A Little Experiment

What with Christmas & everything, I’ve not had much time to devote to blogging of late, so I just thought I’d share with you my latest little musical experiment. Remember back in the 1980s when the rock guitar world was turned on it’s head by the neo-classical guys: Yngwie Malmsteen, Tony MacAlpine, Vinnie Moore et al? Well, call me pedantic, but it always struck me that the term “neo-classical” was a bit of a misnomer. Why? Because most of these guys worshipped at the altar of J.S. Bach, who wasn’t really a “classical” composer in the strictest sense of the word. You see, although we use the word “classical” as a generic term to refer to music composed for the orchestra or orchestral instruments in other settings (such as the string quartet, for example), that is a little like labelling any ensemble who write & play 4 minute songs arranged for guitar, bass, drums & vocals a “pop group”. The difference between “classical” and “baroque” (a more accurate description of Bach’s music) is as marked as the gulf between Black Sabbath and The Monkees.

So, we’ve established that rock & metal are as different from pop as baroque music is from classical. What exactly is it that defines “classical” music as a genre, then? Well, the baroque music of the 17th century with all of it’s twiddly bits and different melodies superimposed on top of each other began to be seen as a little indulgent and cluttered by about 1750. Composers and musicians yearned for simplicity, in much the same way as the back-to-basics music of skiffle and rock n roll can be seen as a reaction against the busy sounding Dixieland jazz in the 1950s. Or the way that punk usurped the 10 minute keyboard solos of progressive rock in the 70s. By the middle of the 18th century, composers were writing music with clean, uncluttered lines inspired by an idealised vision of classical civilisations (the Romans & Ancient Greeks, basically). It is this period of music, from about 1750 to 1830 which is strictly considered the “classical” era (after the “classical” period, we get composers such as Rachmaninov & Tchaikovsky who fall into the “romantic” school of music, but that’s another story). This was not the music which inspired most of the neo-classical shred-rock guitarists of the 1980s, and to my knowledge, there hasn’t really been any prominent electric guitar adaptations of music which is strictly “classical”.

I began to wonder why this was the case. Is it because such music doesn’t translate well to a rock band format? Well, I decided to find out. Then it was a case of deciding which classical piece to have a go at & in the end I went with Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 in C major. Since I started listening to classical music about ten years ago, it has been a firm favourite or mine. The Andante section of this piece is probably the best known part due to it being used in the 1967 film Elvira Madigan, in fact this piece is so strongly associated with the film, it is sometimes now simply called “The Elvira Madigan Concerto”. If you don’t recognise the music from it’s title, then I guarantee you’ll know it when you hear it. Here it is in it’s original form as Mozart intended:


So, how does one go about learning a piece like that for the guitar? Well, there are a wealth of free orchestral scores dotted around the internet, so I downloaded one and set to work. With my rudimentary music reading skills I set about deciphering the pages of dots & squiggles into a chord sequence I could play. As I went through it, the thing which struck me was how familiar it all was beginning to look. Here’s a little snippet of the chord progression from the second “verse” as I thought of it:

|F / / / |F / / / |C / / / |C / / / |C7 / / / |F / / / |

|F7 / / / |Bb / / / |Bdim / / / |F / / / |C7 / / / |F / / / |

See what I mean? OK, so there’s a diminished chord, but plenty of songs by the likes of Queen, The Beatles, or Fleetwood Mac have that kind of thing. To be honest, it’s not too far away from being a 12 bar blues – the heavy reliance on chords I IV & V should make any guitarist who cut their teeth in blues bands (like I did) feel right at home. Anyway, once the chords were sorted, it was time for the melody. Once again, it was familiar territory. I learned how melodies work by picking apart those big melodic Gary Moore tunes like The Loner and Parisienne Walkways – choose a note from each chord & use these as the main “prominent” notes of the melody, then join these up with the appropriate scale & voila… a melody is born. This is exactly what Mozart did when he wrote the piece. I find it fascinating that the same principles at work in a tune like Santana’s Samba Pa Ti can be found in the music of Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn and Liszt. I also think that my old music teachers at school, back in the 70s, missed a golden opportunity to get us kids interested in orchestral music. All they had to do was pick apart Stairway To Heaven or Run To The Hills and show how this was using the same nuts & bolts as something by one of the composers they were trying (in vain, mostly) to make us appreciate. But I digress…

Here is the finished version of what I came up with. I’ve taken a few liberties with the melody in a couple of places, including writing an intro and putting a little turnaround in between the first two verses, but it’s largely as Amadeus intended. So… Ladies & Gentlemen, I present the Andante Section from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 in C major, arranged for electric guitar, bass, drums & Hammond organ.


Thanks for your time & until next time, have fun 🙂



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