The second version of this variation has been transcribed for a woodwind quintet and a string quartet. In this case, now the strings play the soft interludes as well as when the register of the main melodic material changes—just as the woodwinds did in the first version. 


2. 5. Variation XVII



            I have transcribed this variation in three different ways and each version has been recorded. When I first started to practice this variation at the piano, I always had the sound of a harp in mind for the accompaniment material. As such, I decided to keep the first version of this variation simpler than all the previous ones, and arranged it for flute, clarinet and harp. The second version was transcribed for string quartet, and as there is some very pianistic writing in this variation, during the recording process the players found many technical issues that needed to be resolved in my arrangement. In both of these versions however, the instrumentation for the accompaniment and melody material never changes: each layer is played by the same instruments throughout the entire transcription. 

Excerpt 17: Variations on a theme of Corelli,Var. XVII (m. 1), piano version.


            The third version of this variation however, was created for a blend of strings and woodwinds. In this case, the solo melody is played by the violin and the viola while the main motif of the accompaniment is alternated between the flute, clarinet and cello. This version is in my opinion the most interesting one: both for its instrumental variety, as well as for how the same material becomes divided up among several instruments. In this version, a group of instruments from different families play the main triplet motif of the accompaniment material. This method was also used by Rachmaninoff in his orchestral version of the Symphonic Dances. Interestingly, using woodwinds for the accompaniment layer resulted in a very modern sonority—one similar to Rachmaninoff's transcription of the Symphonic Dances, where the large number of repeated chords in the accompaniment produced a much more sharp, direct, and primitive sound in the piano duo version than in the original orchestral version. 

          As mentioned in the introduction to this research paper, the analyses described above were carried out in order to help me construct multiple orchestral versions of selected variations from Rachmaninoff's Variations on a Theme of Corelli for piano solo: transcriptions that would then be used to help me arrive at multiple interpretations of this work when performing it as written, at the piano. In creating these transcriptions, I ultimately want to explore and expand my relationship with this piece, while opening up my mind to the interpretive possibilities inherent in other familiar repertoires.

            The process of creating these orchestral transcriptions was based on the seventh example of material distributions from my comparative analysis of the orchestral and piano duo versions of the Symphonic Dances, especially as related to how Rachmaninoff divided musical materials across both piano parts according to the groups of instruments playing either the main theme or accompaniment in the original orchestral version of the work. In an effort to replicate Rachmaninoff's transcription method, I decided to create groupings of instruments from different families (and thus timbres). Nevertheless, some variations are for instruments of the same family, whereas others are for instruments from a blend of families. Because I approached these transcriptions experimentally however, it should be noted that some of them do contain fairly atypical timbral blends.

            Due to the length of the Variations I decided to transcribe five of them. These five variations were selected based on their own special characteristics and/or the extent to which they present interesting interpretative problems for pianists. Throughout the original version of this work one finds idiomatic pianistic textures as well as those that are quite orchestral. Similarly, one encounters melodies that could be played by a solo instrument or sung by a vocalist. In my transcriptions I have tried to reveal and amplify these features in order to clarify their role in each variation.


2.1. Variation III


           This variation has been chosen because of its orchestral texture. All of the chords could easily be imagined as containing contrapuntal lines of several instruments. I have created two different instrumentations for this variation: the first is for woodwind septet and the second is for string sextet. In both versions you will find a similar distribution of main theme and accompaniment material across the instruments as Rachmaninoff uses in his Symphonic Dances. In my versions however, the instruments maintain their roles throughout the entire transcription. Each instrument family (woodwinds and strings) has a very different timbre and I wanted to compare parameters such as attack and articulation depending on the instrument family used.


The most interesting transcription of the two in my opinion is the one for woodwinds, because within this instrument family there are many timbral differences. As a result, suddenly all of the contrapuntal lines and motivic conversations of this variation become much more clear. In the excerpt below, you can see both elements: 

Excerpt 12: Variations on a theme of Corelli, Var. III (mm. 1-2), piano version.


2.2. Variation IV



            When performing the opening of this variation at the piano, I always had trouble phrasing its principal melodic material (in green), because the accompaniment material (in blue) is written in the same register. As a result, there were always moments where the connection between the principal melodic fragments was lost or broken. In the excerpt below, you can observe this issue: 

Excerpt 14: Variations on a theme of Corelli, Var. IX (mm. 1-2), piano version.


2.4. Variation XII


            I chose this variation for its already quite orchestral texture. Because of its instrumentation however, my first transcription of this variation is not ideal. I have always considered this variation to have a very powerful and energetic character, so I decided to create an arrangement with a brass quintet at its core (3 horns and 2 trombones). I then decided to add a string quartet in order to add some deepness and resonance to the accompaniment layer of this variation. The result is not successful in my opinion, but this is one of two variations in which I tried to reproduce—rather than alter—my original conception of the musical material via orchestral instruments (the second example of this occurs in the transcription of Variation XVII, below).

            In Excerpt 15 you can see the main texture of this variation, while Excerpt 16 shows an example of some soft interludes that punctuate the main texture. In my first transcription, the sudden textural changes of these interludes are represented by the woodwinds (in green). They also are involved when the melodic material moves from the bass to the upper register in mm. 13.

Excerpt 13: Variations on a theme of Corelli, Var. IV (mm. 1-2), piano version.


            In order to see how using two very different timbres for this main theme and accompaniment material could help with phrasing, I first decided to create a transcription for string quartet and flute trio. The goal of this instrumentation was to create two very distinct timbral layers in order to have a very clear disconnection between them and so that I could become more aware of their independent phrasings. The second transcription of this variation is for woodwind quintet and a string trio. I chose this instrumentation so that I could compare how each layer’s sonorities change in density and voice leading depending on what family of instruments is playing a given layer. While these versions are very different, both have helped me to better distinguish between thematic and accompaniment material when I play this transcription on the piano, especially as related to playing each layer with greater differences in color.


2.3. Variation IX


           I have created three different transcriptions of this variation, and all of them have been recorded. It was chosen because of its highly idiomatic pianistic writing. With these transcriptions I wanted to see how these pianistic textures would translate on monophonic instruments, though when making the recordings I ended up having to rearrange some motifs between two instruments in order to get a better result. As before, each of these transcriptions has been divided into two layers (melody and accompaniment), and in the first version (string quartet) and second version (woodwind quartet) I have followed the same procedure as related to using the same group of instruments for the accompaniment material. The third version however includes a combination of harp and cello.


            The resulting phrasing and sonority of the first and second versions are quite similar apart from their timbral differences. I personally find the third version the most interesting one however, because of the mixture of the harp and cello sonorities. The resonance of the harp perfectly blends with the expressivity of the cello line. With regards to the melodic material, it has been distributed throughout several instruments from other families in order to create timbral contrast. I have distributed motifs from the principal melodic layer between two different instruments depending on what harmony is being played by the accompaniment layer. We saw this kind of distribution in the Symphonic Dances, where Rachmaninoff maintains the same instrumentation for the accompaniment while alternating the main cell material between several players. In the first and second versions I have kept these conversations between instruments of the same family, but in the third version they are distributed between string and woodwind players. In so doing, I have created an alternative way of phrasing this variation, which you can see below:

Excerpt 15: Variations on a theme of Corelli, Var. XII (mm. 1-2), piano version.


Excerpt 16: Variations on a theme of Corelli, Var. XII (m. 5), piano version.