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Debussy plays Clair de Lune

Posted By: prout

Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/17/19 10:11 PM

Thought you might like to hear how Debussy interprets his own music. Things to note.

He arpeggiates most of the large chords. (This is done to reduce the impact or intial attack sound of large chords and comes from baroque harpsichord technique.)

He often leads with the bass note, even when the right hand is meant to be played simultaneously. (This is done to allow the upper notes to reinforce the bass partials, imparting a more singing quality to the bass.)

His tempo varies dramatically. (No idea why he does this. Very involved emotionally in his music I guess. He's French after all.)

You may notice other things that are not in the score.

It is important to understand that what he does was common practice in his era.

Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/17/19 11:30 PM


Wow, is this really an acoustic recording from 1913? If so, it's amazingly clean, no surface pops. But I wonder how much was lost in that process?
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/17/19 11:30 PM

I have heard a few other Debussy performances of his own music (can't remember which pieces)and recall being shocked by what I heard. But this performance shocked me a lot more than the other performances I've heard.

I think if someone played this piece like this today the teacher/listener would think the person was an amateur who could not count. The tempo fluctuations are the most disconcerting for me although I don't like all the arpeggiated chords either. I find it almost depressing to listen to and could only make it through the first two "pages". If this is how Debussy intended the piece to be played or heard it in his head I don't like the piece anymore!! In terms of tempo variation this seems far more extreme than Paderewski's playing which I usually think of as the most different compared to modern piano playing.
Posted By: petebfrance

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/17/19 11:42 PM

It also includes a link a 'recording of Debussy playing' - quite long, but includes Clair de Lune. Not sure how they could get that, but worth a listen for comparison.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3NX_TrxfVk
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 12:29 AM

Originally Posted by JohnSprung

Wow, is this really an acoustic recording from 1913? If so, it's amazingly clean, no surface pops. But I wonder how much was lost in that process?

It is an acoustic recording, but I don't know if it is a straight piano roll playback, or an acoustic recreation on a modern piano of an acoustic recording of Debussy. This has been done with Rachmaninov's acoustic recordings.

Either way, it is a shock to hear the 'master' play his own music. I have to accept that this was the performance practice of the era. We have copious letters, treatises, reviews and articles discussing this approach. As a result, I really do think Debussy wrote his piano works with this in mind. That being said, I do it at home, but not in public, at least, not to the extent he does. I arpeggiate chords and lead bass notes often in romantic and impressionist music where it, in my mind, demands it, but judiciously.
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 01:13 AM

Well, at the Conservatoire he started out well on the piano, but he was not a diligent piano student according to one of his professors. He did well in his first and second "competitions", but failed out in his third and fourth, thereby becoming ineligible to continue piano at the conservatoire. But he still continued composition there.

So maybe he wasn't an outstanding pianist (or just lazy?) and didn't really care how he played, depending on how he felt?
Posted By: mha9

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 01:15 AM

This is an acoustic recording of a reproducing piano roll. From the youtube poster's channel (read this and more by clicking "show more" on the youtube posting):

"Claude-Achille Debussy - Clair de Lune (Mondglanz, Mondschein, Moonlight), Suite Bergamasque, Debussy, piano. The Suite bergamasque was first composed in 1890-1905.
"Claude Debussy Plays His Finest Works"
Claude Debussy, Piano Roll, 1913.

NOTE: This is NOT an ACOUSTIC RECORDING. This is a recording obtained by PIANO ROLL, see further details below. But acoustic recordings were made by Debussy with Mary Garden and you can hear here: https://youtu.be/W3NX_TrxfVk?t=1h17m25s (tempo 01:17:25)"
Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 01:32 AM


This has a lot of dynamic range, which rules out conventional player piano systems. There was one that used carbon rods dipping into mercury as a variable resistance encoder on the piano, but they were rare at the time this was encoded (1913), and would have required a very rare playback setup to, at a much later date, go from the roll to playback on a piano and recording on disc or tape.

The other possibility, the one I first thought of, is that this was a mechanical analog acoustic recording on a wax cylinder. That would account for the dynamic range, but not for the extremely clean sound, unless someone who knows what they're doing did a whole lot of work on it.

Would it be possible to investigate the provenance of this recording?


I know of two Rach recordings, analog acoustic on disc. There was a mechanical one in 1925 and an electronic one in 1929, which has been carefully restored.
Posted By: Mosotti

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 05:18 AM

That's not Debussy, it's obviously Leonardo di Caprio. I find this piece to be very difficult because of the rhythm but if the composer himself doesn't give a damn maybe I can go for it laugh
Posted By: Groove On

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 06:06 AM

Originally Posted by prout
It is important to understand that what he does was common practice in his era.


Thanks for that, I enjoyed it.

His performance makes sense to me. I kept thinking of Monet's paintings where it's about the ambience and atmosphere vs. the details. It also reminded me of the Monet's Gardens at Giverny outside of Paris.

Re: Rhythm
I think a good argument can be made that rhythm doesn't (and didn't always) adhere to the strict tempo written on the page. For example, Gregorian Plainchant is measure-less. The rhythms change depending on the words being sung. In fact, they once had restrictions on using repeating "dance-like" tempos (3/4, 4/4 etc.).

Live performance-wise it can be very appealing to let the atmosphere/ambience decide the tempo - I can imagine playing Clair de Lune at some night café in Paris and letting the natural rhythm of the night decided the tempo in the moment (people walking by, stopping, coming in, going out, relaxing etc). I do this a lot during family gatherings, changing the tempo/rhythm if the dogs get riled up, or when there's a lull in the conversation, or maybe playing more up-beat when there is uproarious laughter.

A recording of a live 'improvisation/interpretation' like that takes it out of context and could make it confusing (I like to think that's what is happening with Debussy's recording). But if we were in the room with Debussy, all the funny thing he does in the recording might make a lot of sense.

Of course, in the context of a teacher/student it would never really fly to have the student play 'what he feels' - and in our world where performances are so strictly structured, we rarely hear a performer improvising/interpreting a piece like that according to their environment.

-- -- --

For those who've done theatrical/stage improvisation, you know that what was gut-bustingly funny in-person may sound extremely idiotic when re-told at a later time. This is why structured jokes and skits can be re-done but can lose that divine spark, while theatrical/stage improvisation has to be done in the moment and many times is much funnier than any structured joke/skit - but is almost impossible to repeat.

For example, I just watched a live improv/comedy show a few nights ago. People were literally falling out of their seats with laughter and couldn't get back into their chairs. If I tell you that that the whole joke was that this guy had literally fallen in love with his furniture, you'd think I was insane (and yet I have to stop typing because I'm laughing at it again).

Debussy's recording may be in the same vein. It just comes down to - 'you had to be there".

Posted By: Colin Miles

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 09:13 AM

When I was very young I didn't want to become a concert pianist. Why would I want to play the same pieces day after day? So boring. Now many, many years later I realise that every time you play a piece it is different. Indeed it should be different.

I like the way he played this piece and it made sense to me. Have started to listen to the longer session.
Posted By: Artur Gajewski

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 11:27 AM

Listening to various concert pianists play the same songs makes you realise that it is not about the notes. It's about HOW you play them and we all play them different.
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 12:54 PM

Originally Posted by Artur Gajewski
Listening to various concert pianists play the same songs makes you realise that it is not about the notes. It's about HOW you play them and we all play them different.

