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#2106780 - 06/23/13 02:10 PM Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings?
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2374
Loc: Virginia, USA
Or, perhaps less seriously, why do people have to play Debussy much faster than I can?

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

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

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

... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink
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  • Liszt - Liebestršume No. 3, S541
  • Bartůk - Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
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#2106833 - 06/23/13 03:59 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
jdw Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/04/11
Posts: 925
Loc: Philadelphia, PA
It's not just Debussy! I've seen this tendency in lots of music played by pros who seem to feel they have to play faster than the markings. Or, if there's no tempo marking, as fast as possible!
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1989 Baldwin R
Currently working on:
Grieg, Papillon
Mozart, K 330
Brahms, Op. 118 no. 2

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#2106844 - 06/23/13 04:28 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1002
It always helps to know the underlying language. At least my daughter got a leg up, there. I remember her violin teacher once pointing out "andante" and asking her if she knew what it meant, and she said, "you mean like 'to walk'?" Why, yes!

Her answers for others:

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

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

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

Anyway, I learned music before I learned either of Spanish or French, so I didn't understand them quite so organically. It would be nice if teachers took the time not just to define some of the musical markings within the context of music, but as a word that's part of a language. It might help people better understand what the composer is attempting to achieve.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Piano Pieces Op. 118, No. 2 Intermezzo A major
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2106903 - 06/23/13 07:14 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5267
Loc: Philadelphia
Apparently, they don't think it's "too much". wink
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Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2107022 - 06/24/13 01:59 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
Bobpickle Offline

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Originally Posted By: Andy Platt
I do have a version of the first arabesque which I greatly admire (Noriko Ogawa); a review of that complained it was far too slow. Sigh ..

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


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


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

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#2107038 - 06/24/13 02:48 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
wouter79 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3423
>... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink

I can speak only for myself.

I suspect that Debussy played fast.

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

So what do you do in that case? Stick with 66 and try to stay calme? Or stick with the calme and try to get up to 66 only where it can?
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#2107046 - 06/24/13 03:59 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
justpin Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/25/12
Posts: 504
Loc: Holmes Chapel
Heh ragtime is most frequently ignored!

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

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

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#2107092 - 06/24/13 07:27 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: wouter79]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2374
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: wouter79
>... why can't people read Debussy's markings? wink

I can speak only for myself.

I suspect that Debussy played fast.


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

Interesting article about his piano rolls:

Quote:
‚ÄúDoctor Gradus ad Parnassum‚ÄĚ is a mad rush, perhaps intended as a comic portrayal of young pupils feverishly engaged in finger exercises. I don‚Äôt think the piece is a mad rush but rather a wistful, deftly accented and, above all, slightly slower bit of nostalgia. And if I can play it this way without contravening the written score, who says I can‚Äôt love the piece and declare its composer wrong?


http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/24/arts/music/24debu.html?_r=0
_________________________
  • Liszt - Liebestršume No. 3, S541
  • Bartůk - Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
    My Hungarian Period wink

Kawai K3

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#2107174 - 06/24/13 12:19 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: justpin]
Derulux Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/06/05
Posts: 5267
Loc: Philadelphia
Originally Posted By: justpin
Heh ragtime is most frequently ignored!

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

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

Same for Mozart -- even in Mozart's day, he complained that people played his works too fast.
_________________________
Every day we are afforded a new chance. The problem with life is not that you run out of chances. In the end, what you run out of are days.

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#2107207 - 06/24/13 01:24 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Derulux]
SwissMS Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/09/11
Posts: 694
Loc: Switzerland
Virtuosity seems to be equated to speed anymore. Mozart, Beethoven, Scarlatti, everything seems to be played presto.

