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Debussy, La Soiree dans Grenade

Discussion in 'Submission Room' started by Rachfan, Jul 6, 2009.

  1. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    “La Soiree dans Grenade” by Claude Debussy is one of three pieces of the suite Estampes, (usually translated as Engravings) composed in 1903. The piece takes the form of a nocturne, suggestive of music being played at distant festivities of a summer evening in Granada. The habanera rhythm permeates the entire the piece. This “Spanish music” of Debussy has long been considered one of his finest works with its lush, colorful melodies and harmonies. Manuel de Falla pronounced it as being “characteristically Spanish in every detail”. Ironically, Debussy had never visited Spain before composing it. I would add that this piece has a couple of devilish places in it.

    Comments welcome.

    Piano: Baldwin Model L Artist Grand (6’3”), just tuned
    Recorder: Korg MR-1000 DSD
    Mics: Earthworks TC20 small diaphragm omni-directional condensers, matched pair

    David


    Debussy - LaSoiree dans Grenade
     
  2. juufa72

    juufa72 New Member Piano Society Artist

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    Once again you have provided a quality recording. Good job Mr. David!
     
  3. techneut

    techneut Active Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    A very fine recording David. You have as good a feeling for this music as you have for Russian (post-)romantic repertoire. Very nice rubato and agogics. Rhythmically, things get a bit flabby sometimes, especially in the 'Tres rhythme' section (you seem to get a bit impatient here), and the 'Leger and lointain' passages sound a bit strenuous and in-your-face rather than like distant guitar strummings. But nothing is perfect, and this is not such an easy piece.

    This one is up on the site. Will you record the other two Estampes also ?

    There's a story about these two composers meeting. The modest Falla, who looked up to Debussy and was eager to please, opened with saying that he particularly liked French music. Debussy, characteristically, replied that he himself did not at all.
    I'd like to know if they had a good laugh about this, or if it spoiled the meeting. Debussy could be a bit of a sod sometimes.
     
  4. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks, Chris, for all your comments. Are you sure it got into the archive OK, I'm definitely logged in but cannot see the play recording link.

    You didn't mention tempo, but I think I probably take a slightly faster tempo than most. In the opening indicators, Debussy calls for "an animated habanera" and right underneath says "to begin very slowly in a nonchalant graceful rhythm". So there are mixed messages there. My interpretation of the directions is that the slow, nonchalant playing pertains to the introduction with the Moorish theme and to its reprise in the coda. In between, I believe that the piece is to be more animated where it seems in character. Yet I've heard recordings at a very slow tempo throughout, which makes me a bit sleepy despite all the festivities. :lol:

    In the tres rhythm (very rhythmic), the contrasting music is quite robust, and I probably did get a bit carried away with it, given all the previous serenity. Probably a metronome drill there would have been beneficial.

    The leger et lointain (light and distant) is a devilish spot! The first one in C is fairly easy to articulate, so I could have done more to achieve the effect. The second iteration in A does not fall nearly as well under the hand for some weird reason. Not only was it not as leggiero and quiet as it should have been, but not as well controlled either. In June we had 8 inches of rain except for three days of sunshine. July has not been much better so far. With all the humidity, the piano action feels a bit balky at times. The tuner smoothed some things out in the action, but it's still not optimal.

    I'll bet you liked the guitar strummings in the coda though. Those are interesting, as both hands share the work for creating the guitar strummings as well as playing the melodic line. Debussy was very clever there in distributing the music between the hands. And with the habanera going on in the high treble, one would otherwise need three hands. :lol:

    Indeed, it would have been great to be a fly on the wall observing the Debussy-de Falla encounter. The former could be quite undiplomatic, as you say!

    I think "Soiree" is a piece anyone would want to keep in permanent repertoire. There are some elements that could bear more study over the years. Plus this piece is not only one of Debussy's most important piano works, but is probably a landmark in the entire piano literature of Impressionism. Maybe someday I can take a look at "Pagodes", although I've never been great a coping with the kind of figuration found in "Jardins sous la pluie". It's similar to Rachmanioff's Prelude 23-8 figuration conundrum.

