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 Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: michal 
Date:   2002-10-10 02:19

Dear clarinetists!

I know this is not an original subject, but I do need help with some real problems I am having practicing this piece...

In number 5, where the scherzando starts, the tempo marking on the Durand edition states a beat= 72. However, later on, the shcerzando part after 6 is supposingly the same tempo. However, it sounds to me too slow there, and I never heard a recording that actually these sections sound the smae tempo. There are two things I can conclude: either the tempo marking is wrong, and therefore it is open to interpetation. Or that it is so, and than it will sound awfully slow!!
What to do?
let me know your opinions,it will be interesting...
thanks in advance,michal.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: GBK 
Date:   2002-10-10 02:58

Even though the passage at number 6 is designated the same tempo (as number 5), most performers now play the section more in the range of the quarter note = 96-100.

Greg Smith, in his insightful article in <i>The Clarinet</i> ventures to say that there is perhaps a compositional weakness in playing number 6 at the slower tempo (quarter note = 72), and has yet to hear a convincing performance at that slower speed. He advances the possibility that so many modern day clarinetists play number 6 at the quicker tempo (and we have become used to hearing it that way) that "there is no going back" (Greg's words).

He concludes by saying that he would like nothing better than to be convinced the slower tempo works in this passage, but has yet to be swayed...GBK

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2002-10-10 05:33

Call me crazy, but as far as playing goes, I don't have so much respect for Greg Smith as a performer, as I find him VERY boring to listen to.
As far as the Debussy goes, I love Emma Johnson's recording, I like her use of colour, however, Jack Brymer's is also OK. It's so varying!
How could you play them at the same tempo and make it 'convincing'? I would try to not add tempo but imply intensity, that may start you off in the right direction.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 06:00

This is the great paradox of this highly detailed and specifically notated composition. Debussy was meticulous when it came to precise and detailed instructions when crafting a work so I had to conclude that he meant what he wrote. There are no inconsistencies from one printed form to another (manuscript, piano score, orchestral score, solo parts, etc.) regarding this one, glaring, explicit instruction.

I have spoken with so many professional colleagues about their experiences performing it and have listened to so many recordings (many historic ones, some from nearly that time period) and have never heard it played at nearly that much slower a tempo. In my own performances, I have never been able to reconcile the printed tempo with the suggested style of scherzando.

That is why I personally concluded that there was an inherent weakness in the composition since there have been many generations of supremely insightful performers that have instinctively ignored the marking - and by a wide margin - since to them, it could never have resalistically sound scherzando at quarter = 72.

I also had to conclude that for almost a century now, great clarinetists performing the work under the guidance of great conductors preparing it such as Boulez, Ansermet and the like, knew what they were doing by deliberately ignoring the slower tempo.

Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: GBK 
Date:   2002-10-10 06:24

Greg...Thanks for stopping by...

I attempted to paraphrase your thoughts on the Debussy, but it is infinitely better when the actual author elaborates.

For what it is worth, I heard Greg perform the Debussy in New Orleans at the Clarinetfest.

His performance was thoroughly convincing...GBK

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 06:59

Dear Morrigan,

I'm actually quite pleased to hear that someone's comparison of my playing of the Debussy Rhapsodie to that of Emma Johnson's and Jack Brymer's interpretations (both deservedly famous British clarinetists) is viewed as "boring". Both of these performers recordings of this work show little respect for the composer's explicit instructions in regards to just about every aspect of both's highly, shall we say charitabily, "personal" interpretations.

I am keenly aware of a school of thought more and more in vogue presently, that prizes putting performer whims ahead of the composer's explicit instructions. Overt flamboyancy at the expense of the composer's explicit instructions violates a sacred trust between composer and performer that is strongly frowned upon - at least in the professional circles that I travel.

Most of our waking hours are committed, as scrupulous professional musicians, investing ourselves in exploring just how to interpret a composers work (most especially in the case of a work by a composer like Debussy) with the upmost fidelity to the composer in mind - and not as a means of self-indulgency.

This is not to say that there is not artistic liscence that one uses to deviate from the composer's "blueprint" that's in front of a performer at any given time. All great performers that I know of or have heard of use this "blueprint" as a point of departure to then add their personal artistic expression or spontaneity to enhance (not undo) what the composer has laid out for them.

