Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Pop Tune Becomes An Etude? Read On...

Those within the field of music, along with those close followers of the art full well know that an etude is a piece written for a particular instrument with a particular technical problem endemic to the instrument, usually of palpable difficulty. And if the composer of the etude is a master composer, the etude also can be a great piece of music. The legendary etudes of Chopin are, perhaps, the best example of what heights this particular form of music can reach. Of course, other composers such as Liszt, Schumann and a number of other great writers have also created important etudes.
The other day I came across an arrangement by the great pop pianist George Shearing of a tune written by Glenn Miller in 1939, titled "Moonlight Serenade," which may well be the tune best connected to the career of this eminent arranger and band leader of the mid-twentieth century.
What is striking about the Shearing arrangement is that it towers over all the other arrangements available to the pianist, in terms of concentrated difficulty and wonderfully rich  harmonic material he lends to the melody.
Specifically, it is quite impossible to play well unless(1), the pianist is veritably a world-class sight reader, or(2),all the notes are thoroughly memorized, which puts this arrangement  in a class equal to that of the great classical etudes given us by the great 19th century composers.
There are  well over 400 notes in the left hand, compressed onto four pages, that have to be mastered before the piece comes to life, and these 400 - odd notes form a wonderful harmonic creation underneath the simple and ravishing tune that is "Moonlight Serenade."
For those of you who play piano seriously, and happen to love Glenn Miller's talents, do look for this arrangement. It stands alone, in my view, among the available piano arrangements left to us by George Shearing.

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