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Thread: Franck/Widor/Dupre performing practices

  1. #1
    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Franck/Widor/Dupre performing practices

    Ok, Acc--You start!

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    rythm: Widor vs. Dupré

    OK, I'll make three posts: one with some citations in French, one with their English translation, and the last one with my personal comments.


    Qu'est-ce que le rythme ?
    La manifestation constante de la volonté au retour périodique du temps fort. Ce n'est que par le rythme que l'on se fait écouter. Surtout à l'orgue, tous les accents, tous les effets en dépendent. [...]

    - Widor, preface to the book "L'orgue de Sean-Sébastien Pach" by André Pirro
    Le rythme est souple, la mesure ne l'est pas ; mais rythme et mesure sont qualités essentielles de la polyphonie classique et contribuent à l'unité de la composition. [...] allargando et crescendo sont presque synonymes dans la musique d'orgue ; toute précipitation rompt le charme : «presser», c'est diminuer et refroidir, contrairement à l'opinion du vulgaire.

    Aussi nous contenterons-nous d'animer très légèrement une phrase de second plan, une polyphonie réduite à deux ou trois parties, un épisode sans conséquence ; ça et là nous transigerons quelque peu avec la mesure, mais jamais avec le rythme. Pas de rythme, pas de vie ; on est mort quand le cœur a cessé de battre.

    Est-il nécessaire d'affirmer que l'orgue doit respirer comme le font nos poumons, et que toute musique doit être ponctuée scrupuleusement, [...] Apprenons à respirer.

    [...] La musique n'est pas en fil de fer, mais en caoutchouc : du rythme et de la souplesse, voilà ce qu'elle exige de nous.

    [...] Autre observation : toute progression demande à être ponctuée. [...] L'important est de jouer de ces retards avec une telle habileté, de les rendre si justes, si différents les uns des autres, si progressifs parfois, que l'auditeur ne s'en rende pas plus compte que du battement de ses artères. Ce vague ralentissement précautionnel, c'est celui de l'automobile au détour du chemin : le mécanicien serre le frein en vue de la courbe (non à la courbe même, car ce serait trop tard et la catastrophe aurait toute chance de se produire), en ayant soin d'éviter secousses et cahots, mais en ne s'arrêtant pas.

    - Widor, De l'interprétation des Préludes et Fugues, in Schirmer's Bach edition, 1914
    On se plaît à répéter que l'orgue est dénué de tout accent. C'est le rôle de l'organiste de lui en donner, et ceci n'est possible que si son jeu est d'une clarté absolue. Cette clarté repose d'abord sur l'observance quasi mathématique des valeurs. Sans cette rigueur, le chevauchement des notes les unes sur les autres, sur cet instrument au son tenu, aboutit à la confusion. Et le phrasé, partie si importante de l'interprétation, est déterminé, non pas par la fantaisie, mais par les règles de la polyphonie classique.

    - Dupré, manuscript (reproduced fac simile in Murray's Dupré monography)
    Pour bien jouer ces Chorals, il est nécessaire d'observer strictement les règles suivantes :
    [...]
    2. Le rythme doit demeurer inflexible.
    3. La durée des respirations doit être précise.
    [...]

    - Dupré, introduction to the Seventy-Nine Chorales op. 28
    Conseils à retenir pour l'Évocation [...]. L'adagio : «Il faut[, dit Dupré,] jouer [...] presque rubato ; ...ça fiche par terre toute ma théorie contre le rubato à l'orgue ; cela prouve que la sensibilité n'a pas de loi...»

    - Demessieux, personal diary, entry o May 1st, 1942 (reproduced in Trieu-Colleney's book "Jeanne Demessieux, Une vie de luttes et de gloire")

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    rythm: Widor vs. Dupré

    (All translations are mine, except the introduction to Dupré's op.28, which had been translated by the score's editor.)

    What is rythm?
    The constant manifestation of the will to periodically return to the strong beat. It is only through the rythm that one gets listened to. Especially at the organ, all accents and all effects depend on it. [...]

    - Widor, preface to the book "L'orgue de Sean-Sébastien Pach" by André Pirro
    Rythm is flexible, measure is not; but rythm and measure are essential features of classical polyphony and contribute to the unity of the composition. [...] allargando and crescendo are almost synonymous in organ music; any precipitation breaks the charm: to "press" is to diminish and to make cold, contrary to vulgar belief.

