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Claude Debussy - The Composer As Pianist


Release Date: 09/26/2000 
Label:  Pierian   Catalog #: 1   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude DebussyMary Garden
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Mono 
Length: 0 Hours 49 Mins. 

Low Stock: Currently 3 or fewer in stock. Usually ships in 24 hours, unless stock becomes depleted.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews



DEBUSSY Preludes, Book 1: Danseuses de Delphes; La Cathédrale engloutie; La Danse de Puck; Minstrels; Le Vent dans la plaine. La Plus que lente. Estampes: La soirée dans Grenade. Children’s Corner. D’un Cahier d’esquisses. Pelléas et Mélisande: Mes longs cheveux. 1 Ariettes Oubliées: Green; L’ombres des arbres; Il pleure dans mon cœur 1 Read more class="BULLET12"> • Claude Debussy (pn); 1 Mary Garden (sop) PIERIAN 0001 (48:13)


This Pierian CD, advertised in the May 2012 Naxos catalog as an “also available” disc, is the label’s first issue from 2000 featuring the complete recordings of Debussy as pianist. All of his records were made in two sessions, a series of four short 78-rpm sides with soprano Mary Garden (his first Mélisande) at the Paris G&T studio in 1904 and 14 Welte-Mignon piano rolls recorded on November 11, 1913. Both are famous groups of recordings, restored and reissued over the decades, but this release is the best I’ve ever heard them.


The liner notes, long but utterly fascinating, chronicle the history of the Welte rolls’ resuscitation after World War II by Richard Simonton, who traveled to Freiburg, Germany, with his wife in 1948 and 1952 to visit Edwin Welte and Karl Bockisch, the inventors of the system, and record all existing rolls on their own piano. To make this long story short, Welte and Bockisch told Simonton many things about how to adjust the tone of the piano and mate the Welte player with different makes of pianos in order to obtain the best and most accurate musical results. Thus I take producer Kenneth Caswell at his word when he says that he was told all this by Simonton in the 1960s and used this valuable, undocumented information in restoring these recordings.


Caswell also explains in detail the various strengths and weaknesses of the Welte-Mignon system compared to its two most famous competitors, Ampico and Duo-Art. The latter two systems only added dynamic changes and other subtleties to the rolls post-production, and they never could play as subtly as the Welte-Mignon system.


The results are fascinating to listen to, and I would attest to the accuracy with which Caswell adjusted the rolls to reproduce Debussy’s touch, tone, and overall style by comparing them to the defective but accurate 1904 studio recordings. The only facet of performance in which I believe that all piano rolls, even the Welte-Mignon, were defective was in reproducing accurate music played in fast rhythms. Such passages always sound mechanical and slightly wrong, as for instance in Minstrels from the first book of preludes. On the other hand, I do believe that Debussy’s own sense of rhythm is represented properly in Golliwog’s Cakewalk , and it is different from the way nearly all professional pianists perform it. Debussy slightly shortens the first half of the beat of each syncopated two-note figure in the bass while slightly emphasizing and elongating the second half. This creates a rhythmic feel much closer to black (African-American) ragtime performances than to white (imitation) rhythms. (Listen, too, to the way he crushes some of the chords, blurring the notes, the way black pianists did.) It’s a subtle distinction, but if you hear it and you know this piece, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.


Another interesting performance that contradicts to some extent the written page is La Cathédrale engloutie . This is played with far fewer dynamic contrasts than almost anyone else’s recordings, largely because those contrasts are written into the score—Debussy just chooses to ignore them. And again, I believe that the Welte piano roll is accurate, and this is the way he actually played it that day.


As for the G&T discs, this is the clearest I have ever heard them, and I’ve heard at least a dozen reissues over the decades. Nearly all the surface noise is gone, without damaging either the soprano voice or the piano tone (what little of it was recorded). Caswell could not, sadly, correct the fluctuating pitch in the piano introduction to “Mes long chévaux.” I believe that later-developed digital restoration equipment can now do this. If so, they should start with this pressing. All others sound like garbage compared to this.


Critic Marvin J. Ward, in an online review of Hsia-Jung Chang’s album of Debussy music, states that the composer played Welte’s own Steinway B piano for the piano rolls, so that answers one question. Yet I wonder something about the 1904 discs. Nearly every pianist, including Landon Ronald and Gerald Moore, complained that recording a piano acoustically required taking the lid off, which gave the piano a brittle sound so it could record more clearly. But I’ve never felt that the great pianists who made acoustic records (among them Godowsky, Cortot, Cherkassky, Paderewski, and Busoni) ever used anything but a “real” piano, lid on, the same way the great violinists used their own instruments, unadulterated, and not one of those Stroh violin monstrosities. I feel the same way about these Debussy recordings. Primitive though the sound may be, it’s a regular piano, with the lid on.


Also, the liner notes explain how Debussy could change his mind about how he wanted his music played, sometimes from one day to the next. Most great composers are like this—just compare Stravinsky’s early recordings of his own music to his later ones, or even some of Britten’s various recordings of his own music—so this doesn’t surprise me much. But things like this should be taken into account when you start playing “historically informed performer” and telling the world how the composer really wanted his or her music to sound! This one is indispensable for any serious student or lover of Debussy.


FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

1.
Préludes, Book 1: no 1, Danseuses de Delphes by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 3 Minutes 4 Secs. 
2.
Préludes, Book 1: no 10, La cathédrale engloutie by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 5 Minutes 1 Secs. 
3.
Préludes, Book 1: no 11, La danse de Puck by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 2 Minutes 10 Secs. 
4.
Préludes, Book 1: no 12, Minstrels by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909-1910; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 1 Minutes 45 Secs. 
5.
Préludes, Book 1: no 3, Le vent dans la plaine by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1909; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 2 Minutes 0 Secs. 
6.
La plus que lente by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1910; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 3 Minutes 28 Secs. 
7.
Estampes (3) for Piano: no 2, La soirée dans Grenade by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 5 Minutes 34 Secs. 
8.
Children's Corner: no 1, Doctor Gradus ad Parnassum by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 1 Minutes 51 Secs. 
9.
Children's Corner: Jimbo's Lullaby by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 3 Minutes 6 Secs. 
10.
Children's Corner: no 3, Serenade for the Doll by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 1 Minutes 44 Secs. 
11.
Children's Corner: no 4, The Snow is Dancing by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 2 Minutes 9 Secs. 
12.
Children's Corner: The Little Shepherd by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 1 Minutes 47 Secs. 
13.
Children's Corner: no 6, Golliwogg's Cake-walk by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1906-1908; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 2 Minutes 53 Secs. 
14.
D'un cahier d'esquisses by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Date of Recording: 11/01/1913 
Length: 4 Minutes 30 Secs. 
15.
Pelléas et Mélisande: Mes longs chevaux by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Mary Garden (Soprano), Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1893-1902; France 
Date of Recording: 1904 
Length: 1 Minutes 47 Secs. 
16.
Ariettes oubliées: no 5, Green by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Mary Garden (Soprano), Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1886; France 
Date of Recording: 1904 
Length: 1 Minutes 36 Secs. 
17.
Ariettes oubliées: no 3, L'ombre des arbres by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Mary Garden (Soprano), Claude Debussy (Piano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1885; France 
Date of Recording: 1904 
Length: 2 Minutes 22 Secs. 
18.
Ariettes oubliées: no 2, Il pleure dans mon coeur by Claude Debussy
Performer:  Claude Debussy (Piano), Mary Garden (Soprano)
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1885-1888; France 
Date of Recording: 1904 
Length: 2 Minutes 11 Secs. 

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