    David
     
  5. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Thanks, juufa, for listening. This is one of those pieces by Debussy that always pleases. It's hard not to like it.

    David
     
  6. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    The link is there now, David. Sounded very good to me. Great job!
     
  7. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Bravo, David, this is an excellent recording! I love your sensitive feeling for the dynamics and subtle differenciations. The sound-quality has CD-quality IMHO. (In this recording I could not hear any hiss with a volume of 40 units on my amplifier, btw.) Listening to your new recordings taken with your new microphones we more than ever know, how subtlely and sensitively you play. So, I´m very happy you have them now and I think, the decision for the Earthworks TC20 was a very good one! For me you are a great pianist and I can listen again and again to this beautiful performance.
    I´m looking forward very much to your next recording!
     
  8. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for getting this into the archive.

    I just noticed when I clicked on it to hear it just now that I had to turn the volume up to the 2:00 position. Last night I had down a volume reduction twice to tone it down. Do you think I went overboard with that? If so I could increase the volume to get it back to the 12:00 position and reupload it. Or do you think it's OK as is?

    Thanks too for your compliment!

    David
     
  9. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Andreas,

    I'm glad you enjoyed "Soiree", and thanks so much for your kind words. Yes, I too was pleased with the Earthworks TC20s' results in this recording. While the Catoire "Chant" had a very transparent texture, the Debussy has a very rich texture. And Debussy very much frowned upon the voicing of chords that we all typically do today; rather, he wanted all the complex harmonies of the chords to sound equally with the melodic note, which contributes to a thicker sound. (Chords with tenuto markings are voiced, of course.) So this contrast from the Catoire was a good test too for the Earthworks mics. I was pleased with the results, and am glad you found no remarkable degree of hiss. That's reassuring as I had worried a little about it at the time of purchase.

    It's very flattering indeed that you think of me as a great pianist. Actually though, I always think of myself more modestly as just a reasonably accomplished amateur. I always try to do my best to properly serve the composers, as I don't want any of them severely taking me to task in the afterlife ha-ha! :lol: I will say though that I'm undoubtedly my own most ruthless critic--probably too much so.

    I must add that I'm glad to have made this recording. Probably many of the members here hear me playing pieces from the musica obscura and wonder if I can play a standard repertoire piece. Hopefully this will reassure them. :lol:

    David
     
  10. pianolady

    pianolady Monica Hart, Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    David, I always listen to recordings with the speaker volume pretty high. But rest assured, if I felt that I could not hear your music properly even with the volume all the way up, I would tell you. I think this is fine.
     
  11. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Monica,

    Thanks for your opinion on this. Like you, I hate to have a listener's earphones get blasted off as soon as they start a recording. Generally, I'd rather have listeners turn the volume up rather than to scramble to turn it down.

    David
     
  12. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Rachfan wrote:
    I think, that´s why you are a such a good pianist! But on the other hand I don´t think, that musicality itself is something, one can really learn. One has it (from nature) or not. You have it.
     
  13. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Andreas,

    I agree with your on your point concerning musicality--that it is more an inborn sense than a structured skill acquired through learning. I think back to my early years of study. I recall a couple of the intermediate level students who excelled at playing molto prestissimo assai (if there is such a thing :lol:). They could breeze through Czerny's School of Velocity, any fast Mendelssohn piece (he preferred super-fast tempos), or similar music of other composers. Their playing was fast, even and flawless in articulation (a learned technique)--but there was no emotion to their playing at all. When confronted with lyrical works, it was terribly painful listening to these young pianists, as the elements of musicality (not mere mechanical dexterity) were clearly missing. There was little or no attention to dynamics, phrasing, voicing, voice leading, agogics, rubato, nuance, climaxes, expression, pedaling and all the rest, despite the patient and exhaustive efforts on the part of the teacher. It continually appeared to be hopeless, intractable. Pupils like that rarely if ever reach an advanced level of study. They may use the skills they have to become a casual (but not a serious) pianist. More often than not, they quit altogether.

