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#2106780 - 06/23/13 02:10 PM Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings?  
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Andy Platt Offline
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Or, perhaps less seriously, why do people have to play Debussy much faster than I can?

I'm working on my second Debussy piece. The first one, Arabesque #1 is written "Andantino con moto" which a literal translation would be moderately fast, with motion. Apparently to most folks this reads Presto.

The second piece I'm learning, Dr Graddus ad Parnassum, is labeled "Animato ma no troppo". Animated, but not too much. Apparently this reads Molto Presto to most folks,

I'm just trying to find some gentler versions that might help me along with my learning but not much luck. I do have a version of the first arabesque which I greatly admire (Noriko Ogawa); a review of that complained it was far too slow. Sigh ..

... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink


  • Debussy - Le Petit Nègre, L. 114
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

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#2106833 - 06/23/13 03:59 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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jdw Offline
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It's not just Debussy! I've seen this tendency in lots of music played by pros who seem to feel they have to play faster than the markings. Or, if there's no tempo marking, as fast as possible!


1989 Baldwin R
Currently working on:
Haydn, Sonata Hob. XVI: 19
Chopin, Waltz in E minor (op. posth.)
Schubert, Op. 90 no. 2
#2106844 - 06/23/13 04:28 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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TwoSnowflakes Offline
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It always helps to know the underlying language. At least my daughter got a leg up, there. I remember her violin teacher once pointing out "andante" and asking her if she knew what it meant, and she said, "you mean like 'to walk'?" Why, yes!

Her answers for others:

Allegro: Cheerfully?
Presto: You mean like to hurry up?
Grave: Very seriously!
Lento: slowly!

Granted, she doesn't speak Italian, but speaks Peninsular Spanish fluently, which has about an 80% overlap with Italian. She takes French, so things like "non troppo" are often figured out with some thinking.

But plenty of things, like "marcato", "dolce", "pesante", "tranquillo" and "cantabile" are just innately clear to her.

Anyway, I learned music before I learned either of Spanish or French, so I didn't understand them quite so organically. It would be nice if teachers took the time not just to define some of the musical markings within the context of music, but as a word that's part of a language. It might help people better understand what the composer is attempting to achieve.

#2106903 - 06/23/13 07:14 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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Derulux Offline
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Apparently, they don't think it's "too much". wink


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
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#2107022 - 06/24/13 01:59 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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Bobpickle Offline

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Originally Posted by Andy Platt
I do have a version of the first arabesque which I greatly admire (Noriko Ogawa); a review of that complained it was far too slow. Sigh ..

... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink


Everyone's a critic. After you've learned to play the music as written, interpret it how your ear feels it best sounds.


As far as my favorite interpretation of Gradus ad Parnassum (and/or one you might like)


"[The trick to life isn't] just about living forever. The trick is still living with yourself forever."
#2107038 - 06/24/13 02:48 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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wouter79 Offline
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>... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink

I can speak only for myself.

I suspect that Debussy played fast.

I played Fille aux cheveux de lin and it says "très calme" AND quarternote=66. at 66, I never could get this piece sound 'tres calme'.

So what do you do in that case? Stick with 66 and try to stay calme? Or stick with the calme and try to get up to 66 only where it can?



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#2107046 - 06/24/13 03:59 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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justpin Offline
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Heh ragtime is most frequently ignored!

If you listen to Maple leaf rag how Scott Joplin played it, it is slow as he intended but everybody seems to play it as fast as they can!

Strangely even Casio seem to think it is faster than it is as Maple leaf rag on my Casio is a built in song yet it plays MUCH faster than the original.

#2107092 - 06/24/13 07:27 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: wouter79]  
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Andy Platt Offline
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Originally Posted by wouter79
>... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink

I can speak only for myself.

I suspect that Debussy played fast.


Yes, I have read that too; but I have also read how his piano roll recordings are "sped up" and not the tempo he played at.

Interesting article about his piano rolls:

Quote
“Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum” is a mad rush, perhaps intended as a comic portrayal of young pupils feverishly engaged in finger exercises. I don’t think the piece is a mad rush but rather a wistful, deftly accented and, above all, slightly slower bit of nostalgia. And if I can play it this way without contravening the written score, who says I can’t love the piece and declare its composer wrong?


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/arts/music/24debu.html?_r=0


  • Debussy - Le Petit Nègre, L. 114
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

Kawai K3
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#2107174 - 06/24/13 12:19 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: justpin]  
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Derulux Offline
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Originally Posted by justpin
Heh ragtime is most frequently ignored!

If you listen to Maple leaf rag how Scott Joplin played it, it is slow as he intended but everybody seems to play it as fast as they can!

Strangely even Casio seem to think it is faster than it is as Maple leaf rag on my Casio is a built in song yet it plays MUCH faster than the original.

Same for Mozart -- even in Mozart's day, he complained that people played his works too fast.


Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.
#2107207 - 06/24/13 01:24 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Derulux]  
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Virtuosity seems to be equated to speed anymore. Mozart, Beethoven, Scarlatti, everything seems to be played presto.