    Thus we content ourselves with very slightly animating a second plane phrase, a polyphony reduced to two or three parts, an unconsequential episode; here and there, we comprimise somewhat with measure, but never with rythm. No rythm, no life; we die when out heart stops beating.

    Is it necessary to state that the organ must breathe like our lungs do, and that every music must be scrupulously punctuated, [...] Let us learn to breathe.

    [...] Music is not made of iron wire, but of rubber: rythm and flexibility, that is what it demands from us.

    [...] Another observation: every progression needs to be punctuated. [...] The important thing is to play these delays with such skill, to render them so right, so different from one another, so progressive sometimes, that the listener does not notice them any more than he notices the beat of his own arteries. This vague precautionary deceleration is that of the automobile reaching a curve: the driver breaks when the curve approaches (but not at the curve itself, for it would be too late and a catastrophy would have every chance to occur), taking care to avoid jolts and bumps, but without stopping.

    - Widor, De l'interprétation des Préludes et Fugues, in Schirmer's Bach edition, 1914
    Some are content repeating that the organ is devoid of all accents. It is the organist's task to provide them, and this is only possible if his playing has absolute clarity. This clarity rests first of all on observing durations almost mathematically. And phrasing, such an important part of interpretation, is not determined by fantasy, but by the rules of classical polyphony.

    - Dupré, manuscript (reproduced fac simile in Murray's Dupré monography)
    In order to play these chorales correctly, it is necessary to observe strictly the following rules:
    [...]
    2. The rythms must be scrupulously accurate.
    3. The length of the rests must be precise.
    [...]

    - Dupré, introduction to the Seventy-Nine Chorales op. 28
    Advice to be noted for the Évocation [...]. Adagio: "It must[, so Dupré,] be played [...] almost rubato; ...this throws my whole theory against rubato out of the window, which proves that sensitivity has no law..."

    - Demessieux, personal diary, entry o May 1st, 1942 (reproduced in Trieu-Colleney's book "Jeanne Demessieux, Une vie de luttes et de gloire")

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    rythm: Widor vs. Dupré

    As one can see, Widor makes a clear distinction between rythm and measure. To him, rythm is steady, but not rigid or unflexible. His citations are drawn from texts that concern the interpretation of Bach, but I don't see why he would not apply these general principles to the performance of other music. At least, the impression I get from his 1932 recordings is very much in the spirit of his writings reproduced here.

    Dupré, on the other hand, only uses the word rythm, stating that it should be strict and precise. Tom will probably point out the "almost" in front of "mathematical", but I view "almost mathematical" is still much closer to "mathematical" than to Widor's "rubber". No mention of flexibility here.

    One might say that Demessieux's statement contradicts this, but my view is somewhat different: if Dupré seems to have doubts about his dogma, it also indicates that there was a dogma in the first place. Or, in other words: if the man himself has his moments of doubt, then, boy! must this dogma be strict.

    Anyway - I personally feel much closer to Widor's views than to Dupré's.

    Comments are of course welcome (but I guess you'll need some time to read all of it first ).

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Hi Acc,

    Thank you for a very interesting set of posts! I read them today, but didn't have a lot of time to think them through, so I will read them again tomorrow. You certainly spent a lot of time researching and translating! It is really nice to see good translations--it is often difficult to find good English translations of French originals.

    I am very impressed by some of what Widor has to say, and I agree very much with his idea of crescendo and allargando in the works of Bach and since he wrote it, in his own works. My first impression, and I need to think this through and write clearly about it, is that this is the direct opposite of Wagner's approach to conducting and interpretation, which as a rule meant to go faster as you get louder. I believe there were two schools of thought on this, and we need to figure out which approach a given composer's music responds to. Widor, yes, the slower-as-you-crescendo approach. Liszt, for instance, responds to the Wagnerian approach. This is very interesting, and just what I suspected--that Widor may have used Wagnerian compositional techniques but not performance practices.

    However, this is a very quick, off the cuff response. I need to read through this all again, think about it, and write more.

    Thanks again for some wonderful work!

    Tom

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Finally have a little time to sit with this and think about it.

    I think before we get into any kind of deeper discussion, we should clarify some of Widor's terminology. I'm not familiar enough with his writings and opinions to do so, so I'm going to ask some questions.

    1. I think we know what Widor means by rhythm, but what does he mean by measure? Is he referring to beat? or perhaps meter? or even what the French classicists called movement? (hoo boy, that would be ANOTHER discussion!)

