transcription to guitar? 

 

Since there were plucked instruments those that played them were transcribing/ arranging music that moved them. For example, the great renaissance lutenist Francesco Da Milano was making vocal intabulations of Josquin des Prez. As guitarists it is in our DNA to arrange music for our instrument. We can’t help ourselves! These transcriptions/arrangements came to fruition after various mentors and friends suggesting that these works might sound beautiful on the classical guitar. I got seriously lucky! Segovia stunned his audience in 1930 when he played his arrangement of Bach’s glorious Chaconne in Paris. It is a good landmark performance in terms of grand works of Bach being arranged for the classical guitar. I believe Segovia’s arrangement might have been inspired by the brilliant Busoni arrangement. I, like so many of my peers have always found that all Bach works for stringed instruments sound exquisite on the guitar. Many of my peers and current younger players have created musically convincing arrangements of a variety of JS Bach’s music. They would include keyboard partitas, flute sonatas, movements from sinfonias and Chorale Preludes. When it comes to JS Bach, if one of his works can be played on the guitar, guitarists will make it happen!

 

My arrangements here have been mostly from violin and or cello repertoire. Both the A minor violin Sonata BWV 1003 and The D Major cello Suite BWV 1012 contain very little “arranging” in these recordings. They came off the page and on to the guitar. There are registral changes and the odd bass note is added but in general they remain true to the original. I did not add any additional counterpoint. One of the many things I adore about the cello suites, is the implied harmony. I felt by not adding extra voices or filling out certain chords my playing of the various lines could be more lyrical and perhaps freer. This was my approach at that time. 

 

The CPE Bach concerto heard on the rereleased Concerti CD was written for either flute, cello and or harpsichord. In making the arrangement I simply drew lines on the score from say the flute to the harpsichord to the cello depending on the passage. I still have that score. If it was good enough for those three instruments, why not the guitar? I have not had a séance with CPE but word on the street is that he was thrilled!!!

 

 MHS: When transcribing AND recording, do you "write in" some possibilities for improvisation? That is, do you throw scholarship to the wind at any point and say, I just think I want to play this work like this? 

 

These recordings were done under the guidance and tutelage of my dear friends and mentors, Anthony and MaryJane Newman. Their expertise and scholarly greatly helped shape the interpretations. Most of the ornaments were suggested by them. I added many color changes and at one point I use Pizzicato in second Gavotte of the 1012 to imitate the lute stop on the harpsichord. These were worked out in advance and not done spontaneously. The Arrangement of the JS Bach D minor Concerto was a combination of the violin and the harpsichord versions. The cadenzas were as close as I could transcribe from the harpsichord.

 

Anthony Newman conducted and played continuo on the recording. Without his guidance the CD would not have happened. He was a great mentor and extremely generous in his guidance. I remember having one rehearsal for that recording. It was a bit hurried, but I am thrilled to have done it all those years ago. The beauty and emotional impact of this piece is ineffable. 

 

MHS: Are there performances of either of these works that inspired you to write these transcriptions? Or performers (having seen them live instead of recordings)? At the time just dove in! 

 

I don’t remember any specific recordings influencing me. This was primarily because I was getting regular lessons prior to the recording from MaryJane and Anthony Newman. Oddly, after having made these recordings, I then began doing more research and listening. Prior to recording Bach’s Chaconne (BWV1004) and Cello Suite #4 (BWV1010) on my CD Branches, I did extensive listening and study. 

 

MHS: Your list of solo arrangements includes Bach, Mozart and Johann Strauss. Do you have any other secret transcribing desires? 

 

I love this question. In looking back, I tend to wait until I simply have no choice but to arrange a particular piece at a particular time. I have shied away from doing say the complete Bach violin sonatas or cello suites because I feared certain suites might not get the attention and emotional connection that others got in the process. I prefer to wait until a given piece is tugging at my heart and mind to arrange. That said, arranging more of JS Bach’s works comes immediately to mind. Certain works of Schubert and Schumann are beckoning me to arrange but I am reluctant to say which ones currently. Again, arranging any work must come from my burning desire to do so.

 

This occurred with the arrangements of artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Prince, Randy Newman, Neil Young, Buffy

Sainte -Marie, Joni Mitchell, John Lennon and The National. Many of these I have already recorded. I look forward releasing them all on one CD with perhaps a couple of newer ones. Arranging songs presents an entire new set of challenges that I welcome.

 

MHS: Are you interested in recording Bach's lute suites?

 

I am definitely interested in recording the Bach “lute” suites. I put quotations around the word lute as many scholars feel that these pieces were not actually written for the lute but for Bach’s instrument known as the Lauten-werck (Lute- Harpsichord).

 

After teaching classical guitar for 38 years at the Yale School of Music I would say the Bach repertoire my students play the most are suites BWV 995-998, 1000 and 1006a. The most beloved of all of these is the Prelude Fugue and Allegro, BWV 998. I often feel the urge to record this glorious work and hope to do so before too long.

 

PREVIEW OR STREAM THIS RECORDING

TRACK LISTING

Cello Suite No.6 in D Major, BWV 1012
  • Prelude
  • Allemande
  • Courante
  • Sarabande
  • Gavottes I & II
  • Gigue

Violin Sonata No.2 in A minor, BWV 1003
  • Grave
  • Fuga
  • Andante
  • Allegro

LINER NOTES

LISTEN: CELLO SUITE NO. 6, BWV 1012, GAVOTTES I & II

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LISTEN: VIOLIN SONATA NO. 2, BWV 1003 III. ANDANTE  

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OUR REVIEW

Imagination, skill, beauty. Really, that sums it up. Just a fine recording. --David White