Prokofiev Piano Sonata
Transcribed for Guitar by Paul Chasman

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Notes from the Transcription:

In some ways, the work of transcribing Prokofiev's Piano Sonata No.7 has been a life-long process. I grew up listening to my mother playing it on the piano, and the piece spoke to me in a powerful, mysterious way that no other piece of music ever has.

I first attempted to transcribe the third movement in 1983, but its difficulty overwhelmed me, and I moved on to other projects. In 1993, I released my Real Songs CD with the good intentions of going out and promoting it and doing all the business one is supposed to do to justify putting out an album. But instead, I once again became consumed with the third movement.

I labored over the music for months, felt like it was becoming playable, and anxiously anticipated a trip to my parents' house, at which time I planned to play it for them. Two weeks before my wife Anna and I were to leave, I was faced with unwelcome revelation #1: The only way to ever make it playable—with the low, repeated bass line and the fantastic melodic jumps—would be to tune my "A" string down to "G"! Guitar players will recognize the significance of this: I had to rework the fingering of the entire movement to compensate for the re-tuning. I worked frantically for two weeks to get the new version in my head and fingers, went down to California, unveiled it for my parents, and, of course, I made a total hash of it.

My spirit bent but not broken, I returned to Portland, and worked more on the third movement. Coming to a point where I was gaining confidence, I came to unwelcome revelation #2: The third movement is the final chapter in an epic story, the dessert at the end of a big meal, the climax at. . .well, you get the idea: I had to learn the entire piece.

This has been the most difficult, challenging, and rewarding musical project I have yet undertaken. It has stretched me physically, intellectually, emotionally, and psychically in profound ways. I offer this transcription in the hopes that guitarists may study and learn from it. I congratulate anybody adventurous enough to try to play it.

The first two movements are tuned to DADGBE; the third movement is EGDGBE. You may note my frequent use of open strings, even when a more linear fingering is available. I chose to do this because the piece demands a great deal of sustain, much more than a guitar is capable of. But the open strings help to suggest the sustain a piano can give, plus they make the music sound more natural on the guitar.

I have deliberately not written in every hammer-on, pull-off, or slide that I do, unless it is absolutely essential to the execution of the phrase. Aside from these passages, I prefer to leave the interpretation open to the individual player. I highly recommend that anyone attempting this transcription listen to my recording to help decipher what I had in mind, and listen to some piano recordings of the piece (Vladimir Horowitz's interpretation is exceptionally lyrical and poetic), in order to understand the intent of the music.

I also recommend that students of this transcription compare it to the piano score. You will find that I have made many changes in order to adapt the piece to the guitar. I have transposed it from the original key of Bb to the key of E, I condensed musical lines that went beyond the range of the guitar, I abbreviated chords that were impossible to duplicate, and I eliminated sustains that could not be held. However, through it all, I always attempted to accurately represent Prokofiev's musical ideas and to maintain the essence and integrity of his music.

I want to thank my mother, Xenia Chasman, for opening the world of music for me, and for teaching me about integrity, discipline and dedication. I want to thank my wife, Anna, without whose love, support, and understanding I wouldn't have had the strength or confidence to face this challenge. And special thanks to Chris Hager, for the countless hours he spent taking my mad scribblings and translating them into a coherent, beautifully laid-out transcription. 


Liner Notes From the CD:

My mother was a concert pianist. Some of my earliest memories date back to my infancy, listening in awe to her powerful music. Melodies danced in my head, rhythms reverberated in my body, huge chords crashed over me like tidal waves, and I was swept away.

There was one piece my mother played which fascinated me like no other. It spoke to me of all the childhood fears, pain, and chaos which I knew but was unable to verbalize. For me, this piece was as mysterious as life itself. Its intensity terrified me, its nervousness jangled me, it weirdness disoriented me.

As I listened to my mother play, I felt deep wells of sorrow, giant walls of rage, and finally, in the end, power and triumph beyond anything my tiny body could comprehend. I was later to learn that the piece that ha made so much of an impression on me was Prokofiev's Seventh Piano Sonata.

Sonata No.7 has haunted me all my life. I have continued to hear it in my head and feel its power. As my musical proficiency has grown, so have my questions about the piece. I have wanted to understand its complexity. I have wanted to harness its force and make it mine. I have longed to face my childhood demons, and do battle with them now, as an adult.