That is so true. The same holds true for Opera Singers.
Posted By: elenmirie

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 01:29 PM

Originally Posted by NobleHouse
Originally Posted by Artur Gajewski
Listening to various concert pianists play the same songs makes you realise that it is not about the notes. It's about HOW you play them and we all play them different.

That is so true. The same holds true for Opera Singers.

+1
Posted By: Tim Adrianson

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 02:48 PM

This thread prompted me to review my personal archive of long-play records -- and I found the 3-record set "Legendary Masters of the Piano". And the common element was that the original recordings were made using the Welte piano, a specially constructed instrument that produced sound reproduction with astonishing fidelity and subtlety. In this series, Debussy was represented playing "La Plus Que Lente", in 1913, and so I suspect this recording comes from the same performing session. And, yes, Debussy, to say the least, took extensive liberties with both of his own compositions, providing to my ear a highly personal, almost quasi-improvisatory rendition with a strong emphasis on late Romantic pianistic gestures. It gives me the impression that Debussy didn't take either piece too seriously in terms of "high art" -- he saw them rather as "confections" to be tossed off, albeit with aristocratic panache.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 03:07 PM

Can anyone post an example(other than another performance by Debussy) where the tempo and rhythm is changed so much from the score?

I've listened to a fair number of recordings by pianists like Paderewski and dePachman and usually considered them to be the most extreme compared to present day piano playing. I mostly didn't like them but they didn't upset me anywhere near as much as the one by Debussy. I think Debussy far exceeds them in his tempo fluctuations/distortions which occur in almost every measure.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 03:19 PM

Originally Posted by Groove On
Live performance-wise it can be very appealing to let the atmosphere/ambience decide the tempo - I can imagine playing Clair de Lune at some night café in Paris and letting the natural rhythm of the night decided the tempo in the moment (people walking by, stopping, coming in, going out, relaxing etc). I do this a lot during family gatherings, changing the tempo/rhythm if the dogs get riled up, or when there's a lull in the conversation, or maybe playing more up-beat when there is uproarious laughter.
This makes little sense to me.

The tempo fluctuations(every measure) are so frequent that no environment could be that chaotic. I've never heard of a single example of a classical performer saying that any deviations from the score were made on the spot based on the changing ambiance of the venue.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 04:03 PM

Originally Posted by JohnSprung
I know of two Rach recordings, analog acoustic on disc. There was a mechanical one in 1925 and an electronic one in 1929, which has been carefully restored.

Rachmoninov did many acoustic recordings through early 1942. Also some piano rolls.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 04:22 PM

I think we must accept, based on the preponderance of evidence from piano rolls, acoustic recordings, and the literature of the era, that performance practices were very different from at least Bach (and probably much further back) until the middle 20th Century.

Bach wrote that he expected the performer to alter his music as the spirit moved the performer. Baroque ornamentation is the obvious simple example. Mozart sometimes just had sketches of music that he improvised on in an orchestral performance, much like Miles Davis penned for his group. Chopin made changes to his music at every publication, and even sent different versions of the same piece simultaneoulsy to different publishers.

We get so stuck on the idea that a score is 'the word of god'. It isn't, and it never completely conveys what the composer thought or intended.

More importantly, it is my belief that composed music is only half the equation. The composer put ink spotches on paper that represents an acoustic idea. But that idea has no existence until it is transformed into sound by the performer, who is the other half of that equation. It is our job to make music, and how we interpret a composer's idea varies with our life experience. Each era brings different conventions and expectations.

Debussy recorded his works for public consumption and more importantly, to make money. I doubt he would put out a substandard product.
Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 04:30 PM

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Can anyone post an example(other than another performance by Debussy) where the tempo and rhythm is changed so much from the score?.


Given that this was done using a keystroke encoding system, it's possible that the variations are an artifact of that system. Unlike an analog recording, speed variations in the cutting and playing of the paper roll would have no effect on the frequency of the notes, only on their timing.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 04:44 PM

Originally Posted by JohnSprung
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Can anyone post an example(other than another performance by Debussy) where the tempo and rhythm is changed so much from the score?.


Given that this was done using a keystroke encoding system, it's possible that the variations are an artifact of that system. Unlike an analog recording, speed variations in the cutting and playing of the paper roll would have no effect on the frequency of the notes, only on their timing.

I assume your are implying that the speed variations in the piano roll are minimal compared to Debussy's speed variations. I spent some time, long ago, playing with paper roll reproducing systems for fun, and found no evidence of major timing errors. There were, of course, a number of piano rolls where the playback was intentially set at a much higher speed than is normally playable. We certainly can't say that about the Debussy roll. The quantitization of the timing, even on a paper roll, would be measured in a few milliseconds, not the massive tempo changes Debussy chose to make.
Posted By: BruceD

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/18/19 05:01 PM

Originally Posted by prout
[...]
It is important to understand that what he does was common practice in his era.
[...]


For me, that is the most important observation when it comes to appreciating and/or criticizing what Debussy does in this recorded performance. I think that we all are aware of how much - drastically, in some cases - accepted (and acceptable) performance practices have changed from generation to generation. Skipping a generation or more makes those differences even more marked.

Regards,
Posted By: RosemaryGirl

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 01:20 PM

I'm loving this thread, and I loved finding out about Debussy's rendition of his own work. How refreshing! More please! smile

Thanks so much for sharing.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 02:30 PM

Originally Posted by RosemaryGirl
I'm loving this thread, and I loved finding out about Debussy's rendition of his own work. How refreshing! More please! smile

Thanks so much for sharing.

I am glad you are enjoying this thread. So many people are afraid of historically informed performance practice (HIP) even when the historic performer is available to demonstrate that practice. whistle

Most fear in this world is born out of ignorance. HIP is just another way of looking at a timelss art.
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 02:47 PM

Originally Posted by prout
Originally Posted by RosemaryGirl
I'm loving this thread, and I loved finding out about Debussy's rendition of his own work. How refreshing! More please! smile

Thanks so much for sharing.

I am glad you are enjoying this thread. So many people are afraid of historically informed performance practice (HIP) even when the historic performer is available to demonstrate that practice. whistle

Most fear in this world is born out of ignorance. HIP is just another way of looking at a timelss art.




I agree prout! HIP's are fascinating and very educational imo.
Posted By: petebfrance

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 02:57 PM

I'm also grateful for this thread - reminds me that I used to play his Arabesque no1. As I mentioned earlier in the thread there's a link to more recordings of Debussy playing. I came across the Arabesque in a book and played it without having heard it, so Debussy's own version was interesting - faster (and a bit heavier, I think) than I played it, but that's not unusual, because I like music slow so I can 'follow it.' A matter of taste, really, but not of accuracy.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 03:41 PM

Originally Posted by petebfrance
I'm also grateful for this thread - reminds me that I used to play his Arabesque no1. As I mentioned earlier in the thread there's a link to more recordings of Debussy playing. I came across the Arabesque in a book and played it without having heard it, so Debussy's own version was interesting - faster (and a bit heavier, I think) than I played it, but that's not unusual, because I like music slow so I can 'follow it.' A matter of taste, really, but not of accuracy.
Like you, in the privacy of my own home, I play a lot of music extremely slowly, so that I can luxuriate in the swirling resonances of my piano from the music that the composer placed before me - much like luxuriating in a hot tub with my wife and a glass of wine on a cold January evening.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 03:55 PM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFMRk4wp5tM
This is a recording of Paderewski playing some Debussy. It's replete with chord arpeggiation and examples of playing the LH before the RH but the tempo fluctuations, while much greater than today's practice, are nowhere near Debussy's playing of his Clair de lune.

