Harpist Keziah Thomas presents her favorite creative arrangements of classical music masterpieces, from Vivaldi to Stravinsky and Liszt
During the pandemic, I have missed collaborating with my orchestra colleagues, because being a small but vital part of a huge orchestral work is exhilarating.
During this quiet time at home, I have had time to reflect on some pivotal moments in my career and this has led me to create arrangements of music that are particularly important to me as an orchestral harpist.
These works included themes from Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade” (I played it once while on tour in Paris with a youth orchestra) and the slow movement from Rachmaninoff’s “Second Symphony” (the first album that my parents gave me).
Here are five of my favorite creative arrangements of large-scale orchestral pieces for chamber instruments and soloists.
I chose to present arrangements and performances by female musicians because, in 2021, less than 5% of the classical pieces performed in the world were written by women.
Seraph Brass is an all-female brass quintet from the United States who add sparkle and swagger to Jeff Luke’s arrangement of Liszt’s solo piano work.
This piece has been arranged for just about every instrument, including by the brilliant Harpo Marx in One night in Casablanca.
In this arrangement, I like the way the brass highlights the origins of folk dancing, bringing a fairground flavor.
In my opinion, Henriette Renié is the greatest harpist to have lived, played and composed for the instrument.
Without his transcriptions, his compositions and his method of harp technique, the instrument would not be in the position it is today.
“Le Rossignol” is one of two piano works by Liszt that she transcribed and, as I discovered in my The four SeasonsNightingale’s song characteristics translate beautifully on the harp, with delicate trills in the instrument’s highest register.
“Renié was also one of the first composers to exploit the enharmonic possibilities of the double-movement pedal harp”
Renié was also one of the first composers to exploit the enharmonic possibilities of the double-movement pedal harp, an instrument developed by Sébastien Érard in 1810.
This new mechanism, developed at the height of Renié’s career, allows the harpist to adjust the pedals to allow two adjacent strings to sound at the same pitch.
This opens up a greater harmonic range of pitches than before and allows the instrument to be capable of Liszt’s harmonic language.
Renié seized the opportunity to explore this new instrument. It is thanks to his creativity that the harp today occupies its place as a solo instrument.
Here is the thrilling account of an amazing transcription performed by one of the greatest pianists of our time, Martha Argerich, and the transcriber, Jura Margulis.
Inspired by the trend of symphonic poems spearheaded by Franz Liszt in the 1840s, Mussorgsky draws inspiration from witchcraft and devilry in this ever-popular work.
In this transcription for two pianos, the wild and terrifying character comes to life in a frenzied party between the instruments.
“Let’s do something crazy” – these are the words percussionist Ksenija Komljenović used to talk about her arrangement of The Rite of Spring.
“There were riots in the audience at the premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913”
From the opening bassoon solo of a Lithuanian folk song transcribed for the marimba to the driving, heart-pounding rhythms of “Spring Rounds”, the energy and excitement that sizzles between the performers creates breathtaking moments.
There were riots in the audience at the premiere of The Rite of Spring in 1913 but watching this performance, I only give rapturous applause!
Finally, I just had to include an arrangement of Vivaldi The four Seasons. I certainly feel a bit like a rock star performing this move, but Latvian electric guitarist Laura Lace really is!
Sometimes young musicians wonder why their teachers ask them to spend so much time perfecting scales, and it’s at times like the opening of this movement that it really comes into its own.
Regardless of the instrument, the ability to articulate and control large-scale passages in a presto tempo showcases virtuosity like nothing else.
Keziah Thomas’ first-ever complete arrangement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons for solo harp is now available on Convivium Records. Keziah is also currently on an album tour throughout the UK. Visit their website for more information and tickets.
Read more: Where to start with contemporary classical music
Read more: The Evolution of Music: The First Score of Classical Compositions
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