So, two years ago, I embarked on an incredible journey. I decided to transcribe Prokofiev's Seventh Piano Sonata for the guitar. Even the act of playing it on the guitar was symbolic, because how could a small guitar with six strings match the power of a huge piano, just as how can a small child match the power of his omnipotent mother? On every level, this project has been the most enormous challenge of any I have undertaken. Musically, its complexity stretched my understanding beyond anything I have dealt with before. Physically, has demanded more of my hands than I thought was possible. Emotionally it has taken me to some of my deepest, most primal places.

I leave it to each listener to judge the degree of my success. In some ways, I know it is an impossible task. How can I possibly play a musical line that begins an octave below the guitar's range and ends an octave above it? How can I play a chord with a D and Eb in the bass and a high F in the melody! How can I play all the complex, intertwining lines and rhythms simultaneously? The fact is, I can't. I am continually forced to condense, compromise, omit, and imply. Sergei Prokofiev was known to publicly berate musicians, telling them that they had no idea what his music was about. I can see him up there saying to me, "How dare you attempt to play my piano sonata on the Guitar?!" and all I can say to him is, "My humble apologies, maestro. I tried my best to maintain the integrity of your music, and to make it stand on its own as a guitar piece. I did it for the same reason any artist creates a piece of work: because I had to."

I dedicate this with love to my mother, Xenia Chasman, my first and most important music teacher. She gave me the foundation on which I have based all my musical values.

1995 Paul Chasman


First of all, I admit that I am not a classically-trained musician, though I am a guitarist. I  therefore won't describe this piece using the terminology and structure of sonatas (I just know what I like, and I like this CD). That said, I'd describe this sonata as scary (see what I mean?) in a number of ways: It's scary that this music is so enchanting it could possess an artist to take on the Herculean task of transcribing it for an instrument such as the guitar. As a kid, Paul's mother used to play this sonata on the piano and Paul, finding the piece overpowering, would run upstairs and hide. The Piano Sonata No. 7 has haunted Paul ever since. He began transcribing it for guitar in 1983 and, a short 13 years later, finished. I for one am glad Paul has had way too much time on his hands. It's also scary to hear this music coming out of a guitar. None of the three movements is played in standard (EADGBE) tuning. Playing the Sonata demands fingerings so precise that Paul felt compelled to include the tabulature along with the standard notation ... in order to make use of open strings wherever the piece demanded more sustain than alternate fingerings would be able to provide. I've compared this rendition with Yuri Boukoff's piano rendition and found Paul's guitar version amazingly true. Differences seem to occur only where the range of the piano and number of notes played exceed those of the guitar. This is a scary piece of music in that after I heard it played by a single human without any overdubs, and realized it was possible, I now feel compelled to learn to play it. I'm sure other guitarists will feel compelled to learn to play it . . . or go crazy trying. This may be Paul Chasman's ultimate legacy: Guitarists centuries from now will be playing the No. 7 simply because "it's there." The first movement begins with an exuberant jaunt across a range of emotions including excitement, tension, and foreboding. It then drifts into a slower dreamlike section of relaxing musical meanderings, only to accelerate and crescendo to its original intensity. Next, it passes through an unbelievably well-played rubato section of harmonics the likes of which only Paul can play (cf, Blackbird on his CD Real Songs, or Blue Bells on the cassette Solo Man, ... before returning to the opening theme. To me, the second movement inspires visions of tropical beaches with warm breezes and swaying palm trees. It begins with the hula; the monsoons arrive in measure forty. But the storm soon fades and the melody returns to the opening theme with reassurances that everything is okay in paradise. If the second movement is a tropical vacation, the third movement is a kayak race through Class III rapids - not too dangerous or frenetic, but also not too safe or soothing. Though it remains in seven-eight time throughout, the movement bubbles along in E major, shifts into minor, and then offers up an unexpected turbulence before a key change to C. Like a kayak ride, this movement keeps you alert. The movement returns to its original key and theme, twisting through minor and major familiar waters before a seven-measure flourish and the finish line. I can understand why Paul tackled transcribing this seven-eight stretch of white-water before the first two movements: It's what you'd play for a person you were trying to impress, say, a girl you were trying to hit on. It doesn't rock, really, but rather, it romps. It's dessert. In the liner notes of this CD, Paul begs Prokofiev's forgiveness for even presuming to mess with such a dynamic piece of music as the No. 7. I think Prokofiev would approve - in fact, if you listen carefully, you can hear Sergei's ghost singing Paul's praises in the background between tracks 2 and 3. 

--Chris Hager,

Sheet music excerpts

First Mvt. - Second Mvt. - Third Mvt.

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