I've heard a fair amount of de Pachmann and don't recall anything as extreme as Debussy's fluctuations either. I'm hoping someone can post an example of another pianist of Debussy's era playing with as much tempo fluctuation as Debussy. If not, I may conclude that Debussy is a one off or extreme example of playing from this time period.
Posted By: petebfrance

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 03:55 PM

Originally Posted by prout
Originally Posted by petebfrance
I'm also grateful for this thread - reminds me that I used to play his Arabesque no1. As I mentioned earlier in the thread there's a link to more recordings of Debussy playing. I came across the Arabesque in a book and played it without having heard it, so Debussy's own version was interesting - faster (and a bit heavier, I think) than I played it, but that's not unusual, because I like music slow so I can 'follow it.' A matter of taste, really, but not of accuracy.
Like you, in the privacy of my own home, I play a lot of music extremely slowly, so that I can luxuriate in the swirling resonances of my piano from the music that the composer placed before me

beautifully put!
Originally Posted by prout
- much like luxuriating in a hot tub with my wife and a glass of wine on a cold January evening.

Oh to be young again!
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 04:14 PM

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFMRk4wp5tM
This is a recording of Paderewski playing some Debussy. It's replete with chord arpeggiation and examples of playing the LH before the RH but the tempo fluctuations, while much greater than today's practice, are nowhere near Debussy's playing of his Clair de lune.

I've heard a fair amount of de Pachmann and don't recall anything as extreme as Debussy's fluctuations either. I'm hoping someone can post an example of another pianist of Debussy's era playing with as much tempo fluctuation as Debussy. If not, I may conclude that Debussy is a one off or extreme example of playing from this time period.
Very nice playing, quite even, but I really liked his G MAJOR chord on beat 2 of bar 12!
wink
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 04:16 PM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdcMqGNbEwU

Here is dePachmann playing Mozart's Rondo a la Turca. I found it almost as disturbing as Debussy's playing with its ever changing and lurching tempo fluctuations for no apparent musical or logical reason. Any pianist from 1940 (or maybe much earlier) on who played like would be lambasted for not being able to count. If an amateur posted this at PW, everyone would say to use a metronome. I find it incredibly unpleasant to listen to.

I do not know how early the earliest orchestra recordings are. I think it would impossible for a conductor to conduct a piece with such wild tempo fluctuations as those by Debussy or dePachmann. So I assume the tempo fluctuations in orchestral playing were not so extreme. For me, this raises the question of why it was OK for some pianists to play this way but not for orchestras.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 04:40 PM

pianoloverus: I've listened to a number of early recordings of Ravel, Fauré and Mompou playing their own music. The only one that really goes off the deep end for rubato and tempo shifts is Mompou. Here is a section of a no.9 musica callada, followed by Mompou playing that section which starts at 1:17 in the video. Again, note the extreme tempo changes and massive arpeggiation and bass note leading, none of which is indicated in the score.

[Linked Image]


Posted By: 90125

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 05:38 PM

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
I do not know how early the earliest orchestra recordings are. I think it would impossible for a conductor to conduct a piece with such wild tempo fluctuations as those by Debussy or dePachmann. So I assume the tempo fluctuations in orchestral playing were not so extreme. For me, this raises the question of why it was OK for some pianists to play this way but not for orchestras.

I think when you are writing the word "orchestra" you are thinking of a group of seated people playing for the seated audience with only one man standing.

I found the music in your link very agreeable to listen. But to me it evoked a marching orchestra playing for a formation of young men for the purpose of putting the spring in their step while they march. And I imagined the conductor swinging a tall mace not the short baton.

Admittedly, I listened to it while laying and seated in bed, not marching. But to my ear the tempo changes were far from wild, just something rather easily achievable in the marching formation with a couple of rehearsals.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 06:27 PM

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdcMqGNbEwU

Here is dePachmann playing Mozart's Rondo a la Turca. I found it almost as disturbing as Debussy's playing with its ever changing and lurching tempo fluctuations for no apparent musical or logical reason. Any pianist from 1940 (or maybe much earlier) on who played like would be lambasted for not being able to count. If an amateur posted this at PW, everyone would say to use a metronome. I find it incredibly unpleasant to listen to.

I do not know how early the earliest orchestra recordings are. I think it would impossible for a conductor to conduct a piece with such wild tempo fluctuations as those by Debussy or dePachmann. So I assume the tempo fluctuations in orchestral playing were not so extreme. For me, this raises the question of why it was OK for some pianists to play this way but not for orchestras.

I have a recording of Bernstein conducting the NY phil in Copland's Appalachian Spring suite in 1962.

By today's standards, this is a rank amateur orchestra conducted by a hack. The tuning is earsplittingly atrocious, vibrato beyond note recognition, total inability to play together as an ensemble, and the conducting tempi, dynamics, phrasing and such are so far from the Composer's score as to be laughable. This recording was considered the standard against which other performances were measured. As a kid, I was blown away by this recording and fell love with Copland's music. Today, to me, it is a sad testimony to romantic excess, perhaps much as you feel with Debussy's playing.

All that said, I use this rendition as the basis for the voicing and colours of my solo performances of the piano transcription.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 06:31 PM

Originally Posted by prout
pianoloverus: I've listened to a number of early recordings of Ravel, Fauré and Mompou playing their own music. The only one that really goes off the deep end for rubato and tempo shifts is Mompou. Here is a section of a no.9 musica callada, followed by Mompou playing that section which starts at 1:17 in the video. Again, note the extreme tempo changes and massive arpeggiation and bass note leading, none of which is indicated in the score.

[Linked Image]




I thought the tempo fluctuations in the Mompou were effective, not that extreme, musically valid, and almost insignificant compared to the Debussy. I can deal with arpeggiation and bass note leading which I also thought were relatively minimal and far more effective in Mompou's playing compared to most Paderewski and de Pachmann recordings I have heard.

What I can't deal at all with are the extreme and for me completely musically unjustified tempo fluctuations in the Debussy and in some dePachman recordings like the Mozart Rondo. I don't like most of de Pachmann's tempo fluctuations when playing Chopin but OTOH I don't find them nearly as bad as Debussy's Clair de lune .

I was so upset hearing the Debussy(first two pages as I couldn't deal with it), I promised never to listen any of his playing again.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 06:41 PM

pianoloverus: Regarding the Mompou, I heard his recordings long after I learned the works. I don't play them the way he does, but I really like what he does. I think it is very musical.

I don't like Debussy's 'Clair de lune' at all. I would never perform it that way. I like a more languid, even tempo. But who am I to judge?

My point on all this is that contemporaneous standards very dramatically from age to age, whether it is standards of beauty, or art, or morality. It is difficult and presumptuous of us to judge, as superior or inferior, the performance standards of a given day against our own, yet I do this all the time.

I happen to hate Equal Temperament, yet use it when I must as a necessary evil in today's society. I try not to judge people who think ET is superior to a good UT. But my own performances are usually in another temperament.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 06:44 PM

The reason I started this thread came from the many other threads on how to interpret a score - religiously, scientifically, metaphysically, or new agely.

Listening to the composers screw around with their own compsitions, I think, allows us to discard both religion and science.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 06:57 PM

I think we have to be careful when judging piano roll recordings.

