Sunday, April 13, 2014

Cantiga del Fuego

How is it that this fiery and passionate affair,
ignited by cinders,
consumed my life so completely
and yet was over before forty days were up.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Román népi táncok, Sz. 56, BB68: Arrangement Notes

The Concert, 16 March 2014: This semester's concert by GENUS began and wrapped up in the Conservatory's concert hall. It was marketed by Randy's dashing profile as the Man, Consumed By Wanderlust, Embarks On An Odyssey To Eleven Countries Around The World. My assignment for this round is Bartók Béla's Román népi táncok. The song has been filed in as the second last piece in the concert as well as the encore (to everyone's horror). It was only on the day of the concert that I was aware that the title of the piece had become Six Romanian Dances, but if that means that our emcee Ajay doesn't trip up his sexy baritone voice in the weird Hungarian consonants, I think it's a fair compromise.

Background to the Piece: Bartók Béla composed the first Six Romanian Dances in 1915, based on folk tunes gathered from Transylvania. Transylvania was a region in the Kingdom of Hungary at the time of composition, but was lost to the Romanians in the Treaty of Trianon of 1920. It was at this point when the slightly bummed Bartók presumably shrugged and changed the title from Romanian Folk Dances from Hungary to Romanian Folk Dances. This also why explains why this Romanian piece has a Hungarian name like the composer's, and why five of the movements have two unpronounceable titles instead of just one.

The Six Movements and Where They Come From:
All six songs can be nailed down to a map of Transylvania, or the half of Romania situated to the north and west of the Carpathian mountains.

1. Bot tánc / Jocul cu bâtă / Stick Dance: from Mezőszabad village (now Voiniceni)
2. Brâul / Sash Dance: from Igriș (village within walking distance from Bartók's hometown)
3. Topogó / Pe loc / Standing Still: also from Igriș
4. Bucsumí tánc / Buciumeana / Dance from Bucsum: from Bucium
5. Román polka / Poarga Românească / Romanian Polka: from Belényes (now Beiuș)
6. Aprózó / Mărunțel / Fast Dance: First part from Belényes, second part from Nyágra (now Neagra)

Working Material: The arrangement relied heavily on the piano original, to which the scores are available free of charge on the IMSLP database. Arthur Willner's string orchestra arrangement also accounted for some of the inspiration; I referred chiefly to the 2010 rendition of this piece by Danubia Orchestra and the folk group Muzsikás, who have unrepentantly butchered this piece from its original state, even adding their own movement between Dances 5 and 6:

The work on the guitar ensemble arrangement started on the day of the concert Food for Thought in 18 September 2013. A workable draft was produced in November, and then playability issues were mopped up in the finalised version in 15 January 2014, after negotiation with section leaders.

Technical Issues:
1. Instrumentation:
Wan Ching was roped in to lead the ensemble in movement 2, play a solo in movement 3, and follow along the ensemble in movements 5 and 6 with the Yangqin, a close approximation to the Hungarian hammered dulcimer. Anna led the ensemble in the later half of movement 3 and then movement 4 and then closes with all the rest in movement 6 with the glockenspiel. Movement 3 is extended by half a movement to make space for the Yangqin solo. Everything else was guitars. There were no percussion parts.

2. Speed: 
It appears that the tempo indicated for the later movements was the main reason why people hated the song so much at first. I used Bartók's metronome marks in the piano scores, which most piano players already don't follow. Ultimately, the ensemble decides how fast they would play the songs.

Robert, our conductor, has taken the liberty to play movement 6 part 2 faster than part 1, despite Bartók's recommendation to take it one notch slower.

3. Rubato
I put some segments of movements 2 and 3 for the Yangqin player to play not to any specific tempo, but in any way she damn well likes. This is because I found the movement 2 original to be boring and want to spice it up, and also to force everyone to look at the conductor when they play. The short (angled) fermata at the end of the first two lines are recommended to be held for just long enough for the audience to start feeling impatient and cheated, but not longer.

The speed at which the movement 3 Yangqin solo is to be played is up to the player. Anything other than a regular beat is fine.

4. Chords: 
Chords are chosen according to those in the piano scores. I used the fretboard function in Sibelius 6 to determine if a chord is playable. Even then, a lot of changes had to be made to the chords after the first print to make them easier to play. I have known that the alto players to be allergic to chords, so have minimised chords in alto parts. Much apologies to the basses.

Heng Zhong (Prime 2) accompanied the glockenspiel in the second half of movement 3 with strummed chords. Those things are seriously easier than they look in the scores. Also to whoever plays this part, I don't actually recommend looking at the scores, but instead to write down something like this that fits on a post-it note:

... | Bm | " | G | " | Bm | D/A | " (+G#) | " | D/A | ...

The strum rhythm written in the score is just a recommendation, and one can afford to throw that page away after he has learned the chords by heart and figured out his favourite strumming pattern.

Signed off
8 April 2014