The US Marine Band posted this video of a wind band transcription of Stravinsky’s Rite or Spring a few days back to celebrate Stravinsky’s birthday. I think it’s a fantastic teaching point for transcribing a work from orchestra to band.
First, kudos to the musicians who pull this off beautifully.
Many parts of the transcription work extremely well. The opening is perfect, but that’s largely due to the fact that strings are almost absent in the opening section.
However, I think it fails in part two. Here Stravinsky relies heavily on ethereal strings, and a band just can’t match it. I also feel the loss of the two bassoon parts (3rd Bassoon and 2nd Contrabassoon).
This leads me to one of my biggest pet peeves with transcriptions. The act of transcription is, by it’s very nature, the act of changing a work of art. We wouldn’t take Picasso’s Guernica, in it’s monochromatic melancholy, and liven it up with splashes or reds and greens. Why should we ever think to do the same thing with a masterpiece of great music.
For a composer, the orchestration is just as important as the counterpoint, rhythm, or harmony, yet, we’d never dare touch these. For me, taking a piece, rewriting it into a different form, yet having that form try and be as close to the original as possible, is tantamount to slapping the composer in the face. It’s like saying, “Wow, you did your absolute best, now, let me see if I can improve on your creativity.” If, however, the transcriber rewrites the work in such a way that it becomes something wholly unique, then the transcriber has created a work of art separate from the original.
The biggest problem I have with a transcription like this is that it takes away from great works of wind literature or it deprives composers from wanting to create a masterwork of wind literature. If the band is just going to transcribe something from the orchestral literature to fill a program, what incentive does a composer have to write for that ensemble.