Performing practices in late-nineteenth-century piano playing
Early piano recordings provide audible evidence of the style of late- nineteenth and early twentieth century pianists. These clearly exhibit an approach to piano playing which differs radically from the present. The relationship between the practices preserved in the recordings and their description in contemporaneous written texts is the focus of attention here. The investigation shows that the important features of recordings are not faithfully conveyed by the written texts. Therefore, the recordings reveal a manner of execution and interpretation that could seldom have been envisaged from the written texts alone. The recordings examined here include those of a generation of pianists who were trained, in some cases, 150 years ago. These include Carl Reinecke, Theodor Leschetizky,Camille Saint-Satins, and Johannes Brahms, and those of a later generation have also been considered. Their recordings preserve vital information about general performing practices of the second half of the nineteenth century, as well as the idiosyncrasies of their playing. The significance of early recordings and their importance as a means of appreciating lost traditions is outlined in the Introduction. Chapter 1 explores the early recording processes and draws conclusions about the value of the recordings as preserved evidence. The following chapters investigate practices that are prevalent in the recordings. These include dislocation (asynchrony of the hands), unnotated chordal arpeggiation, metrical rubato and various types of rhythmic alteration, and tempo modification. Each chapter compares contemporaneous and historical written references with numerous recorded examples provided on the accompanying compact discs. This process reveals, in many cases, striking inconsistencies, and highlights the gulf between theory and practice. It also suggests that descriptive language and musical notation have hidden meanings for which the recordings provide an indispensable key. Early piano recordings capture an expressive style alien to modern taste. The implications of this study are that any attempt at historically informed performances must acknowledge the gulf between current aesthetics of performance and those of the late nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.