The process of transcription for cello of this most wonderful Viola Concerto by Telemann is explained here below:
IN WHICH KEY?
The original key is G major and the highest note in the original viola part is G, almost two octaves above the cello’s open A string. This note is used often, and in extended melodic passages, in three of the concerto’s four movements. The lowest note in the viola version is their open C string, which sounds a fourth above the cello’s open G string. This register seems unnecessarily – and uncomfortably – high, which is a standard problem when transcribing viola music for cello. Those very high passages risk sounding a little “freaky” and this is not at all appropriate in this joyful, heartfelt music. We have three different possible solutions to avoid this problem:
- maintain the original key and transpose the entire cello part down an octave, or
- transpose the entire piece into a different key, or
- maintain the original key and register but transpose down an octave the passages that are too high
We have, in fact, tried all of these solutions, which is why this concerto is offered here in three different transcriptions, corresponding to each of these three alternatives: a low-register original key version, a mid-register transposed version, and a high-register original key version.
1: ORIGINAL KEY, CELLO (SOLO) PART DOWN AN OCTAVE
In our easiest version of this piece, we preserve the original G major key but take the entire solo part down by an octave from the viola’s original register. In this transcription, our highest note is G (fourth position on the A string,) and our lowest note is the open C string, which is the exact equivalent of how it lies on the viola (although it now sounds one octave lower than on the viola). This keeps the cellist permanently in the Neck Region -the most comfortable register for cellists to play in – and is, therefore, a relatively easy version of the concerto. But the register is perhaps a little too low for a “real”, effective, concert-performance version.
2: TRANSPOSED INTO D MAJOR
For an effective soloistic register transposition, we have tried to find a compromise between the original viola register (too high) and the viola register transposed down by an octave (too low). In order to be able to use the most open strings as possible – and in the same places as the viola – a transposition down a fourth from G major into D major was chosen. Going down by a fourth might sound like a transposition in which we would lose the open string equivalences but, in fact, this is the same as transposing the viola notes first down an octave then up a fifth. In this key, the open strings still correspond between the cello and viola versions, but the cello will be playing the open string always one fifth higher than the viola. The lowest note of the piece, which was the viola’s open C string will now be the cello’s open G string (which means of course that we will never need the C string) and our highest note now will be a D (a fourth above the octave harmonic on the A string). This is a reasonable, soloistic, concerto range (register) and we will need to use the Intermediate Region and Thumbposition quite often. Playing it in this key is the equivalent of violists playing it one fifth higher than they do, and some passages become really quite difficult in this new key.
Another problem with this transposition is that we now also need to transpose the accompaniment, and because it is such a large transposition interval we need to choose which notes/passages in the accompaniment need to go down by a fourth and which ones need to go up a fifth. In fact, no transposition is larger – or more difficult – than that of a 4th/5th. If we were to transpose the solo part by a larger interval – let’s say a 6th – then the accompaniment would only need to move by a third (in the opposite direction). The transposition of the solo part by a 7th interval would require only a tone (or semitone) transposition of the accompaniment, and an octave transposition of the solo part obviously requires no accompaniment transposition.
3: IN THE ORIGINAL KEY AND ORIGINAL VIOLA REGISTER (MOSTLY)
This is the highest of the three versions offered on this website. In this transcription, apart from conserving the original key, the original viola register (octave) has also been conserved. But not always. The intimate, profound, third movement (slow) may not like being played on the cello in the viola register – it may be just too high – so even in this “original register” version we offer it also in the lower octave version. The same lower-octave alternative has been offered for the passage between bars 66-81 of the final movement.
In this version, we have made use of the fact that the cello has an extra octave of range beneath the viola, and have used a few low open strings in some dramatic or playful moments of the second, third and final movements (for example, bars 17-19, 52 and 69-70 of movt II) where the violas lowest C’s and G’s are an octave above ours.
As a curiosity, we also offer the solo cello part of the original key transcription in a “mix-and-match” version in which both the high and low octave versions are present, laid out in parallel staves (score format). In this way, not only is it very easy to compare the versions but also we can choose in which octave (register) we prefer to play any passage, according to our skill/mood/confidence level. The same procedure was followed for the transcription of Saint Saens’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso“, and for the same reasons.
MODIFICATIONS MADE FOR THE CELLO ADAPTATIONS
1: SLURS AND ARTICULATIONS
Telemann uses very few slurs in his original manuscript. In the Edited Versions offered here of this piece, quite a few extra slurs have been added, especially in the fast movements in order to give more variety to the somewhat monotonous “sewing machine effect” of repeated semiquavers (16th notes) that was often the articulation custom at the time. There are many different possibilities for “improving!?” these articulations – the slurs indicated here are by no means either necessary or definitive – just vague suggestions.
Quite a few slurs have also been added to the third movement (slow) to give it a more vocal, lyrical quality. To see Telemann’s original slurs for all the movements, look at the “Literal Transcriptions”.
2: NOTES (PITCHES):
Some extra octave-down transcription of various cadential notes in the second, third and fourth movements of the two higher register versions have been made (for example, bars 17-19, 52 and 69-70 of movt II). In this way, we make use of the fact that, in the higher cello versions, we have extra low open strings available that the viola doesn’t have. Apart from this playful liberty, the music in all three versions is completely unchanged from Telemann’s viola version.
The piano accompaniment for the D-major version was copied from an existing public-domain edition and probably would benefit from some more simplification and improvements in harmonisation. The orchestral parts were copied and transposed from an original manuscript on imslp.org. The original-key sheet music accompaniments (keyboard reduction and string orchestra parts) are available on imslp.org. The play-along audio recordings of the accompaniments offered here are also available on Youtube. Many thanks to the pianist Malika Baimagambetova and the “Piano Accompaniment” Youtube channel. Be aware that in the high notes of bar 46 of the second movement we will need to play the natural note instead of Telemann’s (or the copyist Graupner’s) sharp.
Here then are the downloadable parts for each of the three different original-key versions, followed by the play-along audio of the G major piano accompaniment:
In the play-along audio accompaniment of the D-major version, the entire accompaniment has been transposed down by a fourth, as this sounds better than moving it up a fifth. However, in the orchestral parts (string orchestra) and piano accompaniment sheet music that are also provided for this version, while most notes/passages are taken down a fourth quite a few others are taken up a fifth.