Vocal score

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Example of a piano reduction: excerpt from the opera William Ratcliff by César Cui

A piano reduction is the piano version of an orchestral score , for example an opera , an oratorio , but also a symphony , a solo concert , an incidental music or a ballet . The vocal score is of practical importance especially for the accompaniment of vocal soloists and for rehearsals for staged performances of opera and ballet where the use of an orchestra is not sensible and financially not feasible, and as performance material for choral works.


The piano reduction has developed since the figured bass was no longer common as a chordal framework for musical ensembles, i.e. since the middle of the 18th century. Piano reductions with their own systems for the voices have been documented since the 1770s. Up until the availability of recording technology, the piano reduction of an orchestral work, along with other arrangements (for example for piano four hands, string quartet , piano trio or harmony music), was the most important way of being able to deal with the piece at any time. The vocal score for Mozart's Don Giovanni appeared in Vienna just two weeks after the opera's first performance in Vienna in 1788. The vocal scores had been trying to reproduce the instrumentation since the 19th century. Specific playing techniques of the piano reduction such as octave doublings and tremolos have conversely influenced the setting of original piano compositions.

Technical relief in the printing of music and the spread of house music led to high editions from around 1830. With the increasing complexity of the structure of the movements since the late 19th century, piano reductions became problematic because they could hardly reproduce the orchestral setting adequately and were difficult to play. Many composers have created piano reductions or piano versions of their works themselves, for example Richard Wagner for Tannhäuser and the Sängerkrieg on Wartburg , Johannes Brahms for A German Requiem , Max Reger for The 100th Psalm or Max Bruch for his violin concertos.

In rare cases, piano reductions have been composed in whole or in part for four hands or even for two pianos if the musical structure is very complicated. For example, the piano reduction of Alban Berg's opera Wozzeck contains a few four-hand sections, while Béla Bartók's ballet The Wonderful Mandarin has a piano reduction that is consistently set for two pianos. The reduced performance of operas with two pianos was common for a long time.

Since the 20th century, the importance of piano reductions for new works has decreased: popular music and jazz often preferred a reduction of the piano setting to chord symbols , and on the contrary, “ serious music ” reached a level of complexity that could not be reduced to the sound of the piano . - Piano reductions are still indispensable for rehearsing operas. In choral works with instrumental accompaniment, such as oratorios , orchestral masses or choral symphonic works, piano reductions often serve as both rehearsal and performance material. While in earlier centuries choirs often sang from choral parts or choral scores for reasons of cost, many choir directors and singers today value the piano reduction as the best compromise, which on the one hand offers a better overview of the musical processes of the work, but on the other hand is clearer and easier to use than a full score.

Manufacturing and quirks

The piano-oriented notation of an orchestral movement on two staves poses specific problems. Some peculiarities of the orchestral sound can only be reproduced approximately on the piano - such as chords that extend over several octaves, long sustained or swelling tones, percussion sounds without a precise pitch or the difference between arco and pizzicato on string instruments .

Traditional tricks for translating orchestral sounds into piano reductions include Alberti basses for repeated string chords , “ spectacle basses ” for tremoli or drum rolls, and short arpeggio chords for string pizzicati.

If an attempt is made to implement the entire musical text of the score, the piano reduction becomes confusing and hardly playable with larger orchestras or complex sentence structures. If the musical text is reduced in favor of playability, it is strictly speaking an interpretation , since some features have to be emphasized and others neglected. In more modern piano reductions, noteworthy secondary voices, which would overload the piano setting, are sometimes indicated with cue notes .


Concert performance, rehearsals and house music

In the 19th century there were piano paraphrases for concert use that were nothing more than complicated piano reductions. There are hardly any solo concert performances of piano reductions. Today piano reductions are mainly used for rehearsals. The practice, which provided the piano reduction primarily for professional rehearsal (but expected its sale to music lovers), is to be distinguished from the numerous four-handed devices for the domestic music-making of amateurs, which play a role in the history of reception that can hardly be overestimated and their popularity only decreased with the general spread of records at the beginning of the 20th century. There were also numerous piano reductions from solo concerts or symphonies for house music .

Especially in choral music , there are still performances with piano instead of orchestra. Directly related to the piano reduction is the organ reduction , in which an orchestral part is arranged for the organ; this is mainly used for performances in church services. The choir and organ line-up has developed into an independent genre.

Choreography and staging

The piano reduction is an important source for ballet music of the late 18th and 19th centuries. Many ballets were reproduced in the piano reduction. This then served either as a template for house music, where, in accordance with the operas, one wanted to “listen to” the ballets. On the other hand, they served as a template for rehearsing the ballets and were then marked with "Répétiteur" ( répétiteur ). These répétiteur piano reductions often contain entries on the choreography and are therefore an important source.

In the opera, piano reductions are also used as a director's book for the hand of the assistant director , in which performances or stage technical actions are noted synchronously with the musical sequence. Likewise, the work prompters with the piano reduction. - Piano reductions are also preferred to orchestral scores when translating opera texts or planning a stage, because the vocal texts are easier to read and you don't have to leaf through as often.

Piano direction

Another variant of the piano reduction is the piano director's part , which was used in popular music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Century ( salon orchestra ) continued the practice of the figured bass , i.e. formed a rhythmic and chordal basis in order to ensure the cohesion of the often heterogeneous orchestra and oriented the orchestra conductor sitting at the piano instead of a score about the progress of the piece of music and the inserts. In the 20th century, this type of written piano reduction was transformed into chord numbering for keyboard .

In the field of operettas , too, there were mostly piano reductions on the conductor's desk instead of scores. For the Viennese operettas of the “ Silver Era ” this is still largely the case today. The orchestral scores were initially not printed out of fear of illegal copies and the piano reductions were set up for conducting instead. It is only since the 1990s that more and more conducting scores for operettas have become available. Well-made piano reductions of this genre contain the information necessary for conducting, even if this tradition has since broken off.

Piano sketch

The piano sketches , which were made by many composers in preparation, take the opposite route of expanding from the piano setting to the orchestral setting . Piano sketches reproduced in the score appear in Italian operas for the voices of the banda , which were only arranged for the local brass band at the performance location. - The short score is an intermediate level between the piano sketch and the score .

The piano sketch can also be important for the production of music based on the division of labor: for the production of film music in the studio system (for example with Max Steiner ), the music was initially made in the form of a piano sketch or a score and then orchestrated by specialists.


Web links

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