Monday, February 09, 2009

Open Comment Thread: What Are the Worst Concerto Reductions of All Time?

You know them when you see them. These piano parts feature sections written at 160 bpm to the quarter, with 5 separate moving voices in sixteenths. Chords are laid out with no regard for the average hand span. Mysterious voices creep into the middle register of the staff while both hands are busy at opposite ends of the piano. You come to the swift realization that no human hands are capable of playing this monstrosity of a concerto reduction in front of you.

Ever experienced this? If so, you've been to concerto reduction purgatory. Fortunately, there are some who recognize the need for pianistic integrity and pragmatic editorial decisions in these works...

Jan Grimes, coordinator of collaborative activities at Louisiana State University School of Music, is compiling a list of piano reductions that are currently unplayable for the purpose of re-writing these reductions for publication. If you have any candidates for a complete piano reduction makeover, please leave a comment below and Jan will add the concerto to the list for future reworking.


  1. The worst I've ever seen is the Francaix flute concerto (Schott), which is written on up to five staves, including C clefs. It doesn't even attempt to be a piano reduction. With a proper reduction this could be a nice addition to the repertory.

    Also: Morton Gould's Diversions for tenor saxophone and orchestra. Can't remember the publisher. It's playable until you get to the fifth movement, which is completely unmanageable.

  2. Prokofiev Piano Concerto #3 - the 2nd piano part is pretty evil. I am guessing that Concerto #2 is even worse! :)

  3. Thanks, Osbert and eusebius. Here are my initial candidates:

    Jolivet Flute Concerto
    Jolivet Bassoon Concerto

    Fakeable, but to play with the level of intricacy notated in the score at the marked speeds and with the required transparency of texture is frankly impossible.

  4. One more:
    Paul Creston - Fantasy for Trombone and Orchestra, Op. 42


  5. Lukas Foss: Renaissance Concerto for Flute. Mostly in the first movement, there are some really impossible passages on three staves. I even wrote out my own reduction for these parts because the original was unreadable. It's a shame, because it's actually a very nice piece!

  6. This is where I gloat that I am happy I deal with mostly strings. The parts are often difficult, but they are nothing like wacky winds can be...

    I hate the Nielsen clarinet concerto. I haven't looked at it in so long I can't remember if it's actually playable or not. I think that it actually is perfectly playable, and that I just hated it.

    Prokofiev 3rd piano concerto is actually (eventually) playable, especially if you've done the solo part. It's not the easiest part on the block by any stretch, but everything in it eventually works just fine and actually sounds good. It just takes time!

  7. Chausson Poeme, for violin and orch.: the piano reduction takes the orchestral figuration WAY too literally, making it torture to play with anything like the appropriate character.

  8. Anonymous8:44 AM

    you all speak of concerto impossibilities... but i once played the prologue to lulu on short notice for an audition.... that was equally impossible with most of the things i've seen, and involved my stamping my feet and hitting the piano for various percussion sound effects.

    for that matter, i can't think of many orchestral reductions i don't modify. even if it's a simple mozart reduction, i usually add a few bass octaves somewhere. we are all talking about taking away, but there are tons of chances to add a little something here and there too.

  9. Thanks for the comments everyone. I think we need to differentiate between concerto reductions that are difficult and require reworking but still mostly playable (such as the Chausson Poeme and Berg Concerto in my opinion) and those that are completely out of control pianistically.

    And regarding adding voices to reductions, anyone who has tried the new slimmed-down Henle "Urtext" reductions will probably realize that you'll need to consult a recording or score in order to add enough voices to create a genuine orchestral texture.

  10. Allison10:54 PM

    Three Cheers for Jan!

    And watch for the official announcement:

    Chausson Poème, in a brand new edition with an accurate and pianistic reduction, is about to be released by Encore Publishing. Piano reduction is by Allison Gagnon; violin part is edited by Stephen Shipps. Not to be missed!

  11. ron petti3:08 PM

    the Gordon Jacob concerto for horn, 3rd mvt. is unplayable. the 1st and 2 mvts. are fine but the last movement has many stepwise ascending and descending three note chords which are impossible up to tempo. Also investigate Derek Bourgeious Trombone concerto, and Jean Francaix "Flower clock" for Oboe.

  12. Anonymous8:13 PM

    I know this blog is years old, but I've got a new one to add:

    Christopher Rouse - Flute Concerto

    3-note chords travelling in semiquavers in both hands, at crotchet=176, among other things. Also goes into 5 staves at some point.


    Regarding the Chausson - grab a Henle part, look at how they work the fast triplet passages, then play off the old normal edition for the rest. The rest of the Henle is over-simplified imo, but has some really good ideas for the hard passages.

  13. Ibert Flute Concerto.