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Harmonia Early Music

Early Music Rocks Out

On Harmonia this week, we'll take a peek at arranging early music, 20th century style.

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Early music has inspired numerous 20th century musicians both classical and otherwise. Arrangements abound from unique perspectives. This week on Harmonia we’ll take a peek at arranging early music, 20th century style.

Philip Pickett rearranged a Sextet by 16th Century composer Giorgio Mainerio for the recording from the London label, appropriately entitled Alchemist.

It’s true what they say about great minds thinking alike. When Rachmaninoff, Busoni, and Schoenberg thought to arrange music by a great composer, they all met at a single point: Johann Sebastian Bach. However, they did have individual tastes in creating their own arrangement.

Frederic Chiu performs piano arrangements by Rachmaninoff and Busoni on the recording entitled Piano Transcriptions. Arnold Schönberg’s orchestration of the “St. Anne” fugue is recorded by the Philharmonia Orchestra on the CD release The Music of Arnold Schoenberg, vol. III.

Virtuoso pianist and composer Uri Caine spared no genre when he arranged Bach’s Goldberg Variations. After listening to it, you might even think the kitchen sink was involved. Edgar Meyer, bass, Béla Fleck, banjo, and Mike Marshall, mandolin, perform a movement from Bach’s Art of the Fugue on the CD release, Uncommon Ritual.

Listen to Uri Caine compare Bach’s baroque to jazz music:


The composer Benjamin Britten thought naturally to turn to Henry Purcell when arranging vocal music. Britten didn’t really tamper with what was already there except to provide his own take on the harmonies. Soprano Felicity Lott, and tenors John Mark Ainsley and Anthony Rolfe Johnson perform on the Hyperion release, Purcell Realizations. All are accompanied by Graham Johnson, piano.

A different sound was certainly achieved when the members of Red Byrd and Tragicomedia got together in 1990. They recorded something old, something new and something a bit blue. They married Monteverdi with a continuo section that included electric and bass guitar on their recording entitled Songs of Love and Death.

As the title of this show suggests, early music is apparently rocking out. So where’s the rock you might ask? In the 70s, the rock band Winter Consort recorded a piece called Ave Maria Stella. They used Dufay’s setting of Ave Maris Stella as the basis for improvising in a number of ways, from the early Renaissance to the free and abstract.

Our new release of the week features the viola da gamba and the music of J.S. Bach. In a recording of the complete gamba sonatas, soloist Jonathan Manson is accompanied on the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock. This recording on the AVIE label includes an extra work by Bach; an arrangement of the B minor flute sonata for viol and harpsichord in G minor.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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