    2. In his definition of rhythm as the "will to periodically return to the strong beat," does he mean that in general we need to play with a solidly strong, steady beat, or is he referring to the strong beats in the meter, such as beats 1 and 3 in 4/4 time?

    3. What is a "second plane phrase?"

    I think this is going to be a really interesting discussion, but I can't comment too much on Widor (though I already have some interesting thoughts) until I know exactly what he was referring to.

    Thanks again, acc, for some really interesting work, and I look forward to taking this further!

    Tom

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    1. "meter" is probably the best translation for «mesure».

    2. I think Widor refers to the strong beats in the meter. Perhaps this will be clearer if one reads the passage right before the one about progressions. It makes a point using an excerpt from his Toccata as an example: middle pp section, the crescendo followed one bar later by a diminuendo back to pp. Widor says:

    Après le crescendo de la [première mesure], il sera impossible de percevoir le pianissimo [deux mesures plus loin], c'est-à-dire la modulation, si l'on ne respire pas franchement avant d'attaquer l'accord sur sol# clef de fa. Or, personne ne remarquera cette respiration, tellement elle est naturelle ; vous ne jouez pas en mesure puisque vous intercalez [...] un excédent de valeur, mais vous sauvez le rythme, ce qui suffit à l'auditeur.
    Translation:
    After the [first bar's] crescendo, it will be impossible to perceive the pianissimo [two bars later], i.e. the modulation, if there is no frank respiration before attacking the G# chord in the left hand. But this respiration is so natural that no one will notice it; you do not play in meter since you insert an additional duration, but rythm is saved, which is enough for the listener.
    3. "phrase" as in "musical phrase"; a better translation for «de second plan» could be "of lesser importance".

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Had to work over the weekend and today and running around trying to do practical stuff (haha, boring!) and can't get a lot of time to sit and think and write. So here's more off-the-top-of-my-head stuff, not well thought out, but I really want to keep this going.

    I find these quotes by Widor to be maddeningly difficult to sort out. However, they are the kinds of statements most artistic people make. . .it's easier to demonstrate through example than to put into words, and of course, this is the difficulty we always have when trying to sort out performing issues by reading sources. Even such univerally accepted statements as Frescobaldi's ones about the tempo constantly changing. . .I have read those statements and come to some very different conclusions than the more usual ways of interpreting his music (like early-music-Liszt?) and yet I believe I am true to his statements.

    These Romantic sources will need lots of putting into context, as people have been doing for many years with Baroque sources, so we will be prone to misunderstandings, I'm sure, at this point.

    However, I interpret Widor's remarks as showing an incredible knowledge of meter and its strong and weak beats, and their use in performance. When I was learning to play in the 1970s, many of the teachers I had, who had been schooled in the early to mid 20th century, were very strongly opposed to making any differences between strong and weak beats. They were acknowledged as part of music THEORY, but not PRACTICE. I was just learning Baroque practices and learning the importance of emphasizing strong beats, and it made these teachers crazy! I believe this is because the early 20th century saw a radical departure from traditional practices that went waaaaaaay back to Bach and before.

    I remember reading somewhere (I have no idea where anymore) a story about Liszt conducting a Beethoven symphony. Remember that Liszt and Wagner were very much together in performing practices, and I believe it was with them that the idea of all the beats being steamrolled into being the same originated. Anyhow, the story was that the orchestra was accustomed to playing the strong beats strong and the weak ones weak, in the long-standing tradition. Liszt forced them to make the beats all sound the same, and the performance fell apart.

    I think, with this initial and admittedly small bit of knowledge of Widor's ideas, that what you have shared with us shows that Widor was more of a traditionalist when it comes to performance, placing emphasis on strong beats. I have thought, just by intuition, that his music demanded this kind of interpretation--how about the accent marks in the famous Toccata, for instance? How does one actually do those without resorting to the usual tricks of agogic accent and articulation that we use in Bach? And yet, that varying articulation does go against the norms Dupre outlines in his Bach edition. I need to get out my record of Dupre playing the Dorian Toccata again, but I remember my reaction to the recording was that Dupre didn't follow his own rules--his own playing was more musical and flexible in articulation than his editions would have allowed!

