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Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres #2870082
07/17/19 01:00 PM
07/17/19 01:00 PM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 302
Texas
Dr. Rogers Offline OP
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Dr. Rogers  Offline OP
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Texas
Greetings, all. I wanted to ask for opinions about tempo changes in Debussy's Bruyeres. I haven't played much Debussy in the past, just the Arabesques and Children's Corner. Bruyeres is a different ballgame. I find it beautiful and majestic, and also a pain to play at a constant tempo.

The challenge comes in measures 14-16. Those measures quickly become challenging when playing them at the same tempo as the rest of the piece.

Listening to recordings of the piece on YouTube, I'm hearing some pianists play these measures at a slower tempo. For instance, in Zimmerman's recording that I have included below, it seems as if he is dropping from somewhere in the low 50s bpm down to something like 40 bpm.

This seems reasonable to me, and I like the sound of Zimmerman's recording. Is this kosher for this kind of music? I wouldn't dream of doing it Bach or Beethoven unless the composer had indicated to do so, and I would hesitate to do something like this in Romantic music (I prefer a restrained rubato). What do you folks think?

(I do have a teacher helping me in my diploma preparations, a retired conservatory professor whom I'm sure will have an opinion about this, but she is incommunicado for the rest of the summer.)

[Linked Image]



Austin Rogers, PhD
Music Teacher in Austin, TX
Baldwin SD-10 Concert Grand "Kuroneko", Baldwin Upright, Yamaha P-255
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Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2870096
07/17/19 01:58 PM
07/17/19 01:58 PM
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Victoria, BC
BruceD Offline
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So much of Debussy's piano music requires a flexibility of tempo that goes beyond simple rubato within a measure, and I think that this music, more than that of some composers, can fare well with a personal, and even an idiosyncratic concept of the piece. Thus, interpretations can vary widely, perhaps more so in Debussy than in the music of some other composers. Zimerman is such a consumate artist that I would not fault his tempo changes; they seem to coincide with the character of the music.

One point where we may disagree is in the use of the word "majestic" to describe this piece. "Bruyères" means "heather," and I can't think of the description of such a delicate plant as being majestic. Moreover, there is no dynamic marking above mf in this Prelude, much of it being marked with p, più p, doux et léger, doux, all, in my mind, quite far from majestic.

As long as an interpretation of this piece has a sense of flow and direction, I don't think that a subtle change of tempo here or there can be considered misguided; it may even be required when you consider the opening direction: doucement expressif.

Regards,



BruceD
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Estonia 190
Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2870101
07/17/19 02:19 PM
07/17/19 02:19 PM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 302
Texas
Dr. Rogers Offline OP
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Dr. Rogers  Offline OP
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Thank you for your reply, Bruce. You basically confirmed what I was thinking... and I agree Zimerman's interpretation sounds wonderful. (I'm listening to a recording of Zimerman playing a Chopin Ballade as I type this.) I've heard other interpretations running the gamut, from a strict tempo all the way through (too mechanical) all they way to wild tempo fluctuations that I thought verged on the ridiculous. Zimerman strikes a middle ground, it would seem.

I offer the following as an explanation for why I use the term majestic (and perhaps majestic isn't quite the best term).

Bruyeres is indeed the plant heather, but it's also the name of a town in France. During the second world war, a battalion of soldiers from Texas was surrounded by the Germans near the town of Bruyeres. The 442nd Infantry Regiment rescued the Texans taking heavy casualties in the process. The 442nd was made up of Japanese-Americans, people whose loyalty was considered suspicious, and many of whose families were being held in interment camps back in the States. This action not only saved the Texans, but showed the brave and loyal character of the 442nd, even in the face of persecution and distrust.

So when I play Bruyeres, I have the heroism of the 442nd in mind, as well as the heather and the nostalgic feelings that Debussy probably intended, a complex blend of emotions that I hope will eventually lead to a mature interpreataion. Is it applicable to consider the heroism in an interpretation of the piece? I acknowledge that it's debatable, but I think it is, so long as it doesn't conflict with any of the composer's expressed intentions (as you said, no louder than mezoforte, and with a lot of sweetness). I certainly would not propose going against composer's intent where discernible.


