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I am arranging Nocturne in Eb Op. 9 no. 2 for Flute and String Quartet and I have reached a spot where it is difficult for me to decide whether or not I should stick with the notes that Chopin wrote in his melody. Yes, if you don't know already, it is that 8va that lasts until close to the end of the piece. Thank goodness Chopin does not go higher than Eb in the 4th octave, otherwise I would have been like:

I have to take this passage down an octave or have the first violin play it, I simply can't trust a flutist to get notes past Eb in the fourth octave without using a piccolo, which would change the timbre and make me lose a lot of the first octave notes, if not all of them.

Before doing this arrangement I researched whether playing in the fourth octave is even possible on the flute and I found that it is and that the pitch limit in that octave is somewhere between F# and G.

But, I'm still a bit worried. Sure, the high Eb that I keep mentioning only occurs twice in the entire 8va, but it is still a difficult note to reach. Even the fourth octave C is much harder than the third octave C(like really hard, I'm barely getting the first and second octaves to sound right after weeks of practice). I'm just worried that a flutist who plays my arrangement of Nocturne in Eb Op. 9 no. 2 won't get the 4th octave Eb. Of course, I could take the 8va away and thus have the 8va passage sound in the octave in which it is written(which is the third octave), but that gets rid of some of the integrity of the original Nocturne.

Here is the 8va I am talking about:

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The 8va that leads into and includes the cadenza before the last 2 measures.

With Beethoven arrangements, I am open to this loss of integrity due to octave, because I run into it in just about every Beethoven piece that I would arrange. This is the first time I have ever arranged Chopin and I figured that this Nocturne, which is the first Chopin piece I ever played, would be a good start to arranging Chopin, not too hard, just like how the original piano piece, once I learned how to play triplets, was very easy, especially the right hand(hardest part was the few instances of polyrhythms, but those weren't too hard because the polyrhythms were short in length(only 1 beat)).

So, should I leave the notes in the 8va in the fourth octave(I'm not one of those that writes 8va for flutes and violins) as in the original Nocturne and trust that the flutist will be able to reach up to the high Eb? Or should I take the notes in the 8va down into the third octave despite the loss of integrity that will happen if I do that?

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An E flat in that register for flute is likely to sound shrill at best, probably not the kind of sound you are looking for.

Arranging is about understanding the essence of the music and expressing that essence through different means. It is very similar to translating prose (or, even harder, poetry) from one language to another. A word for word (note for note) translation (arrangement) is likely to sound unidiomatic, and to miss much of the intent of the original.

I have not thought deeply about this example but here is my first idea. My aims are (i) get the G in the middle of bar 30 an octave lower so that the subsequent E flat octave becomes feasible; (ii) keep as far as possible the character of the arpeggio in the second beat of bar 30. So: the second beat A flat down to E flat (bottom line) then upwards to A flat, C flat, E flat, rest, F - then you are on the G (top of staff) and continue as written but without the octave sign.

Another idea: A flat down to E flat (bottom line) then upwards to F, A flat, E flat, rest, F. This has the disadvantage of introducing an F which is not (quite) in Chopin's harmony. But it would fit OK as a passing note (especially as it occurs pretty soon anyway) and would have the advantage of preserving the jump from A flat to E flat which IMHO is a very attractive part of the original.

You might also want to consider changing the key of the whole piece - normally considered quite acceptable when arranging. If you put it into G major (up a major third) then the top E flat would become a top G which is perfectly feasible and would have a bit more brilliance. It would also mean you could make extensive and attractive use of the cello's open C string for many of the bass notes.

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  • I'm generally against transposing pieces outside of canons or whatever. As a person with perfect pitch, I feel specific characters to different keys regardless of tuning system. Like if I hear Clair de Lune in C major, I'll be like "That's too bright, it needs the darkness of the flats." As another example, when somebody suggested that I transpose a Beethoven sonata to A minor because of the low octave bass, my gut reaction was "Uh, no, if this dramatic sonata gets transposed to A minor, the drama will seep away and that's not good." Only other perfect pitch people seem to understand though.
    – Caters
    yesterday
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The notes in the 4th octave on the flute are not very practical melodically. Of course, if you have a capable flautist who would relish the challenge then why not, but generally this is not a very characteristic or comfortable area of the flute. Having the 1st violin play at that pitch with the flute an octave lower would be more natural and effective.

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  • You certainly also need a very capable violin player to play in that register. Dec 17, 2019 at 20:41
  • That's why they are 1st violin.
    – Jomiddnz
    Dec 17, 2019 at 21:36
  • No, you normally need 4 good players in order to make a good string quartet. There are many works for string quartet where all parts are very challenging. But If the players are amateurs they might know some violin player who they can talk into playing this particular piece. But will it sound right in that register when not played on a piano? A challenge is fun if the result of practicing it sounds right, but no so fun if it doesn't really fit. I am not sure that it is a good idea playing this particular piece in that register neither on violin nor on flute. But I could of course be wrong. Dec 17, 2019 at 22:04
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    With a competent player, it would sound fine on the violin in that register.
    – Jomiddnz
    Dec 18, 2019 at 1:30
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Show the part to your flute player and ask them if they feel comfortable playing that highest E-flat (I can almost guarantee they'll say "no").

If you don't know who is going to be playing the part then you should never write higher than C, particularly in a melodic line.

You'll probably have better luck finding a violinist who can play that note.

In general arrangement is about making compromises. You have to take the musical intent of the composer and try to make it work with your chosen ensemble. This is clearly a case where taking the line down an octave is going to work much better.

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