    I also believe that Widor is talking about a principle in rubato that I have long studied and attempted to employ in my own music making. This is the idea that a straight line does not actually look straight to the human eye. A perfectly metronomic tempo and computer-accurate rhythm sounds innacurate or imprecise to the human ear. We need to learn to make the rhythm flexible, adding imperceptible snippets of time to certain rests, pauses, sustained notes, articulations, etc, which make the music sound more natural than a computer could ever do. However, these must be done in such a subtle way that they are not perceptible, at least mostly, to the audience. The end result is that the rhythm sounds more natural and even more precise than mathematically correct rhythm. A good example is with dotted notes, which to me, in Bach, almost NEVER work by adding exactly 1/2 value to the note. I believe Widor was still practicing this kind of music making. Brahms was using these practices. It was Wagner and Liszt who started the departure from this kind of music making, I believe.

    Ok, this is getting rambly, but I don't have time to edit and think. I'll post this and perhaps we can get some reactions and go from here.

    Thanks!

    Tom

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    I haven't read Frescobaldi, but what you say about constantly changing tempo is obviously at odds with Widor: he opposed rubber to steel, but I don't think he would equate rubber with plasticine, either. The difference is that rubber does possess a natural shape, which it only abandons when it has good reason to, i.e. when encountering an object: then, it gives way smoothly in order not to break. Besides, the effect of a constantly changing tempo would probably be contrary to Widor's motto: "calme et grandeur"!

    As for the Toccata, do you actually have Widor's own 1932 recording? It has been included in the 5-CD EMI box "Orgues et organistes français du XXe siècle", which is still listed at FNAC (type "orgues et organistes" into the search box; it should be the first hit). His accents indeed have a marked agogic component to them, and are somewhat stronger than in most performances of this work, which goes quite well with the slow tempo he uses (another Widor quote, from memory: "steam and electricity have changed the world, everything goes faster nowadays"). His rendition of the Toccata could almost be used as background music to a majestic sailing ship leaving the harbour and sailing away to high sea.

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    Addendum to my previous post: here is an MP3 file of Widor playing his own Toccata.

    (That shouldn't prevent you from getting that EMI box: it also contains some other goodies, such as the original versions of the three impros by Vierne and the five by Tournemire.)

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    Gosh, I wish we could get more people going on this--these are the kinds of things that really need to be explored!

    The point I was making about Frescobaldi is that even though he talks about the tempo changing, there is a lot open to interpretation, like HOW MUCH, or even what he really meant. He could have been talking about the same things as Widor, or perhaps real tempo changes like Wagner. The further you go back, the more difficult it is to decipher the language. They may say one thing and it comes across to us differently. I tend to interpret Frescobaldi with a fairly steady tempo as a basis and then make departures here and there, sometimes changing, but in a fairly subtle way. It is one of my pet peeves to hear so called "early music experts" playing Bach and Monteverdi, et al as if they were Liszt, with tempos that are constantly churning. Especially Bach.

    But back to the 19th century. It is a lot easier to make out what people were saying during the Romantic era. It seems pretty clear that there was an approach to performance that DID involve changing tempos. Actually (my thoughts are stumbling over themselves in an effort to all get out at once!) even Brahms changed tempos. For instance, the second theme of sonata form movements in Brahms really should be a little slower, at least the evidence is that Brahms liked it that way. I think this kind of approach was fairly universally accepted. What was not universal, I think, was the DEGREE to which it was practiced. I believe Wagner, Liszt, Bruckner, etc. were using a much more exaggerated approach to this, whereas people like Brahms, Clara Schumann, Rheinberger, etc were doing the same, but in a more subtle way. For the Wagner camp, I believe the excessive rubato was essential to making the music happen, whereas in the Brahms camp, the rubato was an organic part of the musical structure of a piece. For Wagner, the tempo changes were essential to the musical effect, to Brahms it simply pointed out the structure of the music. I know this is an oversimplification, but sometimes we need to generalize to get a handle on an explanation.

    When I look at the music of Widor, what I believe I see is music influenced by Wagner in terms of harmonic language, but seemingly wanting to be played in a more conservative manner, but still using what I think was the univerally accepted idea of changing tempo with the character of the music. To give an example, look at the first movement of Widor's 5th. Much of it is marked to move along at the same tempo with ritardandos occasionally but going back a tempo. However, when there is a real change in character, in m 151, the score is marked Piu lento. Another change of character and tempo in m 181, which is marked Scherzando. Just to make sure there is no misunderstanding, there is a metronome mark placed there that has no relationship to the beginning tempo. My personal opinion is that the agitato sections starting at m 194 should be SLIGHTLY faster, as should the con brio [for some reason this won't allow me to use italics correctly here] at m 259. As you have noted, many performances speed up here. What bothers me is the DEGREE to which they speed up. I think Widor was more conservative, and certainly his writings point to a SUBTLE approach--one where it is almost not noticeable, and where he hesitates to ever write anything for fear that it will be taken out of context and exaggerated.