Perhaps the "boring" aspect that you mention is only out of contrast to the performances that you mention - just the simple result of scupulously adhereing to the composer Debussy's specific detailed musical instructions.

More isn't always more. Sometimes less is more. And in the case of the music of Debussy, stylistically speaking, the latter is usually the case.

Sincerely,

Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 07:09


PS. I'm reminded of the famous quote by the conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell when criticized by a very few as interpreting Haydn and Mozart without enough "warmth", to which he shot back, "Well, you certainly don't expect me to pour chocolate sauce over asparagus do you?"


Of course Szell is considered virtually unanimously to be one of the greatest interpreters in the entire 20th century of Haydn and Mozart.

Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2002-10-10 07:36

WOAH thanks for stopping by Greg! I worked with you on the Finzi in Australia, I am one of Robert Schubert's students. As he may or may have told you, I'm the out of control one... I find it hard to see why a performer would forsake expression over 'fidelity' to the composer?
I felt your performance 'boring' because you did just that - you remained true to Debussy and technically in line. However, this is one opinion of one small clarinettist who may or may not view the instrument the same as everyone else. I view it as a form of expression, while many people try to perfect 'what is'. I see 'what is' (i.e. what is written on the page) as purely a guide only, and the composer has written it as a point of departure. After all, do they want everyone who plays their music to play it exactly the same?
Sometimes I think that, because of this, I won't become a professional clarinet player. After all, I'm not playing the clarinet to perfect it's art, or indeed to perfect the music I have in front of me. I play to express myself and hopefully share this with my audience. I don't ever plan on being conservative in my performances. All I want is for people to love the music I play for them, not to drool over my technical ability like everyone did while you were here!
If, one day, someone says to me after a performance "that was beautiful" or "I really felt what you were trying to say" then I will consider myself a success.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2002-10-10 07:59

PS. How could you clain fidelity to the composer when you use a modern-day Boehm System clarinet, with different bore preportions, different mouthpiece, reed, and ligature? Wouldn't being true to a composer be, for example, Tony Pay's recordings of Weber and Crusell's works on a period instrument? We play on modern instruments, to modern audiences. The audience of Debussy's Premiere Rhapsody, on it's premiere, would be completely different to the audience expecting a performance at the concert hall today. Therefore, I believe we can never give a fully true performance of yesterday's music given our equipment. This is why I wish to push our modern ways; we're in a new context, we have new music, new instrument, new audiences. Why not push this? This is my purpose.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2002-10-10 08:00

PPS> I'm not saying you're wrong about anything, you're completely on the ball on your point. Just having a lively discussion! At the end of the day I might learn something...

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 09:53

One of the key aspects to interpreting the music of the impressionist Debussy in particular is to preserve a sense of mystery in his music, attaining nebulous qualities through his mastery of music's suggestive power. His music is not at all vague.

Indeed his music shows a composer of scrupulous and methodical craftsmanship with attention to detail regarding articulation, dynamics, and even tonal color.

The music of Debussy is not to be loosely interpreted. One must follow the composer's every printed detail, thereby allowing or FREEING the overall "palette" of the musical score to become "impressionistic".

The visual equivalent would be to look at a painting of Monet up close and observe the prescision and detail of every brushed strokewith the exact texture and colors that the brush strokes impart....then to step back and observe that the sum of these details create the sense of "impressionism".

The true marvel of this "contest piece" is that the technical demands are so subtly interwoven into the musical texture that the most trained of listeners fail to perceive it's great difficulty.

Debussy knew of the inner mysteries of our instrument like few others, the result of which is a rich, complex work of extraordinary depth.

-------

True, there is allot of musical substance to extract from this work, but in a stylistically informed, appropriate way. One has to as a performer be informed by the history, context, and stylistic considerations of any piece, particularly as formidable a work as this one.

Musical expression carries with it a tremendous amount of responsibility to understand and to be informed by these considerations. There are many different qualities of expression - some appropriate to Debussy and others to Beethoven or Stravinsky. One can not simply express themselves merely for expression's sake...simply to provoke rather than evoke a response from an audience.

The question becomes how far and in what manner is one to consider departing from the printed part. To say that one would only play simply what was on the printed page if one strictly followed all of the instructions is beside the point. Of course every competent musician uses that as their starting point - as the "blueprint" that I mentioned in an earlier post.

