As pianists, instrumentalists, singers, conductors, and composers, we all work with piano reductions in various capacities throughout our studies and careers. For pianists (whom I would expect are the primary readers of this course), reductions are most often encountered in concerto, choral, and operatic repertoire. Instrumentalists and singers, who study concerti and operas through the lens of a piano score or reduction, depend on accompanists’ or coaches’ expertise to play along, while adapting accordingly to different phases of their preparation curve: learning notes, hearing underlying harmonies and counterpoints, consolidating the playing/singing with a stronger rhythmic sense, drilling a difficult passage, and preparing for the first orchestral rehearsal. Piano reductions provide an avenue for conductors to visualize and hear how the score unfolds. Composers (and their publishers and editors) of works involving a medium or large ensemble would create a piano score for the convenience of rehearsals and for the production team to follow along during performances.
This chapter motivates graduate piano performance majors (especially in the collaborative piano track) to incorporate improvisation to enhance the experience of playing piano reductions (in concerti and operatic repertoire). Comparative studies of excerpts can demonstrate options and different methods of decision making in evaluating a pre-existing piano score. The growth of transcriptions coincided with the rise of the middle class in the romantic era. One of the main purposes of transcripts was to allow concerti, operas, and symphonic works to be enjoyed at salons and in homes. Franz Liszt was a leading virtuoso at the time. He was known to be able to sight-read and/or improvise from a full score at the piano. Not only was he able to transcribe the full score, but he also infused his personal embellishments — sometimes wild and difficult — into the operatic overtures and paraphrases. These types of virtuosic transcriptions were common not only in the piano repertoire, but also in other instrumental repertoire, such as works by Wieniawski and Sarasate. Piano scores, which were more faithful transfers from full scores to the piano (without icing-on-the-cake embellishments), were also produced in great numbers. This chapter mainly addresses these partitions.
In the 21st century, pianists still struggle with finding a partition that satisfies one’s taste and practical use. Personal editing work on a reduction is still commonly done with pencils and erasers (or pens and whiteout). Influenced by the technology boom in the last decade, especially with the rise of tablet devices and sheet music apps, pianists might, in the near future, achieve their personal reduction versions without the use of paper and writing utensils (and save time in doing so). Although a leading piano reduction app has yet to turn up among collaborative pianists, the quest for one is ongoing.