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Subject: Recording CONDITIONS affecting the end result-to Frank Drake.
From: Arne Steinberg <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:Arne Steinberg <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Fri, 28 Nov 2008 11:39:47 -0500

text/plain (130 lines)

"I had the great fortune of attending a few masterclasses with Gerhard Huesch 
at the University of Texas in 1979.  During the classes, he emphasized that his 
recordings were not necessarily representative of his tempi, since the length 
of the 78 RPM side was such a limiting factor.


Thanks for that comment, Frank.

The same is true of the Toscanini recordings for RCA, but for a different 

Even though he was their star, RCA refused to budge when Toscanini 
complained about the acoustics in the recording studio they used for his 
recordings, which he said made more subtle nuances and dynamics impossible. 

Faced with the immovable RCA executives, Toscanini's solution was to play 
almost everything he recorded considerably faster than he would in a live 

A number of members of his orchestra discuss this.

Here is another example where CIRCUMSTANCES of recording affected the 

Today Arthur Schnabel is known [in the US] as the great Beethoven player.
He would not be [at least to the extent he is] except for the following:

RCA originally hired Richard Buhlig to record all the Beethoven sonatas.

Buhlig recorded the Hammerklavier Sonata first, which he was renowned for 
playing, and several others of the last five sonatas.

Then he told RCA he didn't like his recording of opus 109 and needed to do it 

THEIR ANSWER:  "You can go to hell.  You only get one take."

They booted Buhlig out and replaced him with Arthur Schnabel.

Before he started, they sat Schnabel down and explained to him he got only 
one take on each sonata.

Schnabel went along with that, and became known as the Beethoven player, 
as a result of RCA's wide circulation and promotion of his Beethoven sonata 

If Buhlig had completed the set of RCA recording of the Beethoven sonatas, HE 
would be known as the Beethoven authority.

At one time I studied the fugue (the last movement) of the Beethoven 
Hammerklavier Sonata (opus 106) as thoroughly as I could.  I analyzed it 
myself down to the smallest detail, and then studied it in detail with the 
analyses of Tovey and Busoni.

Then I realized I had a recording of it by Schnabel.

So I put it on to listen to, hoping to be educated further on the piece by 
Schnabel, who certainly had the mentality to know what a fugue was, and of 
course was a great and interesting Beethoven player in his own way.

I got NOTHING out of hearing Schnabel play that movement on the RCA 

He played it so fast that nothing was hearable.

At first I couldn't figure out why he would do that, since he certainly had the 
ability to comprehend and show by his playing the significant aspects of that 
piece---and of any fugue.

THEN I realized, he had actually come up with the best solution he could for 
conditions he was faced with in recording for RCA.

Given only one take for a piece SO difficult (considered without question one 
of the most difficult pieces in the entire literature of the piano), the best 
solution WAS to play it so fast and unclearly that nothing was really hearable.


The time limits (one side of a 78 record) in the earliest days of recording 
resulted in constant selection of pieces which lasted only long enough to fit on 
one side of a record.

As a result, great technician Moriz Rosenthal recorded a large number of 
Chopin Mazurkas, but never recorded the pieces he was renowned for--such 
as the Brahms Paganini Variations [ Brahms himself had raved over Rosenthal's 
playing of his own Paganini and Handel Variations].

Josef Hofmann ridiculed his friend Rachmaninoff for following conductor Leopold 
Stokowski's advice when they recorded Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto.

Stokowski told Rachmaninoff it would sound good to make a noticeable ritard 
at the end of each 78 record, even though Rachmaninoff did not play those 
spots like that.   Rachmaninoff went along with Stokowski's suggestion, and 
then was horrified when he heard the recording.

Hofmann said, "Why would he be weak enough to take such advice in the first 

Those who heard Rachmaninoff play the piece in person also comment that 
many sections where Rachmaninoff made the piano part blend in with the 
orchestra came out completely differently on the recording, where they stuck 
a recording microphone right up against the piano.

The result was that such passages come out on the recording with the piano 
part not blending in with the orchestra, but standing out brazenly and much 
too loud for proper balance.

So we have Rachmaninoff's recording of his own well known concerto, 
but "That isn't the way he played it," said those who heard him play it live.

The examples I have mentioned are a drop in the bucket compared with what I 
could go into.

Thank you for bringing up this subject, Frank.

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