The QUALITY, not the QUANTITY of the expression gleaned from that "blueprint" is what distinguishes a merely competent artist form a great one.

The Debussy can evoke all kinds of emotional responses from the listening audience. But if the audience is expecting something other than a performance informed by a style appropriate to Debussy, then they are bound to be left feeling short or even dissapointed. One can not of course play Debussy in the style of Wagner or Scriabin and expect to serve the composer. It's unfortunate if you were one of those audience members expecting something else.

But "pushing modern ways" does not necessarily have to entail thowing the baby out with the bathwater when the ultimate goal is to bring the music to life in an interesting, exciting, but INFORMED manner. In that sense, yes, context IS everything.

One doesn't necessarily have to forsake expression for the sake of fidelity to the composer. The two are not inextricably bound.

-----

Yes, an original instrument performance of the Debussy that would include equipment playing as well in tune and with similar mouthpiece/reed/tonal characteristics as one produced in 1910 would be an interesting project. It might require playing a replica. Should one then play a 1910 Steinway at 1910 pitch? In a room the similar to the size and acoustic of the original competition? How far does one want need go before reaching a point of diminishing returns? These are all very personal questions that each has to answer for themselves.


Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: GBK 
Date:   2002-10-10 11:45

Greg has nicely elaborated and delineated the fine line between historical accuracy and the job of the performer.

In writing a specific piece a composer makes thousands of choices. Should a ritard happen on a specific note? Should a crescendo extend an extra 2 beats? Should a held note be 4 beats or 5? etc., etc., etc...

The performer, in turn, faces the daunting task of trying to convey these wishes within the historical context of the piece. When the performer decides to depart from the composer's instructions "ad libitum" then the music ceases to be the composer's any longer, and violates the intent of the author.

If however the music is performed as written, then the music will take over on its own merits. As, for example, no two performers execute a ritard, or crescendo exactly the same way, thus lies the subtleties which separate the average performance from the memorable - that innate ability to take the listener along a truly sculptured and informed musical journey.

As an analogy, I am reminded of the job of a referee in a sports event. Let the action play out, but subtlely control it, shape it, and guide it. Never being overbearing to a point where you are more important than the larger overall picture...GBK

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: HAT 
Date:   2002-10-10 13:24

Greg Smith, Could you be any more right? Well done and classy to boot.

There is indeed a trend to look at a composition in a 'personal' way. Indeed, to 'exploit' its nuances as a personal expression tool. And to do this right at the beginning of learning it.

The Debussy is one of the most often victimized works.

To paraphrase our former president:

Ask not what this work can do for you, ask what you can do for this work.

The first step in going the wrong way is to call oneself an 'artist.' To me, that's not our own call to make. Art and beauty are in the ear/eye of the beholder.

What we can do is 'strive to be artistic' (my words).

Some of you will not understand the meaning of my phrase. That's ok for now.

David Hattner, NYC
www.northbranchrecords.com


And, just for the record, one should NEVER compare a heavily edited studio recording with a live performance.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2002-10-10 13:39

Interesting discussion on the Debussy. My professor in France did one of the earlier recordings of this work on EMi with Martinon.(IN 74) Mr. danagain who I was studyingin the late 80s with said very clearly that the nature of the work is "diaphanous" and to just think that one switches gears like on a car is really playing Debussy like Mahler. The tempi have to be all with the conctet of what works for the performer and musically! A slower tempo for the scherzando can be played slower(although Dangain plays it around 78 or so)but has to be musically interesting! That requires very fine technique!
Danagain's version was recorded on a Buffet from the 50s and on a 5RVLyre mouthpiece --and his sound is amazing! Of course, this is part of the traiditional french school of tone and may defintitely sound different to american ear...however good playing is good playing.
I seem to remember Boulez and Depeyer making an awesome record of this for CBS quite some time ago...he also could play this piece flawlessly in concert. I also have a number of records live and studio and find George pietersen of the Concertgebouw on Philips to be a tremendous record as well. If you go to Alessandro Carbonare's site you can download the Dangain anotions which he (Dangain)learned from Cahuzac.
I would also like to add that many composers certainly interpret works of music quite differently from what we expect. Danagain elaboarted a story of working under Stravinsky to me. They were rehearsing in Paris in the late 50s the Rite of Sring. Stravinsky walks in and starts the bassoon solo, and then to the orchestra's dismay, all of the tempi he chose were very slow and some quite different than they practiced. the revelation

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2002-10-10 13:39

Greg wrote "One has to as a performer be informed by the history, context, and stylistic considerations of any piece, particularly as formidable a work as this one."