Personally, I'd never take them as gospel for what the pianist actually played. Listen to Rachmaninov's several piano roll recordings (in their many versions, some more 'manipulated' than others, like the Ampico reincarnations) and compare them to his scratchy 78s, which really are direct-to-disc....
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 07:53 PM

Keep in mind most of these composers were recording direct to cylinder or disc as early as the late 1800s. The piano rolls were just a gimmick, much as they are today. You get to have 'your' instrument played one of the greats.

The early clyinder and then disc recordings are still around. I have heard Furtwängler conduct the BP in the complete Beethoven symphonies on 78rpm discs at about 4 minutes each. These were recorded without electricity. The orchestra played in a room with a massive wall sized horn leading to another room where a needle attached to the horn scratched a wax disc. The violins had little earhorns stuck in their f-holes to enhance the sound and the double basses were 'doubled' by tubas! You can clearly hear the conductor speed up the playing as they got close to the limit of each recording section length.

My point is we know how these people played and interpreted their music, irrespective of the reproducing equipment. It is quite reasonable and fair to compare a piano roll with an acoustic recording. We can easily hear through the artifacts of either to get to the real meat of the playing.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 08:19 PM

Originally Posted by prout
Keep in mind most of these composers were recording direct to cylinder or disc as early as the late 1800s. The piano rolls were just a gimmick, much as they are today. You get to have 'your' instrument played one of the greats.

Which is a good reason not to trust them.

Quote
The early clyinder and then disc recordings are still around. I have heard Furtwängler conduct the BP in the complete Beethoven symphonies on 78rpm discs at about 4 minutes each. These were recorded without electricity. The orchestra played in a room with a massive wall sized horn leading to another room where a needle attached to the horn scratched a wax disc. The violins had little earhorns stuck in their f-holes to enhance the sound and the double basses were 'doubled' by tubas! You can clearly hear the conductor speed up the playing as they got close to the limit of each recording section length.

There's no comparison between a pianist recording a short piece on 78s and a conductor recording a symphony on several consecutive 78s, having to stop-start each time. For a pianist, there's no constraint - he's still playing on a piano 'normally' (even if the lid might be removed etc).

Quote
My point is we know how these people played and interpreted their music, irrespective of the reproducing equipment. It is quite reasonable and fair to compare a piano roll with an acoustic recording. We can easily hear through the artifacts of either to get to the real meat of the playing.

That's also my point. We have acoustic recordings of Rachmaninov playing solo.

We don't have acoustic recordings of Debussy playing solo (unless someone knows of any?). We don't know whether those odd fluctuations of tempo etc in the piano rolls are really what he intended. Compare that with his playing on the 78s, accompanying the singer, and you hear playing that's very different - no strange tempo modifications or rolled chords etc. In fact, his playing there is very steady.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 10:55 PM

I'm not sure I get your point.

One of the big issues with singers (I'm recalling from reading treatises years ago) around Schubert's day and after was that pianists were starting to follow the singers, rather than providing the tactus that they were used to with an orchestra that allowed them to sing around the beat.

The comment was, and I paraphrase, "What are you doing? I don't know where the beat is. Just play the bloody notes!"

As far as piano rolls vs. acoustic recordings, I don't have any evidence that there was sufficient difference in the recording technology to cause random massive fluctuations in tempo. You are implying that the publisher, either willfully, or with Debussy's permission, somehow took a direct punched-to-master roll and meticulously altered the relative spacing of the holes in order to create the huge fluctuation in tempo, rather than accepting the possibility that the unfettered solo performer might choose to play his work in the way recorded.

It would be possible to take the master roll, and while playing it back, have another second generation master made from it while someone altered the speed of the first master in order to create the tempo flucuations. Why would they do that? Either that is what the public expected, or they wanted to destroy Debussy's career?

Isn't the more likely solution found in Occam's Razor? Debussy actually plays that way.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 11:28 PM

Originally Posted by prout
It would be possible to take the master roll, and while playing it back, have another second generation master made from it while someone altered the speed of the first master in order to create the tempo flucuations. Why would they do that? Either that is what the public expected, or they wanted to destroy Debussy's career?

Isn't the more likely solution found in Occam's Razor? Debussy actually plays that way.


I've heard lots of piano rolls recordings over the years, via BBC radio - everyone from Busoni to Mahler to Gershwin. Every one of them didn't sound anything like what their acoustic recordings did. Part of the explanation is here:


Hand played rolls are created by capturing in real time the hand-played performance of one or more pianists upon a piano connected to a recording machine. The production roll reproduced the real-time performance of the original recording when played back at a constant speed. It is industry convention for recordings of music intended to be used for dancing to be regularized into strict tempo despite the original performance having the slight tempo fluctuations of all human performances, as due to the recording and production process, any fluctuations would be magnified/exaggerated in the finished production copy and result in an uneven rhythm.

Reproducing rolls are the same as hand-played rolls but have additional control codes to operate the dynamic modifying systems specific to whichever brand of reproducing piano it is designed to be played back on. Reproducing pianos were beyond the reach of the average home in the original era of popularity of these instruments and were heavily marketed as reproducing the 'soul' of the performer - slogans such as 'The Master's Fingers On Your Piano' or 'Paderewski will play for you in your own house!' were common.
Posted By: Zaphod

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/19/19 11:56 PM

I also go with the theory that these rolls fluctuate a little bit, or at least can magnify fluctuations. The bit that Bennevis has bolded above suggests artificial rhythmic distortion in the finished product, designed to "bend" fluctuations back into place, but ending up magnifying some of them as an unfortunate side effect.

Reminds me of the modern day auto-tune a little bit.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 01:09 AM

bennevis: So you are saying that the Debussy 'Clair de Lune" was meant strictly for dancing? If so, the company didn't do a very good job of getting it 'regularized into strict tempo." Or, are you saying that they simply used the same production process for all piano rolls, whether or not they were meant for dancing. Could be.

I agree that piano rolls don't sound anything like acoustic recordings, but then I don't think DPs sound anything like APs either. You fake something, it is going to sound fake. But, I don't believe for a second that any piano roll artifact of production could possibly account for the Debussy recording I posted. Were are talking seconds here, not milliseconds. Come on, science has to enter here somewhere.

zaphod: Did you listen to the recording? The level of tempo variation is, to my mind, well beyond any artifact of production or reproduction. You say '...fluctuate a little bit...'. I agree. Even a magnification as an unfortunate side effect couldn't possibly follow the logical variations that Debussy made in note lengths, as well as tempi.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 02:41 AM

Originally Posted by prout
bennevis: So you are saying that the Debussy 'Clair de Lune" was meant strictly for dancing? If so, the company didn't do a very good job of getting it 'regularized into strict tempo." Or, are you saying that they simply used the same production process for all piano rolls, whether or not they were meant for dancing. Could be.

I'm surprised you don't understand my message: I thought it's pretty clear what I meant, and why I quoted the article. Please read the article again.

I'm saying the Debussy wasn't meant for dancing, therefore the piano roll wasn't regularized into strict tempo, hence the exaggerated tempo fluctuations - which is what the article says.

