Transcriptions are a funny thing in the world of music. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, and whether or not they do can largely be determined by the simple matter of who or what they’re transcribed for. Bach organ works work pretty well dressed up for full orchestra, which is why important and fancy-time composers like Mahler, Elgar, and Schoenberg have all transcribed Bach (to say nothing of Stokowski’s famous versions as well). Pictures at an Exhibition, a pretty successful piano piece, is one of the all-time amazing orchestral transcriptions, thanks to Ravel being a genius orchestrator. The list goes on and on, from Wagner operas and Beethoven symphonies arranged for the piano to string quartet versions of Led Zeppelin and Metallica.
When I was in school, I got really into the cello music of Ernest Bloch and said to myself “Self, the french horn has some of the same sound characteristics as the cello…why don’t you take a stab at playing some of these?” Was it a good idea? It wasn’t a BAD idea. There were some spots where it sounded pretty stupid, but there were plenty of spots in works like Prayer, Nigun, and Meditation Hebraique that actually sounded pretty fucking rad on horn. Still, as awesome as horn can be, let’s not kid ourselves: Bloch thought the cello was good enough to stand in for King Solomon, one of history’s all-time bad asses. Horn isn’t “cut the kids in half” cool.
Years ago I was turned on to the trumpet wizardry of Timofei Dokshizer, yet another of the absurdly good 20th-century Russian musicians who made their mark in the Soviet Union and beyond. He is perhaps best known for his performance of the Trumpet Concerto of Alexander Arutiunian, especially hilarious because it wasn’t actually written for him at all even though I was about to type that it was until I remembered that it wasn’t. Listen to the first 30 seconds of this and you’ll see where the hype comes from.
Dokshizer transcribed many things for the trumpet over the course of his career, from Gliere’s Concerto for Coloratura Soprano to Shostakovich’s First Piano Concerto (a truly bizarre arrangement if there ever was one). My favorite of these transcriptions is without question his take on Rhapsody in Blue, in large part because there’s absolutely no reason it should be good and it doesn’t even make sense to consider arranging it for trumpet in the first place. But its audacity is part of its appeal. Give it a listen and hear for yourself. The sound is a bit rough, but it’s totally worth it.