WHY I ask you? WHY?

Who says HAVE to look at all this to express something? Why do we HAVE to be contextually or historically correct? I know I'm question the very foundation of art here, but, didn't Einstein say to constantly question everything? This is how I learn, to sharply question everything.

It may be classier, it may deliver a better performance overall, but WHY can't one be selfish and take liberty? WHY are we conforming to what's on the page? Would the composer REALLY care about ONE performance that isn't precisely what he wanted?

Don't get me wrong, I understand completely what you're saying, I just really feel the need to question this because I don't understand why it is a necessity to be so faithful to a composer's intent.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2002-10-10 13:50

The style of Debussy is really quite difficult. Technique and musicality are bound together and this is herein the crux of the arguement. Just to let a few know Szell also worked in Paris a good deal and also with the Concertgebouw, and his artistry is rembered in Europe fondly.
About the Rhapsody- an interpretation of Music of any style at any tempo can work as long as the performer can make it sound credible or sustain it. An expample- a fellow Canadian of mine Glen Gould did a very interesting version of Brahms Piano concerto No 1 with Bernstein in the 60s. It was so slow yet so musical as to dissarm cricism of the tempo. However, I still can't stand that record. But at the same time I admire the INTEGRITY and the style brought to the piece at that tempi which Mr. Gould chooses. Recently I heard a recording of another solo piano player doing it at around that temp and I can say right off it was awful! this with a major Canadian orchestra which is fine as well. Musical playing is hard to just define, there is something where words leave off and beauty of technique begins. If you choose slow tempi than make sure you play it flawlessly! It is the same on the other end of the spectrum as well.
Beswt regards
DD

( ERRATA;Dangain plays the scherzando around 88 or 87 not 78)_

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2002-10-10 14:01

Note that later on the page no2 DURAND EDITION at big letter 6 Debussy uses the term a Tempo(moderement anime) twice--which i look at as faster or slightly quicker). I would not ignore this and his line of reasoning here is muscially sound....

He also uses tems like Cedez and Un peu retunu sloing and a little slower. This means the tempi are quite elastic and elastic with the boundaries of what Debussy is setting! Before big letter or no 6 note the Plus retenu-- alot slower or slowing. It is just a great piece and these indications should be followed.

Sincerely
D Dow
St. John NB

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2002-10-10 14:05

Note on Page 2 of this piece: 10 bars after NO 6 note "Meme Mouvement"---with movement of course -this is somewhat quicker again and with freedom within what musially works faster, certainly not slower!
D Dow

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: William Hughes 
Date:   2002-10-10 14:39

D Dow:

On National Public Radio last week, I heard the speech Leonard Bernstein gave before the Gould performance. Bernstein frankly and quite directly disavowed the Brahms the audience was about to hear, saying that he could not justify Gould's interpretation, but added that he respected Gould as an artist and felt the audience had a right to hear it played in that style. A bit melodramatic, perhaps, but I think it illustrates that interpretive debates can never really be resolved...why else would we welcome the opportunity to hear many different artists play the same written work? Interesting discussion.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: GBK 
Date:   2002-10-10 16:06

Morrigan wrote: "...Who says HAVE to look at all this to express something? Why do we HAVE to be contextually or historically correct?..." "... WHY can't one be selfish and take liberty? WHY are we conforming to what's on the page? Would the composer REALLY care about ONE performance that isn't precisely what he wanted?..."

Morrigan...As your postings are developing, your performing ideas are becoming more and more absurd.

No one will deny you the right to perform a work in any manner you wish.

Do you want to play the Vivaldi D Major Guitar Concerto on a Fender Stratocaster?

or, how about a Mozart piano sonata on a Korg keyboard?

Go ahead...if it's for your own amusement knock yourself out.

Just don't expect a serious critique of your performance other than the nebulous "Cool!!" ...GBK

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Sylvain 
Date:   2002-10-10 16:09

I have downloaded the document on Carbonare's page a while ago.
He also has the original manuscript.
http://www.carbonare.com/main3.htm
If you can read french then it's a must.
As far as the comments on fidelity to the score vs performer's persona.

