Conlon Nancarrow

Study for orchestra

A transcription from the study

49 B and C for player piano



My Writings on Nancarrow

Studio & Libraries

Details on the Study 21

My Work as the Composer's Assistant

Nancarrow in 12 channels









Detail of the first page from my transcription, second movement, first 4 bars.

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Around 1993-94 Conlon told me about a commission from Mrs. Betty Freeman to compose a piece to be premiered by The Los Angeles Philharmonic and asked me if I could assist him to do it. No further details. I of courese said "yes" and we arranged an appointment to meet at his weekend-house in Cuautla City.  A week later in Cuautla he showed me copies of the 49-B and 49-C (punching and final scores) and told me: "You will have to make a transcription for orchestra from these scores. Later on I will assign the instruments."  What he really meant at the moment, as I later realized, was: I had to design the score as a whole, after his instrumentation, render all the rhythms to be playable by orchestra musicians, and make a final copy. Also: coordinate the "impossible parts" with Trimpin, who had his MIDI versions of the study ready for this project. It was urgent.  He couldn't do it alone since he was recovering from a brain stroke.

Of course I started working immediately in my studio in Cuernavaca City. The piece is scored for orchestra (violin 2 and viola excluded)3flutes., 3oboes.,  3Cl., 1 Bass cl., 2Bsn., 3Fh, 3,Trp., 3tbn., percussion (2 vib., 2 xil., 1mar.) 1 computer controlled piano, piano, 6vl, 3vc., 3db.

Red, Blue and Green are the three correspondent tempi: 4:5:6 for each voice. (At the left margin still no instrument indications). Over the "Gliss" and sustained notes: Nancarrow´s instrument annotations in Spanish. In fluorescent green, my handwriting: "Check the three scales". Example 1: Nancarrow, Conlon, "Study for Orchestra", first transcription by Carlos Sandoval, Page 18. Carlos Sandoval's archive.


Same page. Nancarrow instrumentation. Nancarrow, Conlon, "Study for Orchestra", first transcription by Carlos Sandoval, Page 18 below. Carlos Sandoval´s archive.


I resolved the 4:5:6 polytempo ratio with a simple 4/4 common-time, using several kinds of  tuplets and some crasy multi-bar "15-istead-of-16-quarter, certainly not suitable for orchestra musicians and not precisely the best solution in general. I say this now in retrospective, of course. Thomas Adès found later a much better solution: the use of two conductors and a viable rhythm writing.


Some other stories: the final score was stolen from my car and found intact three days later in an abandoned house. (Difficult days, those three days!) Also: some parts for the computer-controlled piano had to be re-written and re-sequenced: we didn't know the Yamaka Disklavier could not handle more than 16 notes at a time.


By doing this transcription I tried to solve a concrete, difficult situation in stressing circumstances and with little experience. Esa-Pekka Salonen, conductor at the Los Angeles Philharmonic, refused to perform this pre-Adès  version. Published score: Schott "Conlon Nancarrow, Study in two Movements for orchestra"  (Thomas Adés 1990-91).

Please consider reading bellow before emailing me:

I don't have the MIDI files required for this piece. You should contact TrimpinSchott or Nancarrow's widow.

I don't know about performances of this or other Nancarrow's pieces.  Schott or a Nancarrow scholar may have this information.
Some information in Schott's published score is incorrect: The transcription was made from the SCORES, not from the rolls.