Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY ones?

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IcedNote
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Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY ones?

Post by IcedNote » Mon Oct 22, 2012 6:44 pm

Uh oh...here comes IcedNote with another topic asking people to generalize...! :mrgreen:

An ensemble has just recorded a piece of mine for their debut CD (happy, happy, joy, joy). I just heard the final(ish) mix and what struck me is how different it sounds from when they first started performing it two years ago. The recorded performance is--dare I say it!--a deeper one. It's more patient, perhaps more introspective.

So that got me thinking...

Performers (and conductors) revisit works all of the time. Can we say with any certainty that their performances tend to get better as they spend more time with the pieces? ...better as they internalize them more? ...as they simply think about them more? Perhaps this is what "hitting their prime" is all about, no?

I wonder what this does for contemporary composers. We consider ourselves lucky to get TWO performances of a work by the same ensemble, let alone several. How about a season's worth--unheard of! Sad.

:)

-G
Harakiried composer reincarnated as a nonprofit development guy.

John F
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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by John F » Mon Oct 22, 2012 6:55 pm

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. It also depends on what standard you use, or whose standard. I don't believe there's a general rule - or to put it another way, there are plenty of examples to support whatever general rule you prefer.
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Lance
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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by Lance » Tue Oct 23, 2012 2:09 am

I concur with John Francis. I would add one step yet. Take the art of Artur/Arthur Rubinstein. We have examples of many selections recorded early on in the first third of his life, the second (1955-1970) and his final years. It is generally felt his "middle" period was better though some things he recorded later (such as the Schubert Bb, Op. Posth Sonata—2 recordings of it—were extraordinary. The later performances rendered by Claudio Arrau were deeper, but deeper than many believe they should have been. Tempi were extraordinarily slow. Stokowski conducted with one foot almost in the grave and yet every performance made even at the end of his life had a youthful exuberance. Introspection in music is difficult to define. I don't think there can be a general rule, however, about late performances being better than early ones. You, as a composer, however, also grow in the interpretation of your music as you hear it over a period of years. As your own musical mind matures quite naturally, you will probably look with disdain at your early compositions by the time you reach 90!

As a composer, I always felt Aaron Copland produced much finer works, to be enjoyed by larger audiences, in his early years. Even he found it difficult to get ideas for compositions when he was older. For me, and in his case, I woud say his earlier compositions (not performances per se) were better.

I hope you don't mind if I flipped the coin there! :D
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barney
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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by barney » Tue Oct 23, 2012 3:48 am

Arrau is an interesting example. He plays Chopin as though it were Beethoven, imho. He's seldom my first port of call, but I wouldn't want to be without him.

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by John F » Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:05 am

In one respect, a musician's performance of a piece may improve as he/she plays or sings or conducts it more often. Experience with the music may bring better solutions to whatever technical difficulties it may pose, develop muscle memory, increase confidence and assurance. This isn't about interpretive depth, of course, but about getting the notes right; what the musician does with the notes is another matter. At the other end of the musician's career, which in the case of a singer may be well before old age sets in, technique including the ability to produce a beautiful sound may decline with the reduction in muscular strength and control, as with Rudolf Serkin and Joseph Szigeti.
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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by hangos » Tue Oct 23, 2012 5:24 am

A few observations ;
Toscanini got faster as he aged, sometimes verging on the mechanistic
Mitropoulos concentrated almost exclusively on dynamic range in his final years
Klemperer got slower
Celibidache stayed slow
Karajan became more polished with age
Arrau turned from breakneck speed virtuoso to slow sage
(There's a poem in here somewhere!) :oops:

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by josé echenique » Tue Oct 23, 2012 8:25 am

Grumiaux recorded 3 times the Beethoven Violin Concerto, all 3 recordings are excellent, but the second one, with the New Philharmonia Orchestra and Alceo Galliera is the best of the 3, but maybe that has to do with the conductor.
Maria Callas recorded Norma twice. The stereo version has more insights and authority, but in the first one the voice was a miracle in itself.
Karajan recorded twice Mahler´s Ninth Symphony, the first in studio, the second live, and both are fabulous performances he, he.

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by diegobueno » Tue Oct 23, 2012 9:34 am

IcedNote wrote:Uh oh...here comes IcedNote with another topic asking people to generalize...! :mrgreen:

An ensemble has just recorded a piece of mine for their debut CD (happy, happy, joy, joy). I just heard the final(ish) mix and what struck me is how different it sounds from when they first started performing it two years ago. The recorded performance is--dare I say it!--a deeper one. It's more patient, perhaps more introspective.

So that got me thinking...

Performers (and conductors) revisit works all of the time. Can we say with any certainty that their performances tend to get better as they spend more time with the pieces? ...better as they internalize them more? ...as they simply think about them more? Perhaps this is what "hitting their prime" is all about, no?

I wonder what this does for contemporary composers. We consider ourselves lucky to get TWO performances of a work by the same ensemble, let alone several. How about a season's worth--unheard of! Sad.

:)

-G
I think you've answered your own question. If a composer says that a group's interpretation of his work has deepened over time, then it certainly has. Congratulations, by the way, both for the recording and the multiple performances.

If performers stop getting better at a piece they play regularly, that should be their cue to stop playing it, at least until they can come back to it with fresh perspective.

