Thursday, June 03, 2010

Ultimate Classic Guitar Arrangements: Gymnopedie No. 1

This isn't really a contemporary crowd pleaser type of piece, but it is post-classical, being as it is a French Impressionist work, and it is quite popular, so I thought I'd include it in this series. Plus, there are a lot of arrangements of Gymnopedie No. 1 out there, and I find all of them problematic for the guitar in one way or another: Either they are too slavish to the piano music - not taking advantage of the guitar as an idiom - or they are overwrought with complexities like harmonics throughout most of the repeated parts (This started with Chistopher Parkening's version, which is really kind of over-the-top, to be blunt).

As is my usual MO, I arranged the piece so that it sounds as if it was originally written for the guitar, which is my primary goal whenever I arrange something that was originally composed on another instrument. The result is not exactly simple - there are quite a few challenging right hand fingerings employing the c finger - but it does play quite idiomatically once you get those down. I've had several audience members tell me they like this arrangement of Gymnopedie No. 1 better than any other they have heard. A few even like this one better than the piano version, which is kind of the ultimate compliment for an arranger, because it means you've made it idiomatic to your own instrument.

Unfortunately, I was not able to create a MIDI to M4A version for you to listen to, as that feature is either broken in the newest version of iTunes - it crashes when ever I try the Convert to AAC option - or Encore is exporting a corrupted MIDI file. I'm not sure which it is, but it's a very familiar piece, so I hope that isn't too much of a problem for you.

Moving this up from D to E is all you have to do to get the piano version to work on the guitar, as then the open A and E strings are available for the primary bass notes. Satie used a lot of attacked seconds, but those don't work well on the guitar. Instead, I did the left hand fingering so that the notes blur together through the idiomatic device of over-ring. This yields a nice, etherial effect that is much in the spirit of French Impressionism, and it reminds me of a musical equivalent of a Monet painting (He's my favorite French Impressionist painter, and I spent a lot of time when I was in Paris hunting down and examining his awesome works, most of which were at Jeau de Pom if I remember correctly).

The first place other arrangements of this really stumble begins at measure 9: The piano version has the G-sharp sustaining for the four measures there; great for piano, but a losing proposition on the guitar. So, I re-attack those G-sharps at the beginning of each measure, yielding naked alternating major sevenths and major tenths respectively over the A's and E's in the bass. Very effective, and superior to the original, IMO. Other than eliminating the attacked seconds and re-attacking those G-sharps, I didn't have to make much in the way of changes to the music at all: This piece lends itself to guitar transcription marvelously.

In measures 25 and 26 I fattened up the harmony by adding a second D-natural an octave above the original. This makes six-voice harmony in those measures, which sounds really awesome. As you can see, I did the same thing in measures 30 and 31.

Measure 34 is hard. There's just no other way to put it... OK, difficult. lol. The effort invested to get it right is worth it in the musical result, however. I should note that I use a lot of finger rolls to get strum effects on the second beats where there are three-note chords. This combined with using lots of over-ring adds tremendously to making the piece sound idiomatic to the guitar.

I'm particularly happy with the first ending. Putting the A minor seventh harmony at the end of measure 37 up high makes the bass line drop by two perfect fifths there, which I also think is better than the original... or any other guitar arrangement I've heard.

Satie wrote this out as if it was through composed, but it really has a written-out repeat, so I used a D.C. I play the first time through mp to mf and the repeat f to ff.

For the final ending, I use an E minor seventh chord in harmonics, whereas Satie just used an E minor triad. Minor sevenths are highly stylistically appropriate to French Impressionist music, so why not? I hit the triad again in harmonics an octave higher in the final measure - which I added - to give a sharp final close.


Blogger Minicapt said...

Needs a baritone part.


8:45 PM  

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