I have watched youtube videos of Debussy's Arabesque #1 that range from under three minutes to six minutes. To my ear, the fast ones lose something. They just don't have the ethereal feeling that my ear expects of this piece. I prefer it about five minutes. Of course, that is just my opinion smirk

However, it is not just Debussy. My first piano teacher, when I returned to piano as an adult, always crossed out the metronome settings in sheet music, before I ever started a piece. He said that mechanical metronomes in the past were notoriously inaccurate, and even if the composer or editor had indicated a number, that number only worked on HIS particular metronome.

#2107246 - 06/24/13 02:30 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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wouter79 Offline
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I checked several original handwritings of Debussy.

Some are on IMSLP.org

Some more on http://www.omifacsimiles.com


They all have some written out tempo suggestion like 'andantino molto'.
None of them has a metronome number.

So I guess it's all up to the player to pick the speed.


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#2107337 - 06/24/13 05:08 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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rnaple Offline

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OH Andy....
You know that men can't read directions until they've completely goofed things up. Only then, it's time to start reading.


Ron
Your brain is a sponge. Keep it wet. Mary Gae George
The focus of your personal practice is discipline. Not numbers. Scott Sonnon
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#2107375 - 06/24/13 06:14 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: rnaple]  
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Andy Platt Offline
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Originally Posted by rnaple
OH Andy....
You know that men can't read directions until they've completely goofed things up. Only then, it's time to start reading.


Hmm, that must be why I always find a few notes left over.


  • Debussy - Le Petit Nègre, L. 114
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

Kawai K3
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#2107385 - 06/24/13 06:32 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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TwoSnowflakes Offline
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Originally Posted by Andy Platt
Originally Posted by rnaple
OH Andy....
You know that men can't read directions until they've completely goofed things up. Only then, it's time to start reading.


Hmm, that must be why I always find a few notes left over.


Just put them in the box where you put those mysterious extra screws from IKEA. One day, you'll have a sonata! Or a bookshelf. One of the two.

#2107397 - 06/24/13 06:54 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]  
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RE: Debussy's Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

As others have pointed out, we have a Welte-Mignon roll of Debussy playing this piece and the most recent recreation of that performance by Kenneth Caswell clocks in at 1:51 (from Claude Debussy: The composer as pianist [CD]. Pierian 0001). I have seen little evidence that there is much controversy about the tempos captured by Welte-Mignon rolls. In the booklet for the Debussy recordings, Caswell remarks on the accuracy of the Welte-Mignon process and indicates that there are a few examples of the same artist performing the same work in a Welte-Mignon roll and for an acoustic 78 RPM recording. Although these comparisons do not include Debussy's performances, they do allow a more general evaluation of the accuracy of the Welte-Mignon process. König (2007) stated his belief that the pitch, note-length, tempo, pedaling, and agogics in the Welte-Mignon rolls correspond closely to the original performances. His major reservation concerns the accuracy of the performance dynamics, which he believes display much poorer fidelity.

I looked today at just a few of the recordings of this work from the Naxos Music Library (available through my University Library). This is far from a comprehensive survey but the timings ranged from 2:10 (Thiollier, 1995; Dahlkvist, 2012) to 2:37 (Michelangeli, 1993) with the typical timing close to 2:30. If you can believe the Welte-Mignon recreation, I guess everybody but Debussy misread his tempo by playing it too slowly?


König, W. (2007). The Welte-Mignon reproducing piano and its place in the history of music. The Pianola Journal, 18, 50-63.


Paul Buchanan
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#2107434 - 06/24/13 08:12 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Bobpickle]  
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Morodiene Offline
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Originally Posted by Bobpickle
Originally Posted by Andy Platt
I do have a version of the first arabesque which I greatly admire (Noriko Ogawa); a review of that complained it was far too slow. Sigh ..

... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink


Everyone's a critic. After you've learned to play the music as written, interpret it how your ear feels it best sounds.


As far as my favorite interpretation of Gradus ad Parnassum (and/or one you might like)
Who is this?


private piano/voice teacher FT

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#2107519 - 06/24/13 11:14 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Morodiene]  
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Bobpickle Offline

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Stephen Malinowski, or youtube user smalin.


"[The trick to life isn't] just about living forever. The trick is still living with yourself forever."
#2107657 - 06/25/13 06:59 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: packa]  
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Andy Platt Offline
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Originally Posted by packa
I looked today at just a few of the recordings of this work from the Naxos Music Library (available through my University Library). This is far from a comprehensive survey but the timings ranged from 2:10 (Thiollier, 1995; Dahlkvist, 2012) to 2:37 (Michelangeli, 1993) with the typical timing close to 2:30. If you can believe the Welte-Mignon recreation, I guess everybody but Debussy misread his tempo by playing it too slowly?


No, Debussy misread his own markings and everyone else followed wink

He's like those French ski instructors I used to have. "Oh, it is early in the morning so we will take it easy ..." and he/she shoots off down the mountain like a rocket!

Sigh, nothing for it but to get it under my fingers enough so it flows at tempo!


  • Debussy - Le Petit Nègre, L. 114
  • Haydn - Sonata in Gm, Hob. XVI/44

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