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by slofstra » Tue Oct 23, 2012 10:32 am

barney wrote:Arrau is an interesting example. He plays Chopin as though it were Beethoven, imho. He's seldom my first port of call, but I wouldn't want to be without him.

Chopin played like Beethoven sounds horrendous, like cold turkey gravy on Corn Flakes.

Although no general statement can be made about quality as a performer ages, can one be made that tempi tend to slow down, at least on keyboards? I think this is more than a question about slowing as the performer ages, but perhaps more a question of finding the tempo that really speaks, as opposed to trying to astound the audience with pyrotechnics. It's not that the younger performer is insensitive to the piece, but the young performer does need to build a reputation and make an impression, and speed definitely makes an impression. The established performer often has nothing to prove, but can lend more mindset to pure expression, and that includes finding the right tempi. This is vastly over-generalizing, but I would submit Gould's last Goldberg Variations recording, as a case in point. It's often preferred to the historic recording. I'd have to dig to find some more examples, maybe later.

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by John F » Tue Oct 23, 2012 11:20 am

hangos noted that Toscanini's tempos were generally somewhat faster in his later years. How much of this he was consciously aware of, and whether it had anything to do with him conducting for radio broadcasts when time was more important than in public concerts, or even the very dry acoustic of the NBC studio where many of his broadcasts originated, I don't believe anyone can say. Certainly he never did, if indeed anybody ever asked him.

I forget who said it, but somebody once commented in the 1970s or 1980s that all performances were getting more moderate or slower in tempo. If this was so, and I felt it was when I read it, no persuasive explanation comes to mind. Certainly not that all performers, young and old, are better or wiser than their predecessors! If it was a trend, I believe it's over, thanks partly to the influence of HIP in which tempos are often faster than ever, especially in slow movements.
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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by maestrob » Tue Oct 23, 2012 12:02 pm

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

Certainly, one gains new insight into a work with long familiarity.

I'm currently listening to Walton's own premiere recording of his First Symphony, and, in hindsight, I'm noting a Toscaninian influence to keep ploughing ahead, especially in bars where a slight lingering would help articulation and underline the drama more without disturbing the momentum, as later conductors have done. I wonder if Walton would approve of Bryden Thomson's recent rendering? I believe so, but we'll never know.

Later generations bring new insights that go beyond a composer's original ideas. Improvement happens. If I were conducting Walton I now, I'd prefer something akin to Thomson's account, rather than the driven, dry account of Walton's original first movement. No such thing as the final word, nor should there be.

As for individual performers getting "better" as they age, well, Bernstein certainly didn't, IMHO, but that's a personal opinion/preference--something we all have. Arrau's later work became slow to my ears as well (his Chopin concerti on Phillips are very odd), yet his Beethoven shone with insight.

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by jbuck919 » Tue Oct 23, 2012 4:49 pm

I agree with sometimes yes and sometimes no, but in my specific area of interest, I can cite Marie-Claire Alain as an example of someone whose later performances of Bach are superior because she was not ashamed to come to terms with historical performance practice. At the same time she did not, as some organists have done, go overboard and dismiss all sensibilities by, for instance, performing the entire Passacaglia and Fugue with full organ because some old sources can be interpreted as implying that this was Bach's intention.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by Teresa B » Tue Oct 23, 2012 7:38 pm

I think most of us would probably agree that it's impossible to really generalize about this, because we know instances of it going either way, at least in our humble opinions! An example of an earlier recording I prefer to a later one is Brendel's Mozart PC no. 9. I felt that despite the fact that he may have played the later version in a bit smoother way, it seemed almost more homogenized too, and I liked the freshness of his earlier version better.

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by Lance » Wed Oct 24, 2012 8:17 am

Interesting you mention Brendel, Teresa ... I feel the same way about his Schubert, especially the early Vox recordings after his studies with Edwin Fischer. Such tone and beauty of interpretation! The eight Impromptus never sounded better, at least to these ears. In this case, earlier seems better ... fresher.
Teresa B wrote:I think most of us would probably agree that it's impossible to really generalize about this, because we know instances of it going either way, at least in our humble opinions! An example of an earlier recording I prefer to a later one is Brendel's Mozart PC no. 9. I felt that despite the fact that he may have played the later version in a bit smoother way, it seemed almost more homogenized too, and I liked the freshness of his earlier version better.

Teresa
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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by maestrob » Wed Oct 24, 2012 10:11 am

Lance wrote:Interesting you mention Brendel, Teresa ... I feel the same way about his Schubert, especially the early Vox recordings after his studies with Edwin Fischer. Such tone and beauty of interpretation! The eight Impromptus never sounded better, at least to these ears. In this case, earlier seems better ... fresher.
Teresa B wrote:I think most of us would probably agree that it's impossible to really generalize about this, because we know instances of it going either way, at least in our humble opinions! An example of an earlier recording I prefer to a later one is Brendel's Mozart PC no. 9. I felt that despite the fact that he may have played the later version in a bit smoother way, it seemed almost more homogenized too, and I liked the freshness of his earlier version better.

Teresa
Yes, those early Impromptus are very special........ :)

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Re: Are performers' LATER performances better than EARLY one

Post by Heck148 » Thu Oct 25, 2012 7:49 am

Another vote for sometimes, sometimes not.

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