I suggest you listen to pianists from the early 20th century who made both piano rolls and 78s, and compare the rolls to their acoustic recordings.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 03:03 AM

Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by prout
bennevis: So you are saying that the Debussy 'Clair de Lune" was meant strictly for dancing? If so, the company didn't do a very good job of getting it 'regularized into strict tempo." Or, are you saying that they simply used the same production process for all piano rolls, whether or not they were meant for dancing. Could be.
I'm surprised you don't understand my message: I thought it's pretty clear what I meant, and why I quoted the article. Please read the article again.
I've read it again, and I don't understand your point.
Quote
I'm saying the Debussy wasn't meant for dancing, therefore the piano roll wasn't regularized into strict tempo, hence the exaggerated tempo fluctuations - which is what the article says.
Yes, and I understand that to mean that we hear precisely the way Debussy played it.
Quote
I suggest you listen to pianists from the early 20th century who made both piano rolls and 78s, and compare the rolls to their acoustic recordings.
I have, and it is easy to hear through the minor differences, much in the same way we can tell an S&S D from a Acrosonic, even on a cheap car radio.

I am not saying I am correct. I often get something wrong until the correct answer is beaten into me or I have an epiphany. You're not beating me hard enough yet. laugh
Posted By: BruceD

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 06:57 AM

Originally Posted by prout
[...]Yes, and I understand that to mean that we hear precisely the way Debussy played it.[quote][...]


What I take from this quote: "...despite the original performance having the slight tempo fluctuations of all human performances, as due to the recording and production process, any fluctuations would be magnified/exaggerated in the finished production copy and result in an uneven rhythm."

Is that we are not hearing precisely the way Debussy played it because any recording that was not regulated into a strict rhythm for dancing would, conversely, have exaggerated fluctuations in tempo. The fluctuations in tempo, then, are not Debussy's but the technology's.

Regards,
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 02:47 PM

Originally Posted by BruceD
[quote=prout][...]Yes, and I understand that to mean that we hear precisely the way Debussy played it.
Quote
[...]


What I take from this quote: "...despite the original performance having the slight tempo fluctuations of all human performances, as due to the recording and production process, any fluctuations would be magnified/exaggerated in the finished production copy and result in an uneven rhythm."

Is that we are not hearing precisely the way Debussy played it because any recording that was not regulated into a strict rhythm for dancing would, conversely, have exaggerated fluctuations in tempo. The fluctuations in tempo, then, are not Debussy's but the technology's.

Regards,

BruceD, I interpreted it just as you did.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 02:53 PM

Originally Posted by BruceD
[quote=prout][...]Yes, and I understand that to mean that we hear precisely the way Debussy played it.
Quote
[...]


What I take from this quote: "...despite the original performance having the slight tempo fluctuations of all human performances, as due to the recording and production process, any fluctuations would be magnified/exaggerated in the finished production copy and result in an uneven rhythm."

Is that we are not hearing precisely the way Debussy played it because any recording that was not regulated into a strict rhythm for dancing would, conversely, have exaggerated fluctuations in tempo. The fluctuations in tempo, then, are not Debussy's but the technology's.

Regards,
I must disagree to some extent. I have heard tape wow, 78rpm warbling, piano roll artifacts, seen hand turned movie camera footage, and the like, and none of them, by any stretch of the imagination, showed random, exaggerated time based activities that were not originated by the performer. They all, however, show, cyclical (even if variable due to the hand turning of the crank) variations in tempo, easily discernable and easily discountable.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/20/19 03:18 PM

OK, I've gone back and listened to this recording several times. Each time I hear what I think are some piano roll artifacts, but each time I get more and more involved in Debussy's peformance. When I first heard this, it was so strange and frightening, I almost had to turn it off. Now, all I hear is the incredible passion and musicality of this man. This is the real thing, artifacts or not.

I challenge you to sit back, ignore the noise, and actually listen to the man play. This is really something! Stop boxing yourselves in.
Posted By: RosemaryGirl

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 10:12 AM

So, I'm quite new on the forum, but based on the threads I've read so far, I gather you guys just love a good old debate. It's all good fun though, and very interesting.

I never knew there was such a thing as HIP (that's a real field of knowledge, I take it), but it's great to have discovered it. And yes, I actually like this recording, it doesn't put me off at all; but then, I've only just started learning to play the piano, so maybe it's one of those things where you're more open to weirdness when you're not part of the crew. Thanks again for posting, and debating the historical accuracy of the interpretation!
Posted By: Sibylle

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 10:34 AM

I think there are two distinct lines of conversation/debate in this thread:

- One about how much Debussy deviated from his own music that he wrote years before this recording was made.
- And one about to what extent the tempo fluctuations in the recording stem from the particular recording equipment used, or reflect the way Debussy actually played.

I'm mostly following the first line of discussion, as I'm Jon Snow when it comes to recording techniques either contemporary or historical. And I think it goes to show how much more liberal the interpretation of music was in those days. I mean, we've all heard the stories about how Horowitz actually *changed* bits of Rachmaninov's works - with Rachmaninov's blessing, at that. Imagine being able to walk over to the likes of Rach and say "hey mate, I've changed around the ending of this thing, hope you don't mind," and him going: "Sure, work away, lad..." grin

This reminds me of discussions we've had about modern interpretations of Romantic-era music, and how some of it was considered "wrong" by some because it didn't follow the instructions from the composer to the letter. You could of course argue, that with the historical distance we have to the time when this music was written, it behooves us to be respectful and stick to what's there, because we no longer have the ability to take liberties according to what was the custom of a time period we've never experienced.

I don't think we'll ever all agree on these things, but I love listening to people's opinions about them and inevitably learning from them.
Posted By: cmb13

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 11:37 AM

Originally Posted by Sibylle
I think there are two distinct lines of conversation/debate in this thread:

- One about how much Debussy deviated from his own music that he wrote years before this recording was made.
- And one about to what extent the tempo fluctuations in the recording stem from the particular recording equipment used, or reflect the way Debussy actually played.

I'm mostly following the first line of discussion, as I'm Jon Snow when it comes to recording techniques either contemporary or historical. And I think it goes to show how much more liberal the interpretation of music was in those days. I mean, we've all heard the stories about how Horowitz actually *changed* bits of Rachmaninov's works - with Rachmaninov's blessing, at that. Imagine being able to walk over to the likes of Rach and say "hey mate, I've changed around the ending of this thing, hope you don't mind," and him going: "Sure, work away, lad..." grin

This reminds me of discussions we've had about modern interpretations of Romantic-era music, and how some of it was considered "wrong" by some because it didn't follow the instructions from the composer to the letter. You could of course argue, that with the historical distance we have to the time when this music was written, it behooves us to be respectful and stick to what's there, because we no longer have the ability to take liberties according to what was the custom of a time period we've never experienced.

I don't think we'll ever all agree on these things, but I love listening to people's opinions about them and inevitably learning from them.


Not sure I get the Job Snow reference, but I’m definitely Team Targaryen / Stark.

People build off others’ knowledge and creativity all the time, in music and art, theater and film, math and science etc. Otherwise how would progress occur. Someone used Edison’s electricity model to further home lighting, which evolved into heating and air, etc. Someone used Watson and Cricks DNA model to further gene therapy, and they in turn would have been nowhere without Mendel. The wheel became the cart which became the wagon which became the automobile.

So why not use, interpret and further music of the great composers? I’m not of the level to improve upon it, or even close, but Horowitz certainly can add his touches to a Rach piece (or even dare I say Chopin?) and create something new.
Posted By: Sibylle

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 12:04 PM

Originally Posted by cmb13
Not sure I get the Job Snow reference,...