    For serious pianists, the innate musicality becomes even more developed over time. Like technique, musicality is then considered a given. But it is still relatively a matter of degree between and among pianists with fine musicality, even among professionals. I think of the Cliburn Competition. While one finalist's rendition touched and inspired us, someone else's left something to be desired. But yet they were both highly trained, experienced, and well-regarded pianists. In the end it was their deep insights into musical aesthetics, vision, extraordinary musicality, and communication to an audience that differentiated them.

    This whole area is one of the great mysteries of piano, pedagogy, talent, the brain, pianists, and performance.
     
  14. wiser_guy

    wiser_guy Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    A very artistic performance, David. Interesting imagery, full of ideas. I am intrigued by your persistence and attention to detail.

    I like your narrative and descriptive style, it's like a tour, a story, a movie. I know I'm repeating myself but I admire your approach. You give me the impression that you do exhaustive mental research away from the piano and when you sit and play you already know where to go.
    Don't tell me this has been a week's project, I'll be disappointed.
     
  15. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Pantelis,

    I'm glad you found much to like in "Soiree"! It makes that project feel worthwhile. It's a difficult piece to play in a few places, but I did my best with it. Probably with more time I could iron out a few wrinkles in there. Rest assured, it was far more than a week's effort to prepare it! :) As I mentioned to Chris earlier, I believe this piece is not only one of Debussy's finest, but also has a prominent place in the piano literature of Impressionism. So I felt a lot of responsibility while practicing this piece. Fortunately, Debussy has described the character of the piece through his title, his performance instructions in the score, and in the actual changes in the sound or moods as the music unfolds. For example, as the traveler leaves his hotel in Granada to wander around the town in the evening, in one place I might imagine he detects sedate and charming habanera music drifting from a villa on an ocean bluff across the way where a private party is in progress. As he meanders along farther, he might next encounter street musicians playing a more energetic piece of music in habanera rhythm with dancers whirling about there as well. In the coda, it seems as though the traveler returns to the quiet of his hotel, leaving the various habanera strains still playing faintly in the distance, and then dying away as he enters the doorway.

    In a piece such as Catoire's "Chant du crepuscule", my vision took in the atmosphere--perhaps sunrise, the play of light, the night's dew falling from leaves, etc. As importantly though, late romantic music (which is usually ultra-romantic in sound) is very frequently about love, that is, intense passion in the moment. So yes, in my vision and feeling for the music, my psyche dwells there too.

    My purpose is always the same. Fundamentally, it's certainly important to serve the composer well and to play with artistry within my abilities (not having a huge technique like so many other pianists here and elsewhere). But I know I will not succeed unless I effectively express the emotional content of the piece and put it fully across to the listener. That's where vision, intent and execution come in. I think that's the best way I can explain my "method", if I have one, something that seems mostly intuitive even to me.

    David
     
  16. wiser_guy

    wiser_guy Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    So, I was right then. You place yourself inside the piece, discover the musical intent fresh without preconceptions and establish the links. Intuitive you say, eh? Would there be any other way?
    I'm just glad your "intuitive method" refers to music directly, past any super scale runs, past technique gadgets, past dry mechanical proficiency. I had a listen again this morning and my original impression still stands. Very pianistic.
     
  17. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Pantelis,

    Thanks for reaffirming your opinion of this performance. For the most part I'm also satisfied with it, but see a few things that over time might be improved too.

    I was thinking about the "realization" of music this morning. What I concluded is that it's fairly easy to talk about the "what", or the tangibles of the score. But the interpretation is the "how", which is more intangible or imaginative. The what refers to left-brain analytic functions, while the how involves right-brain intuitive visions and impulses. Consider technique for a moment, but first recall studying algebra. In a textbook, a diagram of a parabola looked picture perfect. But in a data set extracted from nature, it might resemble and be a parabola in fact, but not a picture perfect one. So a teacher might show us ideal hand positions, or work on the feel of relaxed yet controlled arm weight, or demonstrate how to play a legato line. But those ideal "forms" of technique must be adaptive in realizing a musical score. The pedagogue Josef Gat spoke of "integrating and synthesizing motions". Those definitely depart from ideal forms, but are needed to get the job done. It's like Anton Rubinstein telling Josef Hofmann who asked about fingering, "Play it with your nose if you must!" What was formal necessarily becomes informal.

