“Send In The Clowns”: Transcription for Cello

Here is a cello transcription of this lovely, tender song from Stephen Sondheim’s (1930-2021) musical “A Little Night Music” (which translates into german as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”), written in 1973. The use of climactic 9/8 bars interspersed within the normal 12/8 time signature gives the song a feeling of freedom, of improvisation, intimacy and spontaneity, adding to its emotivity. If we actually play it with a real accompanist, we can take great rubato liberties with this piece, as do most of its most famous vocal interpreters, and can also decide to dot (or not) many of the triplet eighth-note (quaver) figures.

Before we play the piece, here are some quotes by the composer ……

….. “I just wanted to study composition, theory, and harmony without the attendant musicology. And I knew I wanted to write for the theatre, so I wanted a teacher who did not disdain theatre music.”

… “Everybody hated my college composition teacher because he was very dry, but I thought he was wonderful because he was very dry. And he made me realize that all my romantic views of art were nonsense. I had always thought an angel came down and sat on your shoulder and whispered the music in your ear. It never occurred to me that art was something worked out. And suddenly it was like the skies opened up. As soon as you find out what a leading tone is, you think, Oh my God! What a diatonic scale is – Oh my God! The logic of it ! And, of course, what that meant to me was: Well, I can do that. Because you just don’t know. You think it’s a talent, you think you’re born with this thing. What I’ve found out and what I believe is that everybody is talented. It’s just that some people get it developed and some don’t.[20]

The choice of key is somewhat problematic because of the large (vocal) range of the piece. We have opted for G major so our range is from C on the G-string up to our high D on the A-string. This key also allows us to comfortably play all the music of the song in both the tenor and soprano register (octave).

The song is offered in two versions, according to the play-along accompaniment with which we decide to play it. The first one is the most expressive, most musically interesting version, full of beautiful rubatos and with a repeat of the dramatic “chorus” in the higher octave. Here we play along with the pianist Jiri Sup, simply doubling his melody line. The Czech Republic is one of the cradles of classical music, and we can really hear those deep musical roots in this beautiful rendition.

Jiri Sup: Edited Performance Version    Jiri Sup: Clean Performance Version


The second version offered here is with a standard “play-along” accompaniment in which we are alone on the melody, but this is a greatly inferior accompaniment, less expressive, with much less rubato and no repeat of the chorus.

Edited Shorter Performance Version     Clean Shorter Performance Version