Just means I "know nothing" in this respect wink

Completely agree with you on the subject of interpretation, btw.
Posted By: cmb13

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 12:11 PM

Gotcha, Ygritte!
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 12:40 PM

After having listened a few more times, I see nothing wrong with the way Debussy plays. HE wrote it, and can play it anyway he likes. Maybe he was just experimenting, or that was how the music moved him that day?
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 03:17 PM

Originally Posted by Sibylle
And I think it goes to show how much more liberal the interpretation of music was in those days. I mean, we've all heard the stories about how Horowitz actually *changed* bits of Rachmaninov's works - with Rachmaninov's blessing, at that.
Those changes were nothing like the ones Debussy makes in the recording. They were mostly cuts or reshuffling in what Horowitz felt was an overly long piece. Even when Horowitz wrote significantly different arrangements of works like his versions of the Liszt Hungarian Rhapsodies No. 2 and Rakoczy March he did not play with an unsteady tempo.

I am still hoping that someone can post an historical recording by someone other than Debussy where the tempo fluctuations from the written score are as extreme as in the Clair de lune recording. If none exist, then I would conclude that Debussy is one off case.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 03:35 PM

pianoloverus - Time to accept that Debussy played Clair de Lune the way you hear it being played. If it weren't the case, he would NEVER have let the rolls be published. Here is a comment regarding the recordings AND a letter from Debussy.

"In 1913, Debussy recorded several pieces onto piano rolls using the Welte-Mignon reproducing piano system. This system was capable of recording the pedaling and dynamics of the performer as the performer played the instrument. There were no corrections or editing after the recording. This was the only technology at the time with this capability. Debussy was very happy with the reproduction quality of the Welte system. He went so far as to write to Edwin Welte the following note:

Paris, 1 November 1913

Dear Sir,

It is impossible to attain a greater perfection of reproduction than that of the Welte apparatus.
I am happy to assure you in these lines of my astonishment and admiration of what I heard.

I am, Dear Sir,
Yours Faithfully,
Claude Debussy

This is the only recording Debussy made of his solo piano works. "

You can image his astonishment at hearing, not a scratchy, low fidelity acoustic recording of his playing, but a real acoustic piano playing away in all its high fidelity and intimacy, as if he were sitting at the piano playing it himself.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 04:08 PM

Originally Posted by prout
pianoloverus - Time to accept that Debussy played Clair de Lune the way you hear it being played. If it weren't the case, he would NEVER have let the rolls be published.
I've basically accepted that even before any discussion about possible tempo changes due to recording techniques of the day.

What I'm really interested is if there are other recordings by pianists of the same era that exhibit such extreme tempo fluctuation.

I posted one by de Pachmann(the Mozart Rondo) that had pretty extreme fluctuations but perhaps not quite as extreme as the Debussy. But other recordings by de Pachmann, while probably extreme in fluctuations by modern standards, are nowhere near the Debussy CdL. And the Paderewski recordings I have heard are nowhere near as extreme in tempo fluctuation as the Debussy CdL although they are extreme in terms of chord arpeggiation.

I briefly listened to as much as I could stomach(the first minute or so of each piece) of the much longer posted Debussy recording of a large number of his pieces and felt that about half of them were as extreme as his CdL recording but the other half were less extreme.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 04:44 PM

Thank you for your thoughts. If we accept that this style, what we would call extreme playing, was normal and even anticipated at that time, it is a bit of a window into the expressive emotions of the day.

Like you, I don't play pieces that way in public today, but, at home, when only I am present to explore the emotional impact this music has on me, I am sure that I engage in the same very extreme fluctuations in tempo. I don't think that, in doing so, I am playing musically, just luxuriating in the sound of our great piano. I bet you do the same. smile
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 04:51 PM

We should approach recordings made by composers with an open mind - and bear in mind the technology that was used.

Some composer-pianists were well past their prime (not to say decrepit wink ) when they recorded their music; others weren't very good pianists; and then there are others who are a stickler for what they wrote and expected interpreters to play exactly what they wrote; and still others who perform their own music they way they wrote it, but don't mind if other performers tweak it; and then there are those who don't even adhere to what they wrote.

I've already explained why I don't trust piano rolls (and I've heard a lot of them from many pianists and composer-pianists) - they often bear very little resemblance to the same performers' acoustic recordings, principally in matters of voicing, rhythm and synchronization (which is of course part of the same problem) - for instance, notes in chords often don't sound exactly together but don't sound like rolled chords either (and there is a difference), rhythms are jerky.....in fact they often sound like they're played by amateurs with deficient techniques.

For instance, I bought the Ampico re-recordings of piano rolls by various pianists (including Rachmaninov) when they came out, and regretted it. Though they were an improvement on previous recordings, they are still nothing like what we hear from their acoustic recordings.

BTW, anyone who wants to hear what Chopin might have sounded like should listen to Raoul Koczalski, who was in a direct lineage from Chopin's best pupil (Mikuli). His rubato is quite unlike modern pianists, and he inserts bridging improvs and preludes between/before pieces. But what he doesn't do is what we often hear in piano rolls. I attended the Chopin Symposium in London in 2010 where John Rink and others discussed Chopin and various interpretations of his music over the years, and the pianos he used. That was when I first heard of this pianist.

However, the freedom in Chopin interpretation should not be extended to someone like Ravel ("Performers are slaves!" - to Wittgenstein) - nor Debussy either, judging by his acoustic recordings.
Posted By: pianoloverus

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/21/19 06:11 PM

Originally Posted by NobleHouse
After having listened a few more times, I see nothing wrong with the way Debussy plays. HE wrote it, and can play it anyway he likes. Maybe he was just experimenting, or that was how the music moved him that day?
Of course he can play it anyway he likes. So can anyone else although anyone who played it this way today would get extreme criticism for the most part. It's hard to criticize a composer playing his own work especially one of the great musical geniuses of all time.

If a random student today played the way Debussy did, I can imagine the teacher starting to count loudly to try and get the student to play in time. IOW Debussy's playing goes far beyond any meaning of rubato as it is used today.

I cannot see much musical sense to the constant and extreme tempo variation. It's not just the constant variation but the degree of variation and when he chooses to do it. It's possible that if I listened a few more times(like Prout did) some of what Debussy does would make more sense or sound less extreme but I don't intend to do that because listening to the first two pages of CdL was too upsetting.
Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 05:09 PM


Personally, I love the Debussy. The only issue I have with de Pachmann's Rondo is that some of the big arpeggiated chords have that "fingers not there fast enough" sound. But it's clear from the rest of his playing that those hesitations are deliberate.

Does anybody know how the speed was controlled on the Welte recording system? Did it have a centrifugal friction governor like an Edison phonograph? Players were often just foot pedaled by someone, and went whatever speed they chose to pedal. (Hand crank movie cameras had no speed control at all. The operators would hum a tune to try to maintain a constant rate.)
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 05:37 PM

I don't have time to dig up the relevant thread at the moment (will find it later) but it's pretty much accepted Debussy didn't record Claire de Lune on the piano roll system - he recorded maybe ten (?) pieces, mainly later pieces like the preludes, but not this one.

Also the Welte-Mignon system only had sustain on/off detection, not the various graduations of pedal that Debussy would have used, so even the recordings of him playing aren't faithful to what would have been heard in the room at the time.
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 05:44 PM

Something like this, there'll be other references out on the web too: http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...e-lune-very-interesting.html#Post1312256
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 05:45 PM

Originally Posted by GoldmanT
I don't have time to dig up the relevant thread at the moment (will find it later) but it's pretty much accepted Debussy didn't record Claire de Lune on the piano roll system - he recorded maybe ten (?) pieces, mainly later pieces like the preludes, but not this one.

