In my work as an examiner, I've heard a fair few performances of published piano arrangements, and I'm always surprised at how little is know about them. I've seen a fair few developing young musicians play really interesting piano arrangements of pop songs, jazz standards, orchestral works, film music and so on, but who have never heard the original versions.
What a wasted educational opportunity!
Piano arrangements generally exist so that those pianists who are absolutely obsessed with non-piano pieces (such as a favourite film theme, or a well-known pop song) can play it to their heart's content. If this process is removed, what is the point of learning the arrangement?
Working backwards from the arrangement allows the teacher to introduce the student to other repertoire and other instrumental combinations. Take for instance, all the numerous arrangements of 'Ode to Joy' - imagine playing the simplified piano versions without hearing some of Beethoven's exhilarating original work!
Understanding and knowing the original version allows the pianist to think about voicing (eg, making the most of the melody that was originally sung), tonal colour (eg imagining the original brass sounds or the cantabile strings), and style (eg through listening to original jazz recordings of the arranged version). These considerations can then play into the student's understanding and interpretation possibilities of 'pure' pianistic repertoire.
The recent Olympics have made us wonder how we could invest so much money in our athletes and receive so little return in the medal count. It hurts even more from the arts industry point of view - just read David Williamson's comments below:
Reflections/news on music, piano and music teaching, and anything else that pops up.