    One would need to demonstrate, but I feel that what leads to a good interpretation is for the performer NOT to concentrate on the mechanics of tempo setting, but to focus on the EMOTION of the music, the underlying message of the composer. For playing Widor, then, it is like method acting. You have to have the emotional discipline to create the proper emotions within yourself, changing character as the music changes, and the proper tempo will follow. We all feel emotions a little differently, and to me, the most convincing performance would be one that arises from the performers OWN emotions, resulting in tempos slightly different than Widor's metronome markings, than to slavishly follow the metronome marks and tempo markings. One could argue that the performer who radically speeds up the con brio is simply following his feelings. Perhaps this is so, but one needs to wonder if the emphasis in that case is too much on HIS OWN feelings and not enough on trying to discern and be in sync with WIDOR'S feelings.

    This concept is perhaps to me one of the main differences between interpreting the more conservative Romantics and the more radical ones. I am friends with a pianist who studied with a Liszt student. She tells me the emphasis was placed on spur of the moment, personal feelings, with little if no emphasis on musical structure. I believe this approach is essential to the music of Liszt. It NEEDS that. However, in my mind, to interpret Brahms, Rheinberger, Widor, and even to a degree (but less so) Franck means a lot of personal discipline in the way of SUBVERTING your emotions to those of the composer. Of course it won't be exactly the same, but the attempt is most important.

    I think your rubber/plasticine analogy is a good one, and that in terms of rubato in Widor, this is the way to do it.

    I need to get a copy of the Widor recording--no I don't have it but this is making me VERY curious to hear it again!

    Regarding Dupre, it is my impression that he was one of the early ones to depart from the discipline of Widor and to become more flashy and play faster. In my own experience, I find that the faster you play, the less elasticity of rhythm and beat you can use. To play with lots of inflection requires a slower tempo. Perhaps this is partly the cause of Dupre's approach, though I will admit that I find his interpretation of the slow section of the Franck A minor to be deadly at that slow, inflexible tempo. If you listen to my own recording, you'll find that it's on the very slow side, but surely (I HOPE!) not inflexible!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Thomas Dressler View Post
    For the Wagner camp, I believe the excessive rubato was essential to making the music happen, whereas in the Brahms camp, the rubato was an organic part of the musical structure of a piece. For Wagner, the tempo changes were essential to the musical effect, to Brahms it simply pointed out the structure of the music. I know this is an oversimplification, but sometimes we need to generalize to get a handle on an explanation.
    Oversimplified as it may be, I think that pretty much sums it up. And from that point of view, Widor was definitely in the "Brahms camp": he believed in the primacy of structure in music.

    This can also be seen in what he says about registration: many people associate the "romantic tradition" with "constantly changing registration" even when playing Bach. This was indeed the case for the Straube school in Germany, whose registration practises were quite "Wagnerian" in the above sense - but not so for Widor, who insisted that registration changes should be subordinate to the work's structure and not the other way round (he often told his students: "no magic lanterns, if you please").

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    Captain of Water Music Thomas Dressler's Avatar
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    I know I'm jumping on and off the forums. I'm trying to accomplish a bunch of things at the same time. . .I'll be away for the afternoon, but I wanted to remark that I listened to the Widor performance from the link you posted, acc, and I am fascinated, enthralled, and amazed by it. I did want to ask, though, if you know much about the background of the recording. Yes, it is pretty innacurate--makes me not feel so bad about the notes I missed on it last Easter! LOL Seriously, I believe I remember someone saying he was quite elderly at that point. Would he have been struggling a bit?

    I'm going to wait to make some observations about the playing itself, except to say it is absolutely remarkable in its emphasis of strong beats. This is not subtle--less subtle than I was trying to be with it, myself. He does demonstrate a remarkable ability to use agogic accent and timing to emphasize beat differences. . .amazing. However, I'm wondering a little about what sounds like struggling. Later today I will dig out my Dupre recording and listen. Interestingly, I think I heard some real similarities, though Dupre is faster I think and yes, less flexible. Well, I want to listen before I say too much, but I think this will be extremely interesting.

    Thanks again!

    Tom

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    Indeed, Widor was 88 when he made that recording (yes, that's right: eighty-eight).

    So your ears best "filter out" some insufficiencies in his playing, but it still gives you a pretty good idea of the meaning of his writings on interpretation.

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