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One of the many musical things I do is arrange pieces by other composers. As far as composers go, the easiest for me to arrange is Mozart(probably because of a combination of early and sustained exposure and the melodic and harmonic simplicity on the outside) and the hardest for me to arrange is Beethoven(octaves all over, lots of modulation and harmonic complexity in general, Beethoven bringing the orchestral sonority to solo piano(For example in the Pathetique Sonata first movement)).

As a matter of fact, I am currently arranging Wind Seranade in C minor for piano duet. Before this I looked on IMSLP and the only all piano arrangement I saw of this piece was for 2 pianos 6 hands, which is honestly kind of odd, usually I see multiple solo and duet arrangements of any given Mozart piece. I have even seen piano solo pieces arranged for piano duet and vice versa. I have been told before that in my Mozart arrangements, I stick too closely to Mozart's original and I often get told to add notes that Mozart didn't even use like say adding a ninth to a dominant seventh.

But I have always asked myself:

Am I really sticking too closely to Mozart? I mean, I'm afraid that if I add notes that aren't obviously implied, I will lose too much of the Mozart feel for it to really sound like a Mozart arrangement. And is it really possible to stick too closely to Mozart? I mean, Mozart's complexity is on the inside, not the outside. In other words it isn't the melodic lines themselves but rather the interactions between them that give a Mozart piece its complexity.

whenever I get that sort of feedback telling me to add to what Mozart wrote.

I mean, I know I can stick too closely to Beethoven(I mean, making the piano sound like an orchestra makes having all of Beethoven's notes in an arrangement for an ensemble smaller than an orchestra that doesn't include pianos an impossible task or an all piano ensemble smaller than a piano duet in the case of his orchestral scores), but Mozart? It just seems impossible to stick too closely to Mozart's original. I mean, here is an example of a relatively complex Mozart piece:

That complexity doesn't come from the melody itself like it does in say a Chopin waltz. The complexity doesn't come from the harmony itself like in your typical Beethoven piece which is built from simple melodic and rhythmic motifs and has a bunch of modulations and diminished 7th chords. No, it comes from the interactions between different melodic lines. Mozart's complexity is similar to Bach's complexity in that it comes from these melodic interactions over a simple harmony. Rarely is the melody itself virtuosic in nature in a Mozart piece. But the way the melodic lines interact can make a Mozart piece sound virtuosic.

So, if Mozart's complexity comes from the interactions between melodic lines and not the melodies themselves, and the harmony is pretty simple, is it really possible to stick too closely to Mozart's original in an arrangement?

  • "Too closely" implies that something bad happens if the arrangement is too close to the original. What might that be? Insufficiently idiomatic writing for the target instruments? Something else? – Camille Goudeseune Dec 24 '19 at 18:25
  • Is this a transcription or arrangement? Usually a transcription implies that you follow all the notes exactly from the original, perhaps adding or removing octave doublings and such with the new instrumentation/ensemble if necessary. If you're making an arrangement, that often allows more liberties in adapting the piece--changing harmonies, more significant changes in texture/orchestration, even adding or omitting sections (or changing repeats). One can also do something in the middle, but I'd think it odd to do an exact transcription except for changing only a few notes here or there. – Athanasius Dec 24 '19 at 18:55
  • @Athanasius the distinction you draw may be a useful one, but it is common for pieces that meet this definition of transcription to be called "arrangements" and to be credited to an "arranger." – phoog Dec 26 '19 at 5:15
  • @phoog: Which is precisely why I asked whether the OP was making a transcription or arrangement, even though OP called it an "arrangement." – Athanasius Dec 26 '19 at 13:27
  • @Athanasius It is an arrangement. There are some changes that I'm making that would not make it a transcription such as some very long notes being omitted. Because I am arranging Wind Serenade in C minor for a piano duet, very long notes become inaudible, so I have to either rearticulate the notes or just leave them out. Also, repeated pitches that last for a measure or more, I arrange as octave tremolos. So, it is an arrangement and not a transcription, even though most of the notes I can just directly transcribe. – Caters Dec 27 '19 at 4:45
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I have been told before that in my Mozart arrangements, I stick too closely to Mozart's original and I often get told to add notes that Mozart didn't even use like say adding a ninth to a dominant seventh.

Adding a ninth when Mozart didn't include a ninth is altering the music away from Mozart.

But you can write the music in different octaves depending on the kind of instruments you are writing for. If you are arranging a piano work for other instruments then have in mind that the music was written so it could be played by two hands on a piano. You are not restricted by that particular range when arranging the music for other instruments. If you add notes it should be notes that are already present in the chords in the original, so a dominant seventh should only have the notes that belong to a dominant seventh.

Basically what I mean is that if you want to arrange a Mozart piece and you want it to still be Mozart then write the music Mozart wrote and don't add other ideas.

But if you want to make a personal kind of "rendition" of a Mozart piece, well then it is a different matter. There are people out there making all kinds of versions of known pieces, like jazz versions or whatever.

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To me, it sounds like a disconnect in audience expectations.

OP claims to be making a rather exact transcription, adhering closely to Mozart's original pitches, textures, etc.

OP's audience apparently wants a more free arrangement.

These are two different things. Either explain your approach to your audience, and they will have to deal with it. Or write a more loose arrangement that adheres to what your audience apparently wants.

But to my mind, it's odd to propose very minor modifications to Mozart's original for what is basically a transcription. You either transcribe the Jupiter Symphony essentially as written, or you write something like a jazz chart that loosely follows its structure and incorporates a sax solo. Tweaking a few notes here and there, unless it's necessary to make the new instrumentation sound reasonable, sounds like you (or at least members of your audience) want to recompose Mozart rather than "arrange" his work. And it takes a bit of hubris to want to do that.

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