Deutscher Genesis Fanclub it: Startseite
Deutscher Genesis Fanclub it
Choose artist

Mario Giammetti
Random Hols Website Special
The Last Domino? Tour

Genesis in black and white

Yngve Guddal and Roger T. Matte: Genesis For Two Grand Pianos

A truly grand experience – that’s what a new Norwegian CD release promises to be: Genesis For Two Grand Pianos is the pragmatic title of a project that was recorded in 1999 and 2000 and published early in 2002.

Apart from Genesis coverbands of mixed quality who released CDs there were also a number of Genesis tribute CD projects, namely in Italy and the United States. They took an approach that differed from most coverbands in that they did not attempt a perfect reproduction of the music but to use a different style. Apart from the odd exception, however, they still played on the accepted selection of rock music instruments, for example electric and electronic instruments.

A couple of creative and aspiring people dared transfer Genesis compositions to instruments that do not make up the “usual suspects” in rock music. You might remember David Palmer and his 1987 project with the London Symphony Orchestra as an example. The legendary live acts that performed at the it club meetings belong to this category, too.

Yngve Guddal, sound technician at the Norwegian Academy of Music (Norges musikkhøgskole, NMH), and Roger T. Matte took the next logical step. Not only did they arrange the music for two pianos, but they professionally recorded there arrangements “live”, i.e. without overdubs, on two Steinway type D grand pianos – and released them on CD.

“Real”, i.e. mechanic pianos are by no means strangers in the categories of music Genesis are usually put in, but on tours in particular they are normally replaced by electronic instruments. The so-called “classical” music on the other hand cannot do without the piano since the middle of the 18th century. There are two reasons for this: One, the music written for this instrument is varied and (mostly) worth listening to. Two, the piano is an important musical tool: Whether you’re in music lessons or writing a piece or rehearsing with a choir or an orchestra, you’d be hard-pressed to make do without it. Besides the “full” score there are very often piano scores made (not infrequently by the composer himself) from orchestral pieces and the like. They allow a pianist to play the piece and all its musical elements – of course without the full musical volume and particular sounds of the various instruments).
The piano is a useful instrument to render the essence of complex musical arrangements not only because one can produce intricate sound textures with just two hands. No, the acoustic qualities of the piano permit the human ear to notice individual sounds and harmonies so that it can perceive it as a transparent structure of sounds. This is certainly because, at the piano, every note gives way to the succeeding one by beginning to dying away immediately.

The project of Messieurs Guddal and Matte combines the good characteristics of a piano score with the musical brilliance of a grand piano, or rather two grand pianos: They obviously tried to capture all the melodies, harmonies, counterpoints, rhythmic impulses and whatnots of the original tracks, and ten fingers would have been too few for such a task.

A selection of six pieces ranges from Nursery Cryme to the Duke era, the period of time when the band were most productive. Two of the pieces, One For The Vine and Evidence Of Autumn, were written by Tony Banks on the piano. The other four are collaborations by the band. The order of the tracks matches the chronology of their original releases.

The Fountain Of Salmacis is the opening track. It is delightfully true to the original. The arrangement does its best to lure the listener into the glades of Greek mythology even without Mike Rutherford’s lyrics. There are two weak points. At the point of “Where are you my father ...”/ “Then he could go no farther ...” and its later parallels the melody is sweetened by sugary sexts. This does not correspond to the original and threatens to pull down the musical style (which remains unchanged in a piano score and, by and large, also in Guddal/Matte’s arrangements) to the schmaltzy. The moments of “Away from my cold-blooded woman…” and “Nothing will cause us to part…” seem quite unsure in the chords, rhythms and phrasing – since these lines are the dramatic turning-point of the story some more effort should have been put into them.

A big praise for Can-Utiliy And The Coastliners. The challenging dynamics and changing moods are mastered in perfection, though the waves seem smoother than the sea in the original. This is certainly because timbre of the pianos is very limited if you compare it to the timbres a band like Genesis are able to produce. The dynamic range is smaller, too, because of the way they play it and because there are no sound engineer’s tricks.

