One very interesting phenomenon, more or less recurrent in the history of music but little studied, is that of arrangements and transcriptions, of which many examples can be found throughout history, from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century. In this paper I will try to establish the importance of this genre in the reception of Luigi Boccherini's music, based in the works for two instruments present in the catalogue of Yves Gérard, since the number of transcriptions in this section is the highest in the whole catalogue. Come to this point, a distinction between the terms ‘arrangement’ and ‘transcription’ might be useful; an arrangement is ‘the transfer of a composition from one medium to other one or the production or simplification of a piece, with or without a change of medium’1, whereas a transcription is ‘the adaptation of a composition for a medium other than their original, for example vocal music for instruments, or a piano piece for orchestra’2. It will be the latter that suits better Boccherini’s works for two instruments to which reference is made in this article.
The practice of transcription has been well known for centuries, but such compositions became more prevalent with the generalization of print, which allowed greater benefits for composers, but especially for publishers, who could issue the same work transcribed for different instruments, thus expanding its market. None of the transcriptions we shall deal with in this text were made by Boccherini, while the implication of different music publishers in the process becomes evident; this was, clearly, a commercial operation or, as Picquot liked to call it, ‘une spéculation commerciale’. It is important to understand the nature of these works and also their true value and significance in the catalogue of the works by Luigi Boccherini; any attempt to equate the motives of the arranger with the artistic merits of the result would be, in Boyd’s words, misleading3. The economic factor is, thus, the main reason that led to the realization of transcriptions; works which were met with success were adapted for smaller instrumental forces, usually two or three instrumentalists, rendering them accessible to an amateur audience who wished to play these works at home. There was also another consideration of practical character, such as expanding the repertoire of instruments like the harpsichord or the pianoforte, which had become quite common by the second half of the eighteenth century. Whatever the case, the extent to which this happened with Boccherini's music is far from negligible, for five volumes of transcriptions for keyboard with one or two instruments were printed between 1780 and 18134.
1 malcolm boyd, Arrangement, in The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed. Stanley Sadie, 2nd ed., 29 voll, vol. 2, London, Macmillan Publishers Limited, 2001, p. 66.
2 willi apel: Transcription, in The Harvard Dictionary of Music, 2nd ed., Cambridge (MA), The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975, p. 56.
3 boyd, Arrangement, p. 66.
4 rudolf rasch, Luigi Boccherini and the Music Publishing Trade, in Boccherini Studies 1, ed. Christian Speck, Bologna, Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 2007, p. 120.