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Can the average conservatory student, even at one of the top schools, really do this(play a fugue in any requested key) or is this just something one reads about some world class composer or world class pianist occasionally being able to do?

If one made a list of the top 50 pianists(using whatever reasonable criteria one wanted) playing today, how many do you think could do this?

How about doing the same thing with something like a Beethoven Sonata?

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None of the conservatory students among my San Francisco Conservatory of Music teacher's conservatory students, several of whom are *extraordinary* musicians, could do this.

I've only met one person in my life who could do this kind of thing, and he was a once-in-a-lifetime genius. For example, he is the youngest professor ever to achieve tenure at Harvard.

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My grandmother was, in her day, a nationally-regarded Soprano, and she's told the story many times that her pianist was able to transpose anything to any key at sight. Given they were employed accompanying singers, this would probably be a pretty useful skill. I'm not sure the extent to which they were able to do that, but one imagines that once you have the skill, you wouldn't be limited by the music.


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Originally Posted by Jolteon
My grandmother was, in her day, a nationally-regarded Soprano, and she's told the story many times that her pianist was able to transpose anything to any key at sight.

Not all music is the same in this regard. I believe it with most song accompaniments; I don't believe it with fugues.

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Originally Posted by Jolteon
My grandmother was, in her day, a nationally-regarded Soprano, and she's told the story many times that her pianist was able to transpose anything to any key at sight. Given they were employed accompanying singers, this would probably be a pretty useful skill. I'm not sure the extent to which they were able to do that, but one imagines that once you have the skill, you wouldn't be limited by the music.
Actually, I think transposing a typical song accompaniment is far different and probably far easier than transposing a Bach Fugue or even a Beethoven Sonata.

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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Actually, I think transposing a typical song accompaniment is far different and probably far easier than transposing a Bach Fugue or even a Beethoven Sonata.
Depends on the song accompaniment, of course. It would make a difference to me with the fugue or sonata if I was sight-reading (and therefore sight-transposing), or actually knew the piece quite well, which would make it an easier task. I think, for example, I could have a reasonable crack right now at playing the minuet and trio from op31/3 in any key. But a fugue? Well I'd try it if I had to, I'd far rather have the song accompaniment.


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Talented organ players can do it, no problem. I had a friend who sat the entrance exam at the Paris Conservatory and he had to sight read a fugue which was switching between 7 different clefs. If you can read all the clefs, transposition is a doddle.

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Originally Posted by beet31425
I don't believe it with fugues.

But possible perhaps.

Cesar Franck, age 16 at a piano competition at the Paris Conservatiore, was given a difficult piece to read at sight. Not only did he play it perfectly, he transposed it on the run from Eb to C. (Evidently gave the jury a moment for pause.) He may very well have been able to do that with a fugue.

(I first read this in Schonberg's book 'The Great Composers', but it is also backed up in R.J. Stove's recent scholarly bio of Franck from 2012.)

For all that, I've read some rather alarmingly heroic anecdotes about the abilities of the great organist Marcel Dupre. There seemed almost nothing he couldn't do. He could improvise a complex fugue on the spot -and often did so in recital- and I should not be surprised if he could also transpose any fugue at sight.


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It is a very rare quality to be able to transpose a fugue in your mind like that. So "the average conservatory student" (as the OP states in his first post) would most probably not be able to do that.



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My teacher in Hawaii told me that Adele Ous de Ohe (spelling) transposed all the preludes and fugues into all the keys.

Seems some are gifted that way. I would have trouble transposing almost anything to another key.


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Originally Posted by Varcon
My teacher in Hawaii told me that Adele Ous de Ohe (spelling) transposed all the preludes and fugues into all the keys.


"all" means 1056 (= 96 pieces * 11 keys) transposings! That's a lot! smile


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Originally Posted by ando
Talented organ players can do it, no problem. I had a friend who sat the entrance exam at the Paris Conservatory and he had to sight read a fugue which was switching between 7 different clefs. If you can read all the clefs, transposition is a doddle.

Obviously, there are Swiss Cheese-like holes in my learning.

I am aware of the treble clef, also known as the G-clef.
I am aware of the bass clef, also known as the F-clef.
I am aware of the two versions of the C-clef, one known as the alto clef, and the other known as the tenor clef.
I am even aware of the French violin clef, as a different positioning of the G-clef.

Those are only 5. Would you be so kind as to fill in my 2 blank voids?

(always learning . . .) Thanks,
Ed



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My copy of The Oxford Companion to Music lists the G,F and the three C clefs you mention. I would guess the extra two clefs are the C clef on the second line from the bottom and on the top line of the stave. Thus the C clef gets to be placed on any line of the 5, plus the G and F clefs, making 7 "clefs" in all. Just the sort of thing organists seem to be able to take in their stride, like figured basses, although a bit of a perverse thing to be asked to sight-read in an audition, IMO.


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There are more clefs, but some are not in use any more.



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Originally Posted by Toastburn
My copy of The Oxford Companion to Music lists the G,F and the three C clefs you mention. I would guess the extra two clefs are the C clef on the second line from the bottom and on the top line of the stave. Thus the C clef gets to be placed on any line of the 5, plus the G and F clefs, making 7 "clefs" in all.

Toastburn,
I appreciate your response, and I am not attempting to sharp-shoot anything here. Do you know this for a fact, that the "movable" C-clef can reside on any of the five lines of its staff?

And just to clarify, the French violin clef involves the G-clef, not the C-clef.

Thanks,
Ed


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As I said, my response was a guess. I admit I don't know for a fact that what I said is true - just a guess that seems to me to explain things. I can't think of any reason why the C clef could not be on any of the 5 lines, except for reasons of habit and common practice/familiarity. If there are a couple of exotic other clefs in existence then I'd love to know about them. I can't find anything more in my OCTM to help.


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Originally Posted by Toastburn
As I said, my response was a guess. I admit I don't know for a fact that what I said is true - just a guess that seems to me to explain things. I can't think of any reason why the C clef could not be on any of the 5 lines, except for reasons of habit and common practice/familiarity. If there are a couple of exotic other clefs in existence then I'd love to know about them. I can't find anything more in my OCTM to help.


Yes, I can confirm this. A C clef can be placed on any line of a staff. So yes, 5 C clefs + F and G clefs = 7 clefs.

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If you knew those WTC fugues cold (i.e., memorized) I imagine it would not be that difficult to transpose them. But it would require that intimate familiarity.

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Originally Posted by RealPlayer
If you knew those WTC fugues cold (i.e., memorized) I imagine it would not be that difficult to transpose them. But it would require that intimate familiarity.


People who are very good at transposition don't read music the same way we do - that is, they don't look so much at actual pitch as they see intervals very acutely. It's a whole different way of reading music. My harmony tutors at university were mostly organ players and they could transpose anything we wrote, straight away.

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Originally Posted by Varcon
My teacher in Hawaii told me that Adele Ous de Ohe (spelling) transposed all the preludes and fugues into all the keys.

Seems some are gifted that way. I would have trouble transposing almost anything to another key.



I think some are also trained that way. Or, at least, they once were.

IIRC, Czerny had his students learn to do it, which helps account for why Liszt, as a Czerny pupil, was able to impress Beethoven by being able to transpose a fugue from the WTC. He had some experience with it. About that anecdote, it is interesting that Beethoven even thought of asking for such a thing - it almost sounds as if it might have been something he would expect from a highly skilled adult musician, doesn't it? And maybe he knew it was something Czerny taught, so he was testing Liszt to see if he had reached that stage of learning at a tender age.


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