Unlike the first two pieces One For The Vine does not produce the desire to hear it again. The rendition seems rather tired at times. The arrangement does not do justice to the sonority of the original, the medium frequencies are crowded. The section after “… he talked with water and then with vine” does not really convince. The excessive sweetness of Salmacis and Duke lacks here; there is no octave doubling of the melody. Unfortunately, this week section is even (and quite superfluously) repeated. The musicians immediately make up for it, though, because the following section (after the second of the three appearances the opening theme makes) the percussion instruments are reproduced in a very creative way.

Down And Out gains very much from the piano arrangement. David Hentschel’s occasionally unfocused sound film is equipped with much clearer structures due to sparing use of the pedal. Though the speed remains the same, it is probably the most driving song on this CD. The intricate rendition of the keyboard intro and the translation of the e-guitar solo are true gems.

Duke’s Travels was a less happy choice. This piece thrives on the rhythm battles of the drumkit, battles that cannot adequately be integrated into the piano sounds because the performers have other things on their hands, too. The opening part was left out, though one could imagine an interesting equivalent on the pianos. Without Duke’s End, there is no proper ending either. Between both? The reprise of the Guide Vocal melody which is feverishly tearing towards the climax of the song suffers from hypothermia and paralysis. Again, the keyboard soli are too sweet.

The choice of Evidence Of Autumn shows (like One For The Vine) the reverence for Tony Banks, to whom the CD is dedicated. The arrangement does justice to the song. One could have wished for more emotion in the powerful forte sections. The original was changed around intentionally by the inclusion of tasteful but superfluous transitional bars. They are meant to prepare the listener for a new part. Autumn is an unobtrusive ending of the album.

In summer 2002 Camino Records re-released Genesis For Two Grand Pianos. They added a recording of another Banks composition, Mad Man Moon, as the second track. Again, 95 percent of the arrangements are fine and the middle section is a masterpiece, but yet again the melody covered by vocals in the original suffers from the same problems as (to varying extent) in the other pieces: It is clumsy, a simple chain of notes. Not everything that can be expressed with the versatile human voice can be rendered by the less versatile piano. Embellishments, use of pedals, stronger articulation and better phrasing of the melody could have compensated these deficiencies of the piano arrangement.

Mad Man Moon can be downloaded from the Camino Records website (6.81MB), which is of particular interest to those who already have the first edition of the CD.

Despite little blemishes, this first of its kind, the first rendition of Genesis music for piano, is a success. Further efforts in this area would be appreciated. A particularly fascinating experience would by live performances of these and other arrangements of similar quality. We should work and look out for it.

The layout of the CD is worth more than a fleeting mention, though the booklet is only four pages strong. Originally, a different front cover and a slightly different title were planned, but now you can admire a new painting by Paul Whitehead who was responsible for the Genesis records Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot as well as the “it” fanclub CD It’s Only Knock And Knowall. The rear cover cites praise from progressive rock magazine Tarkus and from Thomas Holter (who used to run the Norwegian Genesis website The Path). The second edition of the CD also quotes praise from Steve Hackett, who takes his hat off to the renditions and feels that they resemble Stravinsky’s arrangements for two pianos.

The inner double page of the booklet consists of a photography of several sheets with musical notations, two polaroids (the house in which the arrangements were made and a piano in the same building), the CD covers of A Trick Of The Tail (Genesis) and Still (Tony Banks), a small card listing the credits, a pencil, an eraser and a half-peeled tangerine.

If you look at the eight pieces of sheet music, or at least those five on which at least some of the music can be read, you’ll find that these are the piano scores of the pieces featured on the CD:

The sheet entitled “One” reveals the sections "Then one whose faith had died ... on to a wilderness of ice" and "Simple were the folk ... kings on this world" und "Follow me! I´ll play ..." from One For The Vine.

The music for Can-Utility is covered by the cover of Trick. It’s the instrumental part between "... where offerings fell, where they fell ..." and "Nothing can my peace destroy ...".

A band arrangement of Salmacis is hiding under the tangerine. The pencil points at the sheet with the beginning of Duke’s Travels. What is on the other sheets is left to the analytical talent or the fantasy of those who buy the CD…

by Andreas Lauer
translated by Martin Klinkhardt