This whole thread is based on a fake recording?? grin
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 05:46 PM

Fairly sure. Seems to happen every few years in various forums. smile
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 06:43 PM

This is a great read about the Welte Mignon recordings, along with Debussy's own pedalling in the appendices: https://www.reddit.com/r/piano/comments/7svysz/debussys_own_pedalling_for_the_piano_roll/
Posted By: NobleHouse

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 07:17 PM

Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by GoldmanT
I don't have time to dig up the relevant thread at the moment (will find it later) but it's pretty much accepted Debussy didn't record Claire de Lune on the piano roll system - he recorded maybe ten (?) pieces, mainly later pieces like the preludes, but not this one.

This whole thread is based on a fake recording?? grin


Well then, never mind my comments cool
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 07:22 PM

The International Symposium on Performance Science, an organization first convened in 2007, is a meeting of performers and scientists who deliver lectures based on extensively, fully referenced articles on historical performance practice. I read a paper this morning that was presented there discussing Debussy's La cathédrale engloutie, called "La cathédrale engloutie: Is musicology changing the way we perform?"

The Welte-Mignon system was proprietary, complicated and very expensive. Few were made. While not a digital piano, it incorporated the equivalent of DP style timing devices to produce the various hammer velocities, and had independent tracks for pedalling amounts and lengths. Thus, it '...automatically replayed tempo, phrasing, dynamics and pedalling of a particular performance...' When properly adjusted using the calibration roll, modern tests show that the short-term deviations in speed are less than 0.5% and deviations over a long-playing piano role were 2%, barely discernable.

A reference to the system is here: www.pianola.org/reproducing/reproducing_welte.cfm

and here: https://www.tacet.de/main/seite1.php?language=en&filename=welte.php

The paper discusses that differences between the original Durand score, published in 1910, and Debussy's performance of it in 1913. Debussy clearly marks the score 6/4=3/2 at the beginning. The meaning is clear. When you find a 3/2 bar, you are expected to play the 1/2 note at the same speed as the 1/4 note in the previous bar. Where those bars actually are in the piece was not indicated by Debussy. It is possible he apparently assumed that it was obvious. The authors say this is unlikely. The bars to be in 3/2 time are bars 7-12 and bars 22-83. That is how he plays the piece, but not how it looks.

A good musician who can't count, that would be me, has always played this piece the way Debussy played it. Today, after 60 years of playing this piece, I realized that I was not playing what was written in the score. My musicality ignored the ink splotches and made music. My guess is that most of you do as well.

Durand finally realized their error of omission and corrected their original 1910 edition in 1985!

The paper references the most important documents concerning this piece and 38 recordings of it. The paper shows that most pianists, ignoring Debussy's recording (it is unlikely that many heard it) played mostly what was in the score and finally, after about 1962 when an LP of the original recordings was published, pianists started changing there interpretation of the piece.

Here is the paper: https://www.yumpu.com/en/document/r...s-musicology-changing-the-way-we-perform
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 07:24 PM

Originally Posted by GoldmanT
I don't have time to dig up the relevant thread at the moment (will find it later) but it's pretty much accepted Debussy didn't record Claire de Lune on the piano roll system - he recorded maybe ten (?) pieces, mainly later pieces like the preludes, but not this one.

Also the Welte-Mignon system only had sustain on/off detection, not the various graduations of pedal that Debussy would have used, so even the recordings of him playing aren't faithful to what would have been heard in the room at the time.
This is incorrect.

If I am wrong, please provide your source evidence and not frivolous insults. We are trying to have a reasoned discussion here.
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 07:32 PM

It's the lack of evidence, in amongst all the evidence that Debussy played the other recordings attributed to him.

And could you point out the frivolous insults because I don't believe I made any. I supplied a link to an excellent thesis on Debussy's Welte Mignon recordings.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/22/19 07:50 PM

I apologize for mistaking your intent. Also, I could not gain access to the thesis you referenced.

My intent in this thread is to explore performance practice and the musicality inherant in that performance practice. I have little interest, at least in this particular thread, regarding the technical aspects of the recording and reproducing technology.
Posted By: 90125

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 12:19 AM

Originally Posted by prout
I could not gain access to the thesis you referenced.

Maybe try again at this link: http://openaccess.city.ac.uk/8449/ .

It is worth skimming through. In case you still can't get it here's my recapitulation: Debussy had heard gamelan music at one of the World Fairs and was impressed by a percussive instrument with a very long sustain. He (and other contemporaries) experimented with the various means of extending the sustain of the piano. The Welte-Mignon system appears to record and reproduce the pedals as a binary value only. Author makes a conjecture that what we hear from those rolls is half-pedal rounded up to the full-pedal. Some Debussy's contemporaries claimed that the W-M playback didn't sound much like how he played at home.

From myself I can add: it appears that the Welte-Mignon system required long post-production to convert the recording to a playable form. There's complete lack of any mention (or even interest) in verifying that artists who recorded did any sort of sound check (listening to their own recording). Neither the author attempted to verify his conjectures about the W-M system.

Overall it is mostly "reading tea leaves" or "fortune-telling from the coffee grounds" but rather well written.
Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 12:31 AM

Originally Posted by 90125
[

From myself I can add: it appears that the Welte-Mignon system required long post-production to convert the recording to a playable form. .


The other link said that Welte had a take it or leave it policy, they didn't allow fixing things in post.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 01:02 AM

Thanks for the information 90125. I read, in one of the references I posted, that the post-production was extensive and that the participation of the performer was not encouraged. They take great pains, however to insist that no editing of the score was ever undertaken, and that the resulting dataset, when reproduced on a properly calibrated machine, would play 'your' piano as if the performer was there.

The technical aspects of the machine are, in fact, quite fascinating. Electric, using a trough of mercury as the contact ground, a technique still employed in certain switches (I own a few), a second set of contacts to determine velocity through the open time of a set of pneumatic and hydraulic valves (using the word valve in the european form, meaning amplifier), and such, resulted in an astonishing fidelity.

My point has been all along, and still is, that we can listen through the noise and hear the performer's intention. It could be twice as fast as it should be, or wavering or fluttering all over the place, tempo variations could be wildly exagerated by reproduction errors, but in spite of all that, if there is any musicality in the performance, it can be ascertained.

I find it hard to be believe, though as a scientist perhaps not, that one cannot accept that a signal can be buried in the noise and yet still be heard. Voyager I, now out of our solar system, is still transmitting data. That data, at a power less than 10^-18 of a watt (one billionth of one billionth), and vastly below the background noise level, can still be received and correctly interpreted. Use your ears people, to hear the music. Ignore the noise.

I can tune a piano through the noise of a blender, people talking on the phone, I can hear the music of an extrordinary musician through the noise of my car tires, traffic around me, radio station noise and a cheap radio and speakers with 10% minimum distortion numbers. I fall in love with music I have never heard that way. Wake up people, and, 90125, I'm not talking about you. You are clearly awake. Cheers.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 01:05 AM

Thanks John for corroborating my assertion.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 01:10 AM

Thanks to everyone here, who, in general, have engaged in a thoughtful discussion.

I have specialized for many decades in performance practice, and it has been my hope to give back some of that knowledge gleaned. I really appreciate responses, especially when they call out my errors. It is how I have learned all my life.

The most important thing I ever learned as a pilot from reading aviation safety letters was

"Learn from the mistakes of others. You won't live long enough to make them all yourself."

