It makes me hopping mad when people go on about the numerous wrong notes in his recordings. Would that they could begin to hold a candle to playing of such genius, flawed as the results sometimes were. But these surface blemishes which would not pass the censors nowadays, admittedly detract from the playing not one iota — besides, he admitted he hardly had time to practise, busy as he was with his teaching, conducting, administrative duties and touring. After just one week of practising the exercises, my playing of the piece improved dramatically. I still use them all the time, not just for the exercises Cortot designs, but also for his fanciful and poetic running commentaries which illuminate the music wonderfully.
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At times his recordings are surprising to modern ears that are used to clinical perfection, as the pianist would drop the odd note here and there. But at the time that Cortot made his legendary recordings, commercial discs were not considered permanent statements and there was no sense that they would be listened to decades later — rather, they were provisional accounts, certainly not a replacement for a concert experience. As such, note-perfect playing was not the goal but musical insight was, and Cortot delivered this in spades.
It is all the more miraculous that, with this timetable and the antiseptic nature of a recording studio, Cortot was able to deliver such musically inspiring performances that continue to be held as benchmark readings over eight decades later, and it is little wonder that there are occasional dropped notes! This was not the first reading of the Etudes on record: Wilhelm Backhaus recorded his glorious cycle in and the vastly underrated Robert Lortat left an incredible set of both books in Cortot did not record the works in chronological order so as to maximize the playing time on each 4-tominute disc.
LP and CD transfers of these performances have tended to issue the recordings in the usual chronological order, and I thought it might be interesting to listen to these performances in the order in which Cortot played them on 78s and in which listeners at the time heard on their records — so the upload below features the works as cut and presented on discs in the s.
While the photograph of Cortotin the upload, which was taken at around this period, shows him playing a Pleyel piano, it is documented that Steinway No. The following year, Cortot returned to Abbey Road to set down another series of works, including the Etudes Op. Recorded at the Studio Albert in Paris on November 2 and 4, , this later cycle of Etudes was released on 78rpm discs at the time and then on a French HMV LP in the s, but were rarely available outside of France or anywhere after that time.
However, upon closer examination, one can appreciate that Cortot is in fact in remarkably fine form in these accounts, in some cases playing with more precision and just as much fire as in his performances from almost ten years earlier. Here are both books of Etudes from those sessions — recorded in only two days! While he made discs of works that he should not have given his technical decline, some poetic ones were beautifully played, as evidenced in this reading of the Etude Op.
This Op. For example, in the Op. The first item in the Op. The piece is lively and full of color, but slightly wistful in its dark gentleness. The first of this trio, in A minor, hustles along and presents contrasts between legato and staccato. It has been linked to the virtuosity of the legendary violinist Paganini.
The Study Editions of Alfred Cortot