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Thread: “Edited by.....” Good idea or not?

  1. #1

    “Edited by.....” Good idea or not?

    The recent discussion about the availability of the the Vaughan Williams Tuba Concerto repurposed as a work for euphonium, presumably with the composer’s consent, has reminded me of a concern that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’d like the thoughts of others about it.

    As a student, I played a great deal of material that was top level wind ensemble repertoire during the mid twentieth century. As kids we thought very little about it; the Big Guns of high quality composition had written or were writing top line music and we played it.

    Recently, I’ve observed that certain pieces of that era are no longer available in print, but have emerged as “edited” or “arranged” or “adapted by” various living contemporary composers who are presumably making money on the no longer copyrighted originals by cutting out the hard parts or changing keys or in other various relatively minor ways ALTERING THE INTENTION of the original composer. Is this bothersome to anyone besides me?

    I object for two basic reasons, first because it seems that the choice is being made to “simplify” something that was originally written to make it more accessible (to whom? and why?) rather than putting in the work to compose a piece from scratch that fulfills the same contemporary objective as the original, OR to “update” “modernize” “refresh” a piece that was composed within the times in which it was composed as the statement of the original composer.

    This “trend” is in marked contrast to the exciting notion that Vaughan Williams himself seems to have realized that some of his own works (interestingly, not only the Tuba Concerto) might be both accessible and also very adaptable to more uses than the original form and intention written.

    Although I scrupulously avoid “new” versions of old favorites, I happened accidentally to be subjected to an “edited” version of a wonderful piece the other night, and knew only a few measures in what I was listening to, a mistake I will try NOT to repeat.

    So a question- can you come up for a justification for this practice? I can’t think of a single one.

  2. #2
    I have to agree that I don't much like playing (or hearing) a piece that has been altered from the original. After all, the composer put in the notes he/she wanted. If he/she had intended to have different notes, keys, etc., he/she would have written it that way. For example, I don't like playing "Stars and Stripes" in orchestra using arrangements that alter the original key; not that I can't play it in 15 sharps, just that I don't much like to play anything other than the true original. I know when Sousa released marches, he usually had versions for band, orchestra and piano, but I don't think the orchestra version was in a different key than the band version was (I could be wrong).

    However, that brings up the very subject of editing/arranging in general. For bands and ensembles that are young or learning, what are you going to offer them to play? Take John Williams for example. He writes some really nice music. And young and beginning musicians "know" a lot of this music (from the movies) without actually being able to play all of the original pieces. Is editing/arranging this music so that it is accessible for young musicians a bad thing? Again, "I" wouldn't enjoy playing a watered down piece very much, but quite certain youngsters would love to be able to play this music.

    Added: In rereading the OP, I may have missed the point (I think) of these pieces being from a while back in the past, not necessarily current, contemporary pieces. However, it still seems to me that there might be some merit in arranging old works (even the very old classical works) to make them accessible for those groups without the skills to handle the original writings.
    Last edited by John Morgan; 10-25-2019 at 11:58 AM.
    John Morgan
    The U.S. Army Band (Pershing's Own) 1971-1976
    Adams E3 Custom Series Euphonium, Wessex EP-100 Dolce Euphonium, 1956 B&H Imperial Euphonium
    Adams TB1 Tenor Trombone, Yamaha YBL-822G Bass Trombone
    Wessex TE-360 Bombino Eb Tuba
    Rapid City New Horizons & Municipal Bands (Euphonium)
    Black Hills Symphony Orchestra (Bass Trombone), Powder River Symphony, Gillette, WY (Tenor Trombone)
    Black Hills Brass Quintet (Tuba)

  3. #3
    I’m not qualified to have a strong opinion on this at the college/professional level. But at the amateur level, the contention over our arranging philosophies is a running joke between my husband (who has perfectish pitch) and myself (who doesn’t-ish).

    If the original key was already a very easy one for the group it was originally written for, I tend to fall on the side that if an arranger comes along to rework it for a different ensemble, it doesn’t offend me if there are changes to better suit the new instrumentation. My husband is more...rigid. But in all fairness, he’s hearing something I’m not.

    “E huh? For this group you really couldn’t bump things a half a step either way to F or Eb?”
    “No. The original key is E.”
    “It was also originally written for strings. Not [the random mashup of four volunteer Bb and Eb instrumentalists we’ve assembled].”
    “It’s still E.”
    “No one in our audience is going to care about the key as long as it sounds good, which will be easier to achieve on such short notice with a half step in either direction...”
    “Still E.”
    “Eb is more fun.”
    “E is more correct.”

    “What if the original key was Cb?”
    “...I’d think about it.”

  4. #4
    Another consideration: pieces like the Vaughan-Williams tuba concerto, Horovitz euphonium concerto and Gordon Jacob's Fantasia were published with errors. Subsequent editions may have corrected those.

    Regarding keys, there may be a good reason to change the key when changing the solo instrument. In the case of the new VW Concerto David Childs has recorded, the key was changed to fit the Bb euphonium exactly the same way it fit the F tuba used for its premier. When I arranged the Arpeggione Sonata I changed the key so it fit the nature of the euphonium. Schubert almost certainly wrote it to fit the stringed arpeggione for which it was written originally. The same was true when I arranged Weber's Andante and Hungarian Rondo; it was originally for bassoon, but I moved it down a step to fit the technique and resonance of a euphonium.
    Dave Werden (ASCAP)
    Euphonium Soloist, U.S. Coast Guard Band, retired
    Adams E3, Denis Wick 4AL (classic)
    Instructor of Euphonium and Tuba
    Twitter: davewerden
    Facebook: davewerden
    YouTube: dwerden
    Owner of TubaEuph.com, DWerden.com

  5. #5
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    More thoughts about composer intent and "editting"

    Another amateur chiming in here. I agree that composer intent should be carefully considered when making "edits" to any particular piece of music (or any kind of "artwork" for that matter). However, how the composer/creator/artist did it should not be the last word in everything. After all, some instruments came after a composer created their works. Just imagine what somebody like W. A. Mozart could have done with modern, chromatic, brass. But alas, he lived in an age of strings. The fact that he did not write anything for tuba/euphonium/trumpet should not be taken to mean that his work should never be done on one of them.

    I also agree with the point that "edits" can make music more accessible for new musicians. Our church's junior band is just ecstatic to play Star Wars, even though none of them have been playing for more than two years. John Williams would be out of their reach otherwise. I guess it comes down to the difference between "making something more accessible," and "dumbing it down". That could be a rather fine line to walk for an arranger.

    And when you add Dave's point to all of that (any publication runs the risk of containing typos), it is worth not being too dogmatic about edits. I very much like the way it was handled for the RVW piece. Someone took the initiative to get the composer's blessing on the idea of re-arranging the piece for a different set of instrumentation and/or in a different key. That way, the original composer and their intent is honored, and flexibility is allowed to the extent of the abilities of those that come after.

    - Sara
    Baritone - 3 Valve, Compensating, JinBao JBBR1240

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