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A Froberger Transcription

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A Froberger Transcription

When I was a young performer I transcribed quite a bit of music. Most of it was from the Renaissance and Baroque. There were already a lot of very well done transcriptions of more recent 19th and 20th century music by very expert transcribers like Segovia and Bream, but the transcriptions from the earlier periods were fewer (in comparison to the repertoire available) and often unreliable. As a young artist I was drawn to the early repertoire and to the contemporary repertoire and I didn’t feel I had a huge amount to add to the interpretations of the mainstream Spanish and Romantic pieces.

So I did a lot of transcriptions of things like Elizabethan lute music, especially the duets, which were wonderful music and at the time there were few editions available. I also took a stab at some Baroque music like Sylvius Leopold Weiss and J. S. Bach. Later on I published a whole book of Bach transcriptions. But I was especially drawn to the French and French-inspired repertoire. The transcription I was most happy with from those days was an unusual little piece by Johann Jakob Froberger (1616 - 1667). He was particularly known to historians for standardizing the Baroque dance suite. This was largely the creation of the French lutenists and harpsichordists like Denis Gaultier and François Couperin. In their hands the suite consisted of a highly variable number of movements in dance or rondo form--with Couperin there could be anything from four movements to a dozen or more. While using dance forms like the allemande, gigue and sarabande, Couperin, following the lutenists’ practice, gave the movements fanciful titles like Le Gazouillement or L’Ame en Peine.

Froberger reduced the multitude of movements to just four and fixed, temporarily at least, the order to allemande, courante, gigue and sarabande. In later composers the last two were reversed, ending with the gigue. Composers such as Bach often added a prelude before and a pair of galanterie or colorful added dances before the gigue. These might be menuets, gavottes, bourrees or some other kind.

However, at times Froberger wrote single occasional pieces such as his tombeau on the death of M. Blancheroche or the piece I transcribed. These pieces were often in allemande form, a sober dance in duple time. The piece that I transcribed has a very French type of title: Plainte faite à Londres pour passer la Melancholie, la quelle se joue lentement avec discrétion . Now there’s a title for you! Here is my transcription:

Click to enlarge

As you can see, I did this transcription before we had music software!

There is a story to go with this piece. Apparently Froberger was on a trip to London and very short of cash. He happened on a fine organist that he wished to hear and in exchange for the privilege of listening he agreed to work the bellows for the organ (this was before electricity of course). After a while, affected by the music, he fell into a deep melancholy and forgot to blow, at which point the organist kicked him out on the street. And so he wrote this piece.

The Plainte is very much in the stile brisé style of the French lutenists though it has the more developed harmonic language of the clavecinists. I have always found this to be a delightful and expressive piece, though I have to admit, audiences did not always share my evaluation! Perhaps I will do a recording of it--in the meantime, please feel free to play my transcription.

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