Rethinking Albeniz’s Asturias – part 3

Following on from parts 1 and 2, let’s look at the end of the opening section, in the piano original an arpeggiated flourish spanning five octaves in the dominant key of D major:

Albeniz bars 37-39

Albeniz bars 59–62

This poses a problem for guitar transcriptions as the guitar has a range of roughly three and a half octaves. In the key most guitar transcriptions are in, Em, this becomes a B major arpeggio, only giving a range of three octaves. Forte dramatically changed this section – the arpeggio is shortened with the semi quavers of the original being replaced by triplets spanning just one bar, giving a 3 octave arpeggio. This effectively solves the problem of range, but gives a much more subdued effect than the original’s spectacular five octaves of semiquavers. He finishes with a 19th fret harmonic for the final high B, using some artistic license in using a technique not available to the piano.

Fortea bars 37-39

Fortea bars 59–61

Prat’s arpeggio has one bar of semiquavers in the same pattern as the original, followed by one of quavers – slowing down the rhythm by half and avoiding running out of range. Like Fortea he ends with a 19th fret harmonic for the final high B.

Prat bars 37-39

Prat bars 59–62

Segovia uses a three octave arpeggio of quavers, with a pizzicato effect added. The technique of pizzicato has no equivalent technique on the piano, so he is clearly adding something to the score not alluded to in the original. Like Fortea, the overall effect is quite subdued compared to the original.

Segovia bars 37-39

Segovia bars 59–62

Yates has an arpeggio very close to the original, with the same repeated semi quavers over two bars. He drops an octave in the second beat of bar 60, to avoid exceeding the guitar’s range, and adds a 19th fret harmonic at the end, in common with the other three transcriptions I’ve looked at.

Yates bars 37-39

Yates bars 59–62

Four quite different solutions – in my opinion Yates’ is the only one that does the section justice.

Rethinking Albeniz’s Asturias – part 1

Last year I worked on my own transcription of Albeniz’s Asturias as a research project for my studies. The first obvious place to look was the piano original, then I looked at transcriptions from Fortea (sometime before 1920), Prat (1920), Segovia (Published 1956 but he was playing some version of Asturias as early as 1924) and Yates (1999). Listening to the original it was obvious that a note for note rendering of the original wouldn’t be possible on the guitar for a number of reasons, among them an unsuitable key, impossible chord voicings and a wider range than the guitar allows. For this reason many choices must be made by the transcriber and/or performer to make the piece work. It was fascinating looking at the approaches these four transcribers took in solving common problems, as well as what liberties they took beyond simply trying to remain faithful to original. By the way I’m referring to the piece as “Asturias” because that’s the name it’s most often known by – even though this title was probably given to the piece well after Albeniz’s death, and the piece clearly references Andalucia rather than Asurias in Spain’s North. (Stanley Yates gives a great explaination of the back story of this here).

Let’s look at the opening allegro section. The twelve beat melodic cycle and accent every 6 or 12 quaver beats is reminiscent of a buleria. The constant peddle-point sitting in the middle of the range of the melody imitates the popular guitar device where an open treble string is used to play a peddle point with the right hand index or middle finger, while the thumb plays the melody using the bass strings.

This is clearly a piano pretending to be a guitar – so what happens when we have a guitar pretending to be a piano pretending to be a guitar? let’s look at the same bars in the earliest transcription I know of, that of Daniel Fortea (a copy of which is available from Matanya Orphee’s website here):

Fortea keeps the staccato marks of the original, as well as the dynamics and other indications, intact. The Interesting thing is that he adds a triplet figure not in the original. This figure continues on for most of the first section, and has been copied in most subsequent transcriptions; Prat and Segovia do pretty much the same thing, minus the staccato marks. Of the four transcriptions I looked at, only Yates looked back to the piano original:

The triplet figure has been attributed to Segovia before, however it does seem that the idea was already in common use before Segovia made his transcription – Segovia mentions in his memoirs that Fortea’s transcription had been the one he’d seen played up to the point he started working on his own transcription.

So why add a triplet figure? While we can probably never know the reason for the addition of the triplets, they make sense in light of certain compromises which must be taken as the piece is carried over from the piano score. In the original the dynamics move gradually from pp to fff over the first 32 bars. The guitar has less dynamic range so cannot reproduce this crescendo to the extent Albeniz would have intended. Also the crescendo is heightened in bars 25-32 with the accented chords appearing every 3 or 6 beats, which become more and more widely spaced, culminating in bar 33 with a G minor chord stretched over 5 octaves. This is not possible with the guitar’s range. To make up for this, the triplet figure adds weight to the sound giving more of a sense of crescendo.

The other interesting thing is the stacatto marks, which are kept in Fortea and Yates but eliminated in Prat and Segovia. The staccato markings I believe are part of the attempt to make the piano sound like a guitar, more specifically a flamenco guitar. The flamenco guitar is built traditionally to have a strong attack but not much sustain. The classical guitar has more sustain but still much less than the modern piano. For this reason I feel keeping the staccato marks on the guitar version may be misguided – if it is a device to make the piano sound like a guitar, there is no need if one is actually playing the guitar.

Heartbeats for solo guitar

This is a solo guitar version of Jose Gonzales’ version of heartbeats. I get this requested a lot at weddings. I just took the normal guitar part and added the singing melody on the first two strings. Note that the tuning is (low to high) D A D F# B E, ie tune the 6th string down a tone and the 3rd string down a semitone – what flamenco players call “Rondeña tuning”. Jose Gonzales also uses a capo at the first fret for this song, so on his recording the whole thing sounds a semitone higher.

If it feels tricky at first, practice without the upper melody, but finger it how you would have to if you were going to add the upper melody – so for example in the left hand, in bar 5 use fingers 2 & 4 for the lower part, leaving finger 1 free for the melody part when it gets added later, and in the right hand make sure that the ring finger is always free so it will be available for the melody later.

Heartbeats_solo_guitar.gpx (requires guitar pro to read)

Harry Potter Theme for guitar

I’ve had a few students ask about playing the first melody of Hegwig’s theme, and I wondered about playing the next couple of sections. I pretty much just used the piano score for this, adding the bass clef notes to the treble clef. Some of the chords are unplayable on the guitar, so I chose what I thought were the most important notes. The arpeggios and run at the end are tricky at full speed, I’ve got some practicing to do. Here’s a video and guitarpro and pdf files of the transcription.

Harry_Potter_Theme.gpx (requires guitar pro to read)