Sonata in A major for Flute and Piano
Thoughts on the Franck Sonata
by Donald Peck
Perhaps the most romantic of the "Romantic" Sonatas is the Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano by César Franck. It offers a huge palette of emotions and puts them forth with both great tenderness and soaring grandeur. It is no wonder that this piece has been the envy of every instrument.
The cello first tried to take it over with varied success. In the 1970s the flute took it; it is now one of the big repertoire items for the flute. However, there have been problems. The piano part is so huge in sound (not necessarily loud, but perhaps very full) that the flute by comparison sounded a bit tiny. The flute could be heard, but the texture was wrong. I stayed away from the sonata for many years because of this. But in 1980 I realized that the piano part could be edited to give a more flute-friendly facade. I worked at this for some time. My efforts consisted of thinning out the texture of the piano part so that it might more closely resemble the sound of the flute. I did this by eliminating many of the low, deep octaves in the bass line, leaving just the one note sounding, instead of the thickness of the two in octaves. I also thinned out the many doubling notes in the middle range of the piano part. The overall sound is more clear, and somewhat lighter. I changed no notes, nor did I leave out any; it was a matter of judicial re-arrangernent.
I was now able to place the flute part back in the octaves where Franck had written it for the violin (some flutists, in order to be heard, put the flute part an octave higher so as to cut through in certain places where the piano scoring was too thick). A couple of phrases I had to put up an octave because there was no way to change the piano part at that point without destroying Franck's concept. I was very careful about that sort of thing when doing the arrangement.
When listening to this version, no one would be aware of the alterations. The material is all there. It just sounds "right" to now have it on the flute.