Cheers all.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 02:22 AM

Originally Posted by prout

My point has been all along, and still is, that we can listen through the noise and hear the performer's intention. It could be twice as fast as it should be, or wavering or fluttering all over the place, tempo variations could be wildly exagerated by reproduction errors, but in spite of all that, if there is any musicality in the performance, it can be ascertained.

I find it hard to be believe, though as a scientist perhaps not, that one cannot accept that a signal can be buried in the noise and yet still be heard. Voyager I, now out of our solar system, is still transmitting data. That data, at a power less than 10^-18 of a watt (one billionth of one billionth), and vastly below the background noise level, can still be received and correctly interpreted. Use your ears people, to hear the music. Ignore the noise.


Sorry to say, but you're clearly asleep, judging from your fallacious comparison of a precision spacecraft (with immense computer assistance both in and outside of it) with an ancient technology which the performer has no say in the result, and where errors are totally random. As a scientist, you should know that one should never compare chalk with cheese. Not even apples and oranges.

The musicality of a performer on a 78rpm disc can be discerned through the surface noise because the dynamics and tonal nuances are inherent in the recording process, and variations in speed can easily be corrected today with computer technology, using the resulting variations in pitch as guidance. That is why each new release on CD (using computer technology) of a 78 gets closer and closer to the pianist's original intentions, eliminating wow & flutter, and surface noise can also be greatly reduced.

With piano rolls, there is no fluctuation in pitch (as I'm sure you know) regardless of whether the drum is running at the correct speed most of the time, or billowing like the wind. Something akin to the chaos theory. A butterfly flapping its wings causing a hurricane halfway around the world. That sort of thing. No computer can recreate order out of chaos.

And anyway, whoever the pianist was in the piano roll recording in your OP, it seems it wasn't Debussy. Likely some unnamed second-rate pianist trying to make a quick buck. Or someone faking the whole thing and laughing his head off right now at how seriously some of us here are taking his YT video. (There have always been, and always will be, such people). If you want to listen to the real Debussy, listen to the 78s, where he is the accompanist. Any musician can clearly hear the difference.

You have an agenda to push, and you simply brush aside any indications that you're barking up the wrong tree, and instead, keep trying to make round pegs fit into square holes, and making spurious comparisons. That's not how a real scientist works.
Posted By: prout

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 03:44 AM

bennivis: The techology of Voyager is 47 years old. It classifies as 'antique' and yet, reproduces a useable signal from the original sensor data.

As a scientist I would be happy to compare and discuss the commonalities between chalk and cheese. Both contain calicium, chalk in the of calcium carbonate, and cheese in the form usually of calcium lactate. Both are readily absorbed by the body and contribute to several areas of human health. Regarding apples and oranges, both are excellent sources of potassium and vitamin C, so, not a lot of difference. I am not sure why you used such similar items to try and discredit my observations.

I do have an agenda to push. It is to encourage people to experience new things. If you are uninterested that pursuit, that is fine, but please explain to me why you want to discourage it in others. I ask people to listen to ideas. They are free to accept or reject them. I have not ever said I am right. Yet you accuse me of a fallacious comparison by using items that are clearly comparable.

Anyway, for the rest of the readers, take everything that is said here, and that includes my contributions, with a healthy dose of scepticism. You must decide for yourselves, what youare willing to accept.
Posted By: bennevis

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 12:13 PM

Originally Posted by prout
bennivis: The techology of Voyager is 47 years old. It classifies as 'antique' and yet, reproduces a useable signal from the original sensor data.

The Voyagers were launched in 1977, and used the most up-to-date computer technology then available. Computers have been around since the Second World War. Apollo 11 sent men to the moon in 1969. How many years of refinement in technology is that?

When 78s and piano rolls were born, no-one even had an inkling of computers.

Quote
As a scientist I would be happy to compare and discuss the commonalities between chalk and cheese. Both contain calicium, chalk in the of calcium carbonate, and cheese in the form usually of calcium lactate. Both are readily absorbed by the body and contribute to several areas of human health. Regarding apples and oranges, both are excellent sources of potassium and vitamin C, so, not a lot of difference. I am not sure why you used such similar items to try and discredit my observations.

If you still want to keep on that tack, I could go on & on, because part of my study & training for my job includes the workings of the human body, health and nutrition - as well as several science subjects -, but I won't, because it's really getting silly.

Let's just say that cheese is an organic substance made from milk, and contains fat, casein and lactose. Chalk is none of that. Any similarity is purely coincidental.

Quote
I do have an agenda to push. It is to encourage people to experience new things. .

That is very commendable, but you're going about it by adopting a totally unfounded air of superiority (if anyone disagrees with me, they are uneducated/stupid/asleep, blah, blah) and using spurious arguments - including the selective use of 'evidence' to back up your arguments. Why do you think that everyone else have closed minds?

I suggest you listen to the recordings of Ricardo Viñes, who was the favorite interpreter of both Ravel and Debussy, if you want some idea of how their music was played during the composers' lifetime, rather than keep looking around for more fake videos where the playing is unrhythmic, just to back up your agenda. Viñes recorded quite a lot of Debussy. There is also a video of him talking about his friend.

BTW, if you've read some of my past posts, you'll know that I'm all for freedom of interpretation - which was why I mentioned Raoul Koczalski (have you listen to his playing yet?), Alfred Cortot and the like.
Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 07:45 PM

Originally Posted by NobleHouse
Originally Posted by bennevis
Originally Posted by GoldmanT
I don't have time to dig up the relevant thread at the moment (will find it later) but it's pretty much accepted Debussy didn't record Claire de Lune on the piano roll system - he recorded maybe ten (?) pieces, mainly later pieces like the preludes, but not this one.

This whole thread is based on a fake recording?? grin


Well then, never mind my comments cool


Can we say for sure if it's real or fake? So far the arguments against this being real are that it's not part of another group of Debussy's Welte rolls that have a good provenance, and that the solo doesn't sound like the way he comps for singers.

But does it sound like anyone else who was actively making Welte rolls? Granted the chronology issue does rule out Christopher Marlowe.... ;-)
Posted By: GoldmanT

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 09:43 PM

From this link: http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...e-lune-very-interesting.html#Post1312325

"According to the above, the only person ever to record Debussy's Clair de lune on the Welte-Mignon system was Cecile de Horvath. Five pianists recorded it on other types of piano rolls; in alphabetical order: George Copeland, Herbert Fryer, Walter Gieseking, Yolanda Mero, and Olga Samaroff. My guess is that the link starting off this thread is a recording by Walter Gieseking. It sounds like he might have played that way in his youth (sorry if that sounds rude, hehe), and I also notice that the works on the "Masters of the Piano Roll: Debussy plays Debussy" CD that were not (apparently) recorded by Debussy, are listed as recorded by either Gieseking or Rudolph Ganz. So maybe at some stage a mixture of Debussy, Gieseking and Ganz recordings were mistakenly attributed exclusively to Debussy?"

This link has a list of piano roll recordings: http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...e-lune-very-interesting.html#Post1312325

Never tried searching for recordings though.....

To be honest though, a lot of the comments in this thread probably still stand when listening to the Debussy piano rolls he actually made, a lot of the nuanced notation and dynamics/tempo marks aren't followed as much as you might think by a composer who obviously put so much time into notating them that way.
Posted By: JohnSprung

Re: Debussy plays Clair de Lune - 01/23/19 10:57 PM


OK so the thing we're listening to exists. But who created it? Walter? Cecile? Rudolph? Claude? Somebody else? Has anyone heard the known Cecile version?
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