Brahms’/Slatkin’s Brahmsiana

Notes by arranger Leonard Slatkin

The concept of the transcription has been around for almost as long as written music has existed. Numerous composers and arrangers have felt compelled to recast works, and several of these pieces were staples of the concert hall when I was growing up. Years went by before I realized that Bach-Stokowski were actually two different people.

Over the course of the pandemic, many of us have had the opportunity to reexamine aspects of our lives that had perhaps faded a bit. During one of my walks in my neighborhood, I had my iPhone on shuffle mode when the Andante from the Third Piano Quartet by Brahms, a piece of great sentimental value to me, popped into my headset. As I listened and reminisced, I started to think about other instruments that might take over certain melodic or accompaniment lines.

When I returned home, I sat down with the original and began to sketch out what an orchestral version might look and sound like. As completion of this project loomed, I started pondering other Brahms pieces that could undergo an orchestral treatment to form a suite.

There are compelling reasons to recast pieces of music, perhaps most importantly, to bring them to a broader public through performance by soloists and ensembles other than those for which they were first intended. This exposure might even encourage some people to listen to the original. Second, “re-composing” provides an opportunity for the transcriptionist to embrace music by a beloved composer while also asserting his or her own creative muse based on years of experience, for example, conducting an orchestra.

We will be performing these transcriptions as a set, in the order that makes the most sense to me musically. But others may choose to present them individually, or interspersed with other selections. The English horn and bass clarinet, neither of which Brahms had at his disposal, are included to give a new color to the existing ensemble. My intent was to emulate how these pieces might have sounded around the time of Brahms. There are no notes, rhythms, or harmonies other than those provided by the master.