César Franck Prelude 18, bandoneon transcription. César Franck Prelude 18, bandoneon transcription.

César Franck's Prélude op. 18

Bandoneón transcription analysys

In this article I'll talk about the criteria I followed in the bandoneón transcription of Franck's famous prelude, the problems I encountered and the personal solutions I adopted.

The Work

This prelude is from "Prélude, Fugue et Variation pour Orgue" by César Franck, op.18 (FWV 30) composed in 1862.

César Franck, author of prélude 18 transcripted for bandoneón.

César Franck (Liege 1822 † Paris 1890)

It's an organ work composed by Franck in homage to Saint-Saëns.

In the video you can hear a wonderful interpretation of the complete work performed by Vincent Dubois (titular organist at Notre-Dame de Paris).

The scores

I made the transcription starting from the P. Gourin edition (Les Éditions Outremountaises, Montréal 2007) which I share here.

You can download bandoneón version at page "Works" of this website or throught direct link below.

Download Prélude op.18 for bandoneón

Transcription Criteria

When transcribing a work from an instrument that can be controlled with two hands and feet to a more limited one played with only 8 fingers, it is of fundamental importance to establish as principle which criteria to follow.

The principle chosen was to respect the original work as much as possible, following these two foundations:

  1. Keep all original notes;

  2. Maintain the pitches of the notes in the score.

It was not always possible to fulfill both. In some cases I deliberately removed some notes to simplify the performance, but the removed notes were always already present in the accompaniment or melody (as octave or, in very few cases, as a fifth).

For the typically bandoneonistic need to decide where to open or close I have adopted these four principles:

  1. Invert the bellows at the end of a phrase or semi-phrase.

  2. Repeat bellows' direction in repeated phrases or variations.

  3. Bellows opening for "forte" passages.

  4. Opening always larger than closing.

Instrumental considerations

The original score is written for 3 manuals (Great Organ, Choir, Swell) and pedals.

Pipe organ console with 4 manuals: from bottom to top Great Organ, Swell, Choir, Echo.

Organ console with 4 manuals: from bottom to top Great Organ, Swell, Choir, Echo.

The main melody is always kept on the Solo. The counterpoint begins and ends as a Great Organ, with a "parenthesis" on the Swell (bars 32 to 44).

The pedal board basically maintains the same stops throughout the work (Flutes 16' e 8', and only towards the conclusion adds 8' or 4').

With the bandoneon the obvious choice was to keep the melody on the right keyboard and the bass on the left as pedals. The decision to assign the counterpoint to the left keyboard was less obvious, but it has been revealed as a good choice because the cassotto on the left cabezal creates a tonal difference between the two keyboards. This made it possible to superimpose neighboring octave notes without creating acoustic dissonances and to "simulate" the tonal difference between the two organ manuals.

In some cases it was not possible to assign the countermelody to the left keyboard due to technical limitations of the instrument, which does not go beyond the A of the third octave (or B flat in the case of model 144 Einheits). In this case I preferred not to lower an octave but to assign the countermelody to the right hand (from bars 29 to 31) to be played together with the main melody.

However, this option was not possible for bars 39 to 42, and in that case the counterpoint has been divided: I assigned the upper notes to the right keyboard (together with the melody) and the lower ones to the left, along with the bass.

Bars 39 to 43 comparison.

Prélude 18 (C.Franck), bars 39 to 42: organ and bandoneón versions comparison.

Studying the score, the great work required to the left hand in order to perform the double function of manual + pedal board will be evident. Fortunately the "chaotic" keyboard of the bandonón mixes highs and lows without a serial criterion and allows you to cover distant intervals easily.

The bandoneón 144 or "Einheits" proved to be more versatile than the 142, thanks to the greater range at the left keyboard (the aforementioned B flat) which instead passes to the lower octave for 142, as indicated in the score (bars 23-25).


From the interpretative point of view it is a piece of the "choral" type to be performed continuously, maintaining equality between the opening and the closing without making the bellows changes heard.

The expressive effects are to be used with balance, first of all ensuring the stability and homogeneity of the sound line.

While performing it is important to make you feel good polyphony. Applying the "non legato" helps to slightly detect that voice that would otherwise be obscured by long notes.

The long pedal notes can be slightly reduced in their duration to "lighten" the sound and allow the preparation of the position of the next bar.

The piano and pianissimo will be difficult to achieve for those who play vintage instruments, while the dynamic difference will be more noticeable with brand new instruments.


What about the Fugue and the Variation?

As mentioned at the beginning, the original work consists of a prelude, a fugue and a variation. I believe that it is impossible to transcribe the fugue without mutilating or drastically distorting the original work, so I gave it up from the start.

I have not transcribed the variation, even though I believe it possible, because I believe that performing the prelude and the variation without the fugue would make no sense, if not as a pure technical or style exercise.


This is my first transcription for bandoneón of organ music. It was a training experience above all to get to know better the possibilities and limits of the bandoneón.

As mentioned in this article, bandoneón for me represents the "entrance door" to organistic repertoire.

In fact, I do not hide the desire to fully explore this repertoire with the bandoneón. With the typical optimism of those who don't know what they're getting into, I imagine one day being able to play with bandoneón the organ works of Bach, Flor Peeters, Brahms, Duruflé and all other great masters of the king of instruments.

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