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

However, it is not just Debussy. My first piano teacher, when I returned to piano as an adult, always crossed out the metronome settings in sheet music, before I ever started a piece. He said that mechanical metronomes in the past were notoriously inaccurate, and even if the composer or editor had indicated a number, that number only worked on HIS particular metronome.
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#2107246 - 06/24/13 02:30 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
wouter79 Offline
3000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/14/10
Posts: 3423
I checked several original handwritings of Debussy.

Some are on IMSLP.org

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


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

So I guess it's all up to the player to pick the speed.
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#2107337 - 06/24/13 05:08 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
rnaple Offline

Silver Supporter until April 24 2014


Registered: 12/23/10
Posts: 1957
Loc: Rocky Mountains
OH Andy....
You know that men can't read directions until they've completely goofed things up. Only then, it's time to start reading.
_________________________
Ron
Your brain is a sponge. Keep it wet. Mary Gae George
The focus of your personal practice is discipline. Not numbers. Scott Sonnon

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#2107375 - 06/24/13 06:14 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: rnaple]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2374
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: rnaple
OH Andy....
You know that men can't read directions until they've completely goofed things up. Only then, it's time to start reading.


Hmm, that must be why I always find a few notes left over.
_________________________
  • Liszt - Liebestršume No. 3, S541
  • Bartůk - Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
    My Hungarian Period wink

Kawai K3

Top
#2107385 - 06/24/13 06:32 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
TwoSnowflakes Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/15/12
Posts: 1002
Originally Posted By: Andy Platt
Originally Posted By: rnaple
OH Andy....
You know that men can't read directions until they've completely goofed things up. Only then, it's time to start reading.


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


Just put them in the box where you put those mysterious extra screws from IKEA. One day, you'll have a sonata! Or a bookshelf. One of the two.
_________________________
Currently:
Bach, French Suites, No. 3 BWV 814
Brahms, Piano Pieces Op. 118, No. 2 Intermezzo A major
With the pedal I love to meddle; When Paderewski comes this way... -Irving Berlin

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#2107397 - 06/24/13 06:54 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Andy Platt]
packa Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 02/05/05
Posts: 1397
Loc: Dallas, TX
RE: Debussy's Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum

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

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


König, W. (2007). The Welte-Mignon reproducing piano and its place in the history of music. The Pianola Journal, 18, 50-63.
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Paul Buchanan
Estonia L168 #1718

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#2107434 - 06/24/13 08:12 PM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: Bobpickle]
Morodiene Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/06/07
Posts: 11346
Loc: Boynton Beach, FL
Originally Posted By: Bobpickle
Originally Posted By: Andy Platt
I do have a version of the first arabesque which I greatly admire (Noriko Ogawa); a review of that complained it was far too slow. Sigh ..

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


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


As far as my favorite interpretation of Gradus ad Parnassum (and/or one you might like)
Who is this?
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www.valeoconservatory.com
Petrof 9'2 Concert, Yamaha G3, Roland FP-7, Yamaha MOX6, Kawai MP11

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

Gold Supporter until July 10  2014


Registered: 05/24/12
Posts: 1383
Loc: Cameron Park, California
Stephen Malinowski, or youtube user smalin.

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#2107657 - 06/25/13 06:59 AM Re: Why Can't People Read Debussy's Tempo Markings? [Re: packa]
Andy Platt Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/28/10
Posts: 2374
Loc: Virginia, USA
Originally Posted By: packa
I looked today at just a few of the recordings of this work from the Naxos Music Library (available through my University Library). This is far from a comprehensive survey but the timings ranged from 2:10 (Thiollier, 1995; Dahlkvist, 2012) to 2:37 (Michelangeli, 1993) with the typical timing close to 2:30. If you can believe the Welte-Mignon recreation, I guess everybody but Debussy misread his tempo by playing it too slowly?


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

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

Sigh, nothing for it but to get it under my fingers enough so it flows at tempo!
_________________________
  • Liszt - Liebestršume No. 3, S541
  • Bartůk - Romanian Folk Dances, Sz. 56
    My Hungarian Period wink

Kawai K3

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