    There is a similar distinction in realizing interpretations I think. On the objective side, we have the title of the piece which may or may not impart clues, performance directions by the composer creating inferences, performance practices indicating generally accepted stylistic norms, ideas from a master class, urtext editorial commentaries, etc. On the subjective side, the more we become familiar and gain intimate knowledge of a piece, its moods, atmosphere, harmonies, rise and fall of phrases, poignant dissonances, discovery of the long line, climax, resolution, etc., it all makes meaning for us as individuals, connecting it all to our own experiences and sense of knowing. It may cause us to depart from norms--not to be idiosyncratic, of course, but to artistically realize the meaning of the work differently than another pianist might. Intuitively, we eventually discover meaning of the piece on our own terms, rather than replicating the meaning gained by others. (This is why I've found studying on my own far more fascinating that with teachers. Studying alone used to be called communing with the master composers.) All of this determines the intuitive "how", which is extremely difficult to describe precisely, as in many cases it might involve the projecting of an emotion from the score to the listener. In so doing, it becomes a distinctive and unique informal form rather than a formal form during realization. This probably will impart personality into the performance as well.

    I hope this rambling makes some sense! :lol:

    David
     
  18. musicusblau

    musicusblau Administrator Staff Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    Hi David,
    I agree at hundred percent with you concerning your statements about musicality, serious or only skilled pianists and what is the difference among the very good serious pianists.
    For me the fast tempo becomes more and more less important. That´s why I have done the second version of an interpretation of the 3rd Scherzo by Chopin. The musical expression (that means here mainly phrasing, articulation, dynamics, agogis and voicing) is more important for me than to play it straight away in a Presto like f.ex. Argerich and Pogorelich do. I think "Presto" and all similar prescriptions of tempo are quite relative and I suppose - from insight I´m sure - in former times pianists have seen (considered) those always relatively. (That´s why I like the interpretations of Rubinstein, Claudio Arrau and Richter very much. Prescriptions like those of tempo, articulation, dynamics and so on are relative in the true sense of the word. That means, that they have to been seen and felt always in relation to each other and to the whole idea, sense or mood of the piece. So, f.ex. a "Presto" can´t be always and absolute a tempo of 180-220 per quarter or similar, but the tempo depends on other passages (f.ex. the passages with the smallest rhythmic note values) and the whole mood of the piece. So, f.ex. I can´t play the quarters with 200 beats per minute, if there are passages with 32nd notes in the same tempo. How I feel the mood of the piece is subjective, of course, so there can´t be said, there is "the right tempo" and "the wrong tempo", but only "the pianist choosed a tempo, which I like , which corresponds to my personal feeling for that piece or not". (Of course, there are also limits of tempo concerning the community of the feeling of all human beings, so f.ex. if I do play a "Presto" with quarter=30 beats per minute or similar. Everyone will say, that this is not the right tempo.)
    So, matters of musicality are a highly subjective matter.

    Thank you for the interesting exchange of thoughts.
     
  19. wiser_guy

    wiser_guy Member Piano Society Artist Trusted Member

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    An interesting exchange of thoughts, indeed.
    And thank you, David, for taking the time to state your view so elegantly. An interesting analysis.
     
  20. Rachfan

    Rachfan Active Member Piano Society Artist

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    Hi Andreas,

    Thanks for adding your interesting thoughts on performance here.

    I agree with you on matters of tempo. It is indeed a relative concept. And as Hofmann counseled, one needs to consult his own technique before deciding on a tempo, but should also be guided by artistic conscience. And dynamics, as you mention, are always relative too. A forte in a Mozart sonata can be entirely different from one in a Rachmaninoff prelude. And to carry it further, a forte in one Rachminoff prelude might be softer than the forte in another of his preludes! As you suggest, the context of the passages, character and mood of a piece weigh heavily in decision making. At the end of the day, given the paucity of absolutes, making music calls for many judgments to be made by the performer. Sometimes those judgments are more subjective, but that does not necessarily make them any less valid.

    David
     

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