I prefer when one is true to the score. I hate the new trend of playing the cadenza of copland concerto as if it was a Jazz solo.
We have a recording of this cadenza by Goodman, a jazz player, conducted by Copland himself. The cadenza is played straight, why should we change it?

I understand the crowd pleasing, performer's rewarding performances, and sure in the end it's the audience that matters. But then as an amateur why do I try so hard to play all the notes at the tempo required? I should simply edit the music to make it better suited to my own abilities, add a few C major arpeggios and scales here and there to please the crowd...
Dynamics, tempo markings, historical context, composers style and playing tradition are just as important as the notes on the page.

Somebody playing it differently might be playing something fun but is not playing the piece itself. Of course there is some flexibility, but a Mozart piece should not sound like a Brahms piece. We get too much of mahlery Mozart and brahmsy Debussy.

-Sylvain

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Zack Best 
Date:   2002-10-10 16:29

> I am keenly aware of a school of thought more and more in vogue
> presently, that prizes putting performer whims ahead of the
> composer's explicit instructions. Overt flamboyancy at the
> expense of the composer's explicit instructions violates a sacred
> trust between composer and performer that is strongly frowned
> upon - at least in the professional circles that I travel.

I have found this sentiment to be quite common but am none
the less totally puzzled by it. As much as I enjoy classical
music, it often seems to me to be surrounded by a snobbish
culture that I find quite off putting.

I would conjecture that there are at least a thousand people
alive today who could write music in the style of Mozart and
do it better than Mozart did if they chose to devote their
life to it. No one does because there is no incentive, either
artistic or financial, to do that. But I don't see why that
elevates Mozart to the status of any sort of ultimate authority.

Although I am a rank ameture musician, I have some small degree
of accomplishment in a different field. I love a good technical
discussion or argument, but really hate it when someone's idea
of a strong technical argument is to quote some expert as the
final authority. Quoting experts as final authorities tends
to be common in acedemic fields which are stagnant or dieing.
More vibrant and alive fields tend to debate issues on technical
merrit, rather than stature of the proponent.

> "Well, you certainly don't expect me to pour chocolate sauce over
> asparagus do you?"

I am sure this would be frowned upon in a snobby restaurant, but
you might not know it since the disapprovers probably frown
most of the time anyway. My kids might actually like it, though.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Morrigan 
Date:   2002-10-10 17:02

GBK, don't call me absurd, just look at what I said. REALLY look at what I said. and ask yourself the question: WHY? I asked WHY do we continue with these traditions? I talked to my housemate about it, and she gave me my definite answer. Its too much to post here, but after about 3 hours and 6 coffees, she completely changed my attitude. I now have a completely different approach and am off to start a new thread, inspired by our chat!

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 17:43

Morrigan wrote:

"Greg wrote "One has to as a performer be informed by the history, context, and stylistic considerations of any piece, particularly as formidable a work as this one."

Morrigan:

WHY I ask you? WHY?

Who says HAVE to look at all this to express something? Why do we HAVE to be contextually or historically correct? I know I'm question the very foundation of art here, but, didn't Einstein say to constantly question everything? This is how I learn, to sharply question everything.

It may be classier, it may deliver a better performance overall, but WHY can't one be selfish and take liberty? WHY are we conforming to what's on the page? Would the composer REALLY care about ONE performance that isn't precisely what he wanted?

Don't get me wrong, I understand completely what you're saying, I just really feel the need to question this because I don't understand why it is a necessity to be so faithful to a composer's intent."
================================================================

Yes, one is always encouraged to take liberties - that is the essence of artistic expression - but informed liberties within context are essential if your respect is for the music...in this case Debussy's music. Then, only after that, it's simply a matter of DEGREE how much one want's to put Debussy into the music, and how much one wants to put Morrigan into the music.

The great joy of playing this 20th century masterpiece for the clarinet is that it is seemingly bottomless (quite an accomplishment for an 8 minute "contest" piece") - always offering something new of worth each time it is dusted off, re-examined and played once again. It's as if one would look through a spectacularly colorful kalidescope - each performance a reflection of that incredible array of colors present and available in every new turn of the kalidescope. But it must be, in this case, Debussy's kalidescope.