Austin Rogers, PhD
Music Teacher in Austin, TX
Baldwin SD-10 Concert Grand "Kuroneko", Baldwin Upright, Yamaha P-255
Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2870133
07/17/19 04:12 PM
07/17/19 04:12 PM
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Victoria, BC
BruceD Offline
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Each performer brings to a piece some of his own experience, thoughts and personality. Just keep in mind that Book II of the Preludes was composed in 1912-13, so the heroism that you associate with the town of Bruyeres was not in Debussy's mind when he composed this Prelude and I, personally, can find nothing in the music to suggest heroism. I guess this raises the valid question: Am I interpreting Debussy or am I incorporating into Debussy what the music invokes in me?

As cited in Paul Roberts' book: Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy, (pp. 274-75) Marguerite Long, that great and long-time professor of piano at the Conservatoire de Paris, commented on a lesson she had with Debussy on "Bruyères:" "With his keen sense of smell, Debussy could feel the sea even from the midst of woods. All of a sudden he cried: 'That's it - the heather! And not those little flowers that look like porcelain; I detest them.'"

Roberts goes on to observe: "It is not clear what occasioned his sudden exclamation, but we are to imagine, I think, that the setting was a piano lesson. His revealing comparison between the real and the artificial - between wild heather and flowers that do not look like flowers - helps us to focus on the essential simplicity of this Prelude, its pastoral, en plein air quality. [...] [Long] also remarks how meticulous and exacting Debussy was when teaching this piece. Its limpidity, she writes, 'is almost Mozartian,' a comment that all performers of Debussy's piano music should take to heart."

Food for thought, perhaps.

Regards,


BruceD
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Estonia 190
Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2870144
07/17/19 04:42 PM
07/17/19 04:42 PM
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Let's also remember that Claude deliberately had the title of each of the pieces in his Préludes at the end of the music, not at the front - meaning that he wanted pianists to regard them as 'pure music' first and foremost rather than as program music.

That was something he didn't do for any of his other piano pieces with descriptive titles (Estampes, Images, Children's Corner, L'isle joyeuse etc).


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2870656
07/19/19 02:40 PM
07/19/19 02:40 PM
Joined: Mar 2018
Posts: 302
Texas
Dr. Rogers Offline OP
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Dr. Rogers  Offline OP
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Texas
Bruce, that's a nice quote. Would you recommend the Roberts book in general? I have Schmitz' book The Piano Works of Claude Debussy, which is helpful but uneven.


Austin Rogers, PhD
Music Teacher in Austin, TX
Baldwin SD-10 Concert Grand "Kuroneko", Baldwin Upright, Yamaha P-255
Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2870683
07/19/19 04:50 PM
07/19/19 04:50 PM
Joined: May 2001
Posts: 22,804
Victoria, BC
BruceD Offline
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Originally Posted by Dr. Rogers
Bruce, that's a nice quote. Would you recommend the Roberts book in general? I have Schmitz' book The Piano Works of Claude Debussy, which is helpful but uneven.


Dr.R:

I don't know the Schmitz book, but I often have had recourse to Roberts' book and I find it quite informative if not exhaustive in detail.

Roberts is a pianist and frequently addresses technical and interpretive issues in the piano music of Debussy. I sense that he has a great love of this composer's piano compositions and that makes the reading - to me - all that more meaningful and rewarding. Moreover, Roberts situates the music in an appropriate historical context which adds to the value of his insight.

Roberts, Paul. Images: The Piano Music of Claude Debussy. Amadeus Press, Portland, OR, 1996.

Regards,


BruceD
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Estonia 190
Re: Tempo Changes in Debussy's Bruyeres [Re: Dr. Rogers] #2872319
07/24/19 05:23 PM
07/24/19 05:23 PM
Joined: Mar 2010
Posts: 2,966
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dolce sfogato Offline
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I think, very modestly, that Debussy wrote very exactly what he wanted, so the pianist in this case should first master the text, after that, he/she can of course do as he/she wants, that's called artistic freedom, but one only earns that freedom by keeping strictly to the written score first.


Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure, but not anymore!

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