Transcribing Piano Music for Cello

After vocal music, the instrument that has had the greatest amount of wonderful music composed for it must be the piano.

The piano is a self sufficient musical world, a virtuoso orchestra played with only two hands (and a foot), providing simultaneously melody, harmony and rhythm. Allowing a cellist to steal some of their most attractive melodies actually has an advantage for the pianist, especially for ones that are lacking an arm – it makes their pieces much easier to play as they are now sharing the load with another musician! Let’s hope they don’t mind playing only the accompaniment – and often in a different key to the original version !! Now we cellists can enjoy the delights of playing the tunes of Chopin Waltzes, Nocturnes and other assorted musical treasures – and we no longer need a virtuoso pianist to accompany us, as is the case in so much Romantic music for cello j(as for example in the Chopin Cello Sonata). Even some Classical Period piano pieces can be raided for the cello. Mozart’s Piano Sonatas offer some surprisingly wonderful opportunities for theft, especially of some of the beautiful slow movements.

Often however, if we steal all their melodies, what’s left for the pianist is too “thin”: we can’t really ask a “real” pianist to accompany with only one hand (although a learner may not mind). In these cases we have two choices to improve the situation:

  • fill out the piano accompaniment with some more notes to occupy their free hand/fingers
  • play the piece with guitar accompaniment: what are too few notes for the piano will usually be quite sufficient to occupy a guitarist.

Because the range of the piano is so enormous, we often need to modify the range of the original composition by doing some octave transpositions.