Again, being as faithful as reasonably possible to the composer's intent isn't a restricting process per se. In fact I asserted earlier that in the case of the Debussy - a work of impressionism - fidelity to the composer's precisely written instructions paradoxically FREES or LIBERATES the music from the cold, printed page.

You state, "Would the composer REALLY care about ONE performance that isn't precisely what he wanted?"

Well, you overstate your case. No one knows "precisely" what he wanted. On the other hand no composer would want their music interpreted the same way every time. Something in the middle would do...but doing something in the middle is the key idea.

What I am describing is that the parameters of performance style must simply be informed by the composer...however one can best go about doing that...studying and listening to other works of the composer comes to mind...examining other scores of their works, etc. Otherwise there is no muscal context from which to base one's interpretation.

I am also reminded of another quote from a great interpreter of music who said about style and interpretation, "It is perfectly legitimate to prefer the hectic, the arhythmic, the untidy - but to my mind, great artistry is not disorderliness."

Interestingly, that quote came from a musician who also said of the iconoclastic pianist Glenn Gould (whom he refused to perform with) after listening to one of his live performances, "That nut's a genius".

So yes, we all can be informed musically by one another. That's the beauty of it.

My assertions are far from unique or dogmatic. And they are perhaps only guidelines that will hopefully help unlock the music from the physically sterile printed page.

Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: GBK 
Date:   2002-10-10 17:57

For those that do not know, the quote (about Glenn Gould) "That nut's a genius" was said by George Szell...GBK

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: rmk 
Date:   2002-10-10 18:30

Zack Best wrote:

I would conjecture that there are at least a thousand people
alive today who could write music in the style of Mozart and
do it better than Mozart did if they chose to devote their
life to it. No one does because there is no incentive, either
artistic or financial, to do that. But I don't see why that
elevates Mozart to the status of any sort of ultimate authority.

Although I am a rank ameture musician, I have some small degree
of accomplishment in a different field.

--------

I would conjecture that 2+2 really equals 5. I know a little about math.

(But I would be wrong)

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 18:39

Yes William...in a lighter moment I wouldn't mind hearing a newly discovered Ellington arrangement of the Debussy! I'm sure that it would be fantastic and delightful to say the least.

Or a Stan Kenton arrangement somewhere. Now that would be mind-bending in the best possible way.

Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Gregory Smith 
Date:   2002-10-10 20:09


HAT wrote, "And, just for the record, one should NEVER compare a heavily edited studio recording with a live performance."
===============================================================

Yes David,

Simply to acknowledge the circumstances for that performance in Melbourne...

Upon reflection, I do recall playing in quite a dead or acoustically dry lecture-style hall and with a new, poorly voiced, Bosendorfer piano (a piano notoriously colorless in timbre compared to let's say a Steinway).

In rehearsal, it drove my superb accompanist and I crazy trying to make the best of a less than optimal situation in this regard. We concluded that no amount of exaggeration would remedy the circumstances.

Perhaps the performance conditions likely sapped a good deal of the expression and colour out of a performance of the likes of Debussy! (which is all about color and subtlety of articulation, speed of the varied dynamics, etc).

So additionally, venue, etc, is important in critiqueing a performance.

Gregory Smith

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: D Dow 
Date:   2002-10-10 20:36

Dear Gregory:

I play in a regional orchestra up here in Canada-- and can also honestly state acoustics can do alot to anybody playing any instrument...in one hall I perform in we call it "doink" haLL BECAUSE THE ACOUSTICS ARE SO EMACIATED AND DEAD! As to performances there are so many ways just to begin a sound that a good acoustic certainly plays alot into how I play. Resonance is everything in performing.
I know that when I did the Rhpasody as a student my recital hall had awesome acoustics and the rehearsal hall was cruddy. My professor Danagain said he was lucky to do the Rhapsody in Salle Pleyel in Paris because it had very lively acoustics. I also know he could play it at a moments notice from memory, so memorization certainly helps with alot of the spontanity as well.
As to why we do things a certain way I know that someone like Glenn Gould would probe for years on a passage. Interpretation alone is an art in itself and teaching students aspects of interpretation is not an easy thing to do.
There are also players out there who can do the Rhapsody in one take. People like Paul Meyer are superb at memorization and last I heard he can play over 50 Concertos! That pretty wild.
I would also say that an allegro is allegro and that is what the composer wants we play.

