I have heard some recordings on youtube which are attributed to Debussy himself playing between 1904 and 1913.

However, the quality (even remastered) is exceptionally good, especially in high and low frequencies, something that was impossible to record at that time. I ask, is this real?


1 Answer 1



There many recordings by composers around this time, other composer who made recordings then include Grieg, Bartók and Scriabin.

However, I agree the recording quality is too good in the video you linked. Fortunately, the video description clearly explains these are piano rolls.

In case you are unfamiliar with this technology, this Wikipedia page ought to explain it: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piano_roll , more information at: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Player_piano

So you heard a modern recording (although I could hear a bit of white noise in the background, so maybe not too modern) of a century-old piano roll.

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    So, it's not in fact a Debussy live recording, but a paper roll (our current MIDI) which was recorded by Debussy at that time, and was reproduced and recorded by modern recording equipments recently... It's insane! It's basically to be listening to Debussy's ghost playing! Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 20:22
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    Is it a sin to say that I prefer the interpretations of our current pianists? Looks like Debussy was in a hurry to finish the recording! Too fast! I am also a composer and I have been amazed at how interpretations of my works sound better than I planned, through some pianists... Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 20:27
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    @RogérioDec Yes, that is the case with the recording you linked. However, recording technology emerged around 1900 so there are live recordings from this time. I know for sure Grieg made live recordings and even Brahms (obviously slightly before 1900), and those are just two examples I have recently heard; I am sure you will be able to find many more live recordings from that time by people who are still very famous.
    – 11684
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 20:35
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    @RogérioDec No, it is not a sin; it is a question of taste. However, it may be because you are just used to modern recordings; musical taste changed dramatically over a century. At any rate, there is quite a lot of useful information to be gleaned from Debussy’s playing. For example, there is a spot in one of the preludes where Debussy takes double tempo in his recording, but nothing in the score indicates this.
    – 11684
    Commented Aug 17, 2018 at 20:39
  • @11684 If you mean playing most of La cathédrale engloutie twice as fast as the first few and last few bars, Rui Pedro Pereira discusses recordings of performances by Debussy and others, and argues that, despite Debussy's notation, this is what he intended. [La cathédrale engloutie: Is musicology changing the way we perform?, International Symposium on Performance Science, ISBN 978-90-9022484-8, pp.109-114]
    – Rosie F
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 16:30

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