Some thoughts on making the arrangement
The civil service would call any attempt to rearrange a great work for a different set of instruments “courageous”, meaning foolish and likely to fail. It was therefore with some trepidation that this project was tackled courageously. Not only is the American Quartet one of Dvorak’s greatest works there is also an existing well thumbed arrangement for wind quintet. The project is therefore probably doubly courageous hence this lengthy explanation.
The wind quintet repertoire has original masterpieces that we all enjoy playing but they are few by comparison with the string quartet repertoire - too many of our favourite composers including Dvorak ignored the combination. One solution is to make arrangements of their other works. These can fall well short of the original and disappoint particularly when starting with a great string quartet. The reason is obvious; when the composer wrote the original he was taking advantage of every strength of the instruments that he was using and a simple re-allocation of the notes is doomed The instruments in a string quartet blend so incredibly well because all four fundamentally generate their sound in the same way. The music often seem to be hierarchical, the first violin sometimes hogs the melodies and certainly everyone else knows their place. In a wind quintet there are five musicians, every one a soloist and each generating a very individual sound. It is no surprise that we can never quite achieve the ease with which a string quartet becomes a single instrument; on the other hand the range of sonorities available within a wind quintet is amazing both individually and in a variety of groupings. The great composers recognise this and constantly shift the lead and combination of instruments to suit the music The result can be a wonderful conversation between equals. A good arrangement should be similar but is not always easily achieved. The only viable method is to study how the composer writes for the woodwind/horn combination in his other works and then imagine how he would have written the work being transformed. How would he have written his masterpiece had he written it for a wind quintet? – the project certainly is courageous, an impossible task, an arranger must accept that at best he will fail to reach this target and can only aim to get as close as possible .
My result is definitely different in a number of ways from both the original and the Walters version. Firstly it deliberately attempts to provide each of the five instruments with a reasonably equal share of solo melody, interesting tutti and necessary accompaniment. The other most obvious change is that the third movement is complete. 74 bars are omitted in the Walters arrangement, 48 bars in the new key of Ab and then a missing da capo. ( N.B. I have written the D.C. out in full in order to avoid awkward page turns.) Another striking difference is my change of flute to piccolo for all of the third movement and for the conclusion of the fourth. This avoids substantial passages when the flute would be asked to play at the extreme of its range, in fact the original violin part of the omitted bars would take the flute well above its range, a fifth above top C. Not only is the change practical, I believe it suits the character of the movement. I have chosen to tackle the change from four to five instruments in a variety of ways. The simplest method uses two instruments that sound as one, a flute with oboe an octave lower providing an almost imperceptable edge to the flute’s overall sound ; flute in its lowest range supported by a clarinet; clarinet and bassoon an octave apart, a favourite of Beethoven’s; clarinet in close harmony with either of the upper woodwind - to achieve this I have occasionally added a line appropriate to the harmony. There were also a number of passages when using fewer instruments emphasises contrasts for example in the first movement, a lengthy tutti passage involving all five musicians is followed at bar 40 by the serene second subject that could have been composed for the oboe. It needs minimal support so the mood is emphasised by dropping to a reed trio and also taking the liberty of inserting the meno mosso that strings often take at this point . There are other reflective moments when three or four of the woodwind can provide a peaceful interlude; for example in the busy last movement the oboe again featuring in a reed trio. As a useful by product this gives some bars rest and recuperation for the horn before at the next meno mosso enjoying the privilege of introducing a new subject at some length. When making a choice in the instrumentation two questions have always been critical; does the resulting sound match the emotion of the original passage and does it sit well on the instruments? Thanks to Sibelius (the Finn brothers not the composer) having a virtual orchestra at your finger tips is a great asset.
Making the new setting was certainly a challenge but I hope the result will give players a challenge they also enjoy.