I recall hearing a very slow interpretation of the 1st movement of Beethoven 5 which got so heavy that I found it lacked any musical momentum. Conductors like Celibidache are notorious for unusual tempos and to be honest I find it interesting but sometimes annoying. If you ever heard his nutcracker suite you would know what i mean. I am in total accord with you on matters of overall tempi, when a composer say something, they MEAN IT! There is also a growing tendency to do strange things with tempo, and of course whether these approaches leave a historical mark is questionable. Great conductors definitely know the boundaries of what is musical and what is unmusical. Thanks for the excellent post.

Sincerely D Dow

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: michal 
Date:   2002-10-11 00:19

Dear Clarinet fellows!

well, i didn't expect such a heavy debate, but am glad to read all of your wonderful views. i see the point of each and every one of you, and I think that is what makes our classical world so interesting. I would like to say a special thanks to Mr. Smith for his fantastic opinion about this matter and others that have rose during this debate. What I could say about this in general is that until you haven't mastered what is written, don't judge it or ignore it or alter it...
I enjoy discovering the colors of this wonderful piece every time I practice it, and I have to say it will take a long time to piece together all the remarks Debussy put in. I am still quite in lose for whether I should start with the tempo marking in one section and than change it later on, or just choose a tempo that would best represent both sections.

As for all those who love to change, alter and surprise with their own style of playing- I do think there are pieces that allow it( like most modern pieces of our days). I agree with Mr. Smith, and I do research and hear other pieces of the composer, learn a little about the period. It is necessary to know where this music is coming from. The performer IS responsible to transfer not only notes, but atmosphere, style and period of each piece he performs. We are representitives of these particular composers. It is hard work, but rewarding.

I thank you again for your help, please feel free to keep the discussion going, even if Debussy is just an exemple to what you are trying to say...
Michal.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: ted 
Date:   2002-10-11 02:06

There is a recording of this piece by Gaston Hamelin. It's the first recording of thispiece (a single take), and I believe he had played the piece for Debussy. I can remember thinking the tempos were fast compared to modern recordings. Does anyone who has heard his recording have comments on the interpretation.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: Stéphane 
Date:   2002-10-11 18:46

That is a fantastic thread. Very refreshing after some recent turmoil here.

I just would like to quote Maurice Ravel here in view of supporting Greg Smith's opinion. He said "Je ne veux que l'on interprète ma musique, simplement qu'on la joue". Which could translate into: "I don't want my music to be interpretated, I just want it to be played." (Please excuse my poor translating skills)

Stéphane.

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: d dow 
Date:   2002-10-11 18:54

Stravinsky refered to Ravel in no uncertain terms as a "polished swiss clock..." I would also like to add in spite of Ravel being an impresassionist-- his music is so vastly different from Debussy!!!

 
 RE: Debussy Rhapsodie
Author: JMcAulay 
Date:   2002-10-12 03:37

One does not generally attend a football game while wearing a tuxedo nor dine formally dressed in a striped pullover shirt and athletic shoes. Of course, if one's goal is to draw attention to oneself, unexpected or counter-traditional action is a sure pathway to success Likewise, I would be both disappointed and miffed if I were to attend any performance to find that the unannounced interpretation offered is contrary to anything previously imaginable. For example, perhaps Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor could be done marvelously well in a jazz idiom, but please don't sell me a ticket to Bach and then spring something like *that* on me. I'd likely ask for a refund, hoping to get out of there before the organist could assume the opportunity to break into the Toccata from Widor's Fifth done in a country-swing motif.

Interpretation of any sort sometimes just doesn't make it. I recall having been somewhat disappointed when attending *Evita* during its initial run. The keynote song, "Don't cry for me, Argentina" seemed especially lacking. Later hearings of that selection also left me cold. But then, for the film, Madonna (one of my very least favorite contemporary "popular" performers) sang it straight. Pale, white sound, no heavy breathing, no tragedy projected in her voice, just singing the notes and words... and to me, for the first time, that music seemed packed with emotion. Because performing it straight allowed the (sometimes hard-to-find) artistry of the composer and author to emerge uncontaminated by interpretive "meddling." Now and then, fooling around with what's on the chart helps not at all.

My thanks to everyone who contributed to this thread. And to you, michal, for starting it. This truly has been a great thought-provoking discussion.
Regards,
John

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