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MMD > Archives > October 1998 > 1998.10.31 > 10Prev  Next

Rachmaninoff the Artist -- A Common-Sense Look
By John A. Tuttle

Hi All,  Consider this: Rachmaninoff couldn't change the way his music
sounded on a record.  All he could do was record it again.

Rachmaninoff could, however, have small changes made in a reproducing
roll so that it reflected the way he thought the piece should sound.

Now which of these two scenarios is likely to render what the artist
liked best?  And isn't it only reasonable to believe that Rachmaninoff
approved every roll before it's release to the public?

Also, as I've stated to a few people (and I feel certain Robbie Rhodes
would agree), every time an artist sits at a different piano, the
performance changes, even if only minutely.

 [ Well, "That's jazz, folks !"  ;)   -- Robbie

My point is, it's virtually impossible to second-guess how any artist
would utilize any particular instrument, including Rachmaninoff.  We'll
simply never know.

What does come through 'loud and clear' on Wayne Stahnke's CD is the
magnificence, power and beauty of Rachmaninoff's music without all that
annoying hiss.  Is it exactly the same as other performances by the
genius?  I think not.  But in the same breath, I strongly believe
Rachmaninoff approved the final product (the Ampico Rolls) from which
the CD was derived.

 [ Rachmaninoff worked closely with the editor, Edgar Fairchild,
 [ so it's almost certain that he approved his roll performances
 [ before they were released by Ampico.   -- Robbie

Are the dynamics exaggerated?  If you've ever laid under a concert
grand that is being played by a dynamic artist, you'd say no.  Dynamics
(the changes in decibels) are, after all, relative to how close your
ears are to the instrument (or in the case of the CD, how close you sit
to the speakers).

The question in my mind comes down to: which of Rachmaninoff's recorded
performances did he consider 'his' best?  What impressed him?

From what I've heard*, he was much more impressed with his Ampico rolls
than he ever was with the Victor recordings.  And if that weren't the
case, why did he record more material on rolls than he did on records?
The question of what the artist preferred seems like a no-brainer.

* Note: I've heard that Rachmaninoff is quoted in New Yorker Magazine
as having said that hearing the Ampico rolls was like listening to
himself play.  I'm still searching for that article.  But having
searched through more than five dozen web pages and numerous web sites
devoted to Rachmaninoff, I am thoroughly convinced of one thing:
Rachmaninoff was fanatic about precision.  So this writer will trust
the opinions of the master and not the ramblings of those who are
less gifted.


John A. Tuttle

 [ Editor's note:
 [ The book, "The Ampico Reproducing Piano", published by MBSI,
 [ contains transcriptions of Nelson Barden's interviews with
 [ Adam Carroll, Clarence Hickman, Emse Dawson and Angelico Valerio,
 [ all former Ampico employees.  On page 10 Adam Carroll recalls:
 [ 'After Rachmaninoff first recorded Paderewski's Minuet in G Major
 [ for the Ampico, Stoddard said, "Sergei, when you hear this recording
 [ it will be a reproduction of your playing."
 [ 'When he came back, Wagner and all the bigwigs were there.  Then
 [ they played the roll.  Rachmaninoff said, "Gentlemen, I, Sergei
 [ Rachmaninoff, have just heard myself play."'
 [ ... We don't know if he liked it, however!   :-))
 [ Robbie

Key Words in Subject:  Artist, Common-Sense, Look, Rachmaninoff

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