About this Recording
8.111052 - CHOPIN: Etudes (Complete) (Cortot, 78 rpm Recordings, Vol. 3) (1933-1949)
English 

Alfred Cortot (1877-1962)
Chopin, Vol. 3

 

The son of a French father and Swiss mother, Alfred Cortot was born in Nyon, Switzerland, in 1877. During his childhood the family moved to Paris and at the age of nine young Alfred joined the Paris Conservatoire, where he studied piano first with Emile Descombes (1829-1912) and, from the age of fifteen, with Louis Diémer (1843-1919). Cortot made his début in 1897 with Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37, and gave piano duet recitals with Edouard Risler (1873-1929), playing arrangements for four hands of music by Wagner. His enthusiasm for the German composer led to his appointment as choral coach, then assistant conductor at Bayreuth, working under Felix Mottl and Hans Richter. Cortot's experiences in Bayreuth left him eager to introduce Wagner's music to French audiences, and in 1902 he founded the Société des Festivals Lyriques, through which in May of the same year he conducted the Paris première of Götterdämmerung. The following year Cortot organized another society enabling him to give performances of major works such as Brahms's German Requiem, Liszt's St Elisabeth, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Wagner's Parsifal, and not long after he became conductor of the Société Nationale, promoting works by contemporary French composers.

Cortot was a multi-faceted musician, a conductor and chamber-music player as well as solo pianist. He formed a famous piano trio with Jacques Thibaud and Pablo Casals, but it was as a pianist for which he became renowned. He was appointed by Gabriel Fauré to a teaching post at the Paris Conservatoire, but was in such demand as a performer that he was invariably away on tour. In 1918 Cortot made his first tour of America, and during his second tour in 1920 he played all five of Beethoven's Piano Concertos in two evenings and Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor, Op. 30, with the composer present. Also at this time he founded the Ecole Normale de Musique for which he appointed a hand-picked staff. Cortot himself taught there until 1961; his most famous students include Magda Tagliaferro, Clara Haskil and Yvonne Lefébure.

Cortot was a great musician whose interpretations were often on a spiritual level. He managed to convey a depth of meaning through his playing and became associated with the works of Schumann, Debussy and particularly Chopin. When he played Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 with Leopold Stokowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1920, however, one reviewer passed a comment repeatedly used in descriptions of Cortot's playing, 'Alfred Cortot explores the spiritual depths of music. In the most genuine and unaffected way he is among the most poetic of pianists.'

Between 4 and 9 July 1933 Cortot recorded a huge amount of Chopin's music for HMV including the Fantasie in F minor, Op. 49, the Etudes, Op. 10, Berceuse, Op. 57, Tarantelle, Op. 43, Barcarolle, Op. 60, the complete Preludes, Op. 28, and the Four Impromptus. During the following two days he recorded both the B minor and B flat minor Piano Sonatas and the Four Ballades.

Cortot's first complete recording of Chopin's Etudes, Opp. 10 and 25, was made in 1933 and 1934. On the 4 July 1933 he was at HMV's Studio No. 3 in Abbey Road where he recorded Etudes Nos. 6 and 11, then the Fantasie in F minor, then Etudes Nos. 1 and 4 followed by Etudes Nos. 5, 2 and 7. To make the most economical use of the 78rpm sides, HMV had Cortot record the Etudes in groups, so a technical slip in number 5, 2 or 7 meant that the whole side had to be recorded again as no editing was possible. The first side recorded (Nos. 6 and 11) was successful, and even though Cortot repeated the side the following day these two Etudes were issued from the first take. Also on the 5 July he recorded Nos. 9 and 8 three times, Nos. 1 and 4 twice more and No. 3 twice. Nos. 10 and 12 only needed one take, but Nos. 5, 2 and 7 (the last side he recorded the previous day) had to be repeated three more times. The Etudes are presented here on this compact disc in their conventional numerical order rather than in the order they were recorded. Although often castigated for his technical inaccuracy, Cortot's performance of the Op. 10 Etudes is full of poetry and musicality. The listener forgets that these are technical exercises and hears them for what they truly are, music from the wonderfully inventive mind of a composer brought to life by Cortot's artistry.

The Op. 25 Etudes were recorded a year later in June 1934. Again they were grouped to fill the sides of 78 rpm discs. At the beginning of the recording session Cortot recorded two takes each of Nos. 3, 4, and 8, then Nos. 1 and 12. After that he only needed one take of the remaining four sides; paired together were Nos. 9 and 11, 2 and 10, 6 and 5. The longest etude, No. 7 in C sharp minor, needed a complete side in which to accommodate it. Cortot returned to the studio on 21 June to have two more attempts at Nos. 3, 4, and 8; the third take was issued, but the majority of the Etudes from Op. 25 were issued from first takes including the taxing double thirds Etude (No. 6), the octave Etude (No. 10, which is slightly abridged) and the 'Winter Wind' (No. 11). Both sets of Etudes were recorded on a Steinway piano and Cortot recorded them again in Paris in 1942.

It was not until October 1947 that Cortot recorded the Trois Nouvelles Etudes. He was in the midst of preparing Chopin's solo piano works for a performance in Paris to commemorate the centenary of the composer's death and hoped that HMV in England would continue recording him in the complete works of Chopin, a project he began in war-time Paris in 1942. The 1947 recording of the Trois Nouvelles Etudes was not issued by HMV, however, (although test pressings were later published on compact disc). Cortot returned to the studio on 4 November 1949 where he recorded the F minor and D flat Etude on one side and the A flat Etude and the Waltz, Op. 64, No. 1, on the other. New matrix numbers were used rather than higher takes of those numbers used in 1947, and the B suffix refers to a transfer of the original recording, possibly from tape, made on 26 November 1949 (an A transfer was made on 14 November 1949).

The recording of the Barcarolle, Op. 60, presented here comes from the marathon sessions of July 1933 mentioned above. Cortot recorded the work on the same day that he recorded the Op. 10 Etudes and Preludes Op. 28. He made two takes of the first side and only one of the second. The performance is unbridled in its passion, and Cortot places great emphasis on the beauty of sound he creates which is full and luxurious. Cortot recorded the Barcarolle again for HMV in October 1951 but this recording was only issued in America by Victor on LP and 45rpm disc.

In an extraordinary opening to a review of the Op. 25 Etudes from April 1935 a critic, commentating on each Etude as if he were adjudicating a performance at a local musical festival wrote, 'If posterity cannot judge him as an artist it will certainly not be Cortot's fault, for he is indefatigable in the recording studios and seems now on the way to record all the best of Chopin.' Well, posterity has judged Cortot as one of the greatest of artists of the twentieth century whose chosen medium of expression was the piano.

© 2006 Jonathan Summers

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Etudes, Op. 10
Recorded at EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London

No. 1 in C major
Matrix: 2B 5203-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2027, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 2 in A minor
Matrix: 2B 5204-4 [part], First released on HMV DB 2027, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 3 in E major
Matrix: 2B 5208-1, First released on HMV DB 2028, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 4 in C sharp minor
Matrix: 2B 5203-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2027, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 5 in G flat major
Matrix: 2B 5204-4 [part], First released on HMV DB 2027, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 6 in E flat minor
Matrix: 2B 6799-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2028, Recorded 4 July 1933
No. 7 in C major
Matrix: 2B 5204-4 [part], First released on HMV DB 2027, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 8 in F major
Matrix: 2B 5207-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2029, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 9 in F minor
Matrix: 2B 5207-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2029, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 10 in A flat major
Matrix: 2B 5209-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2029, Recorded 5 July 1933
No. 11 in E flat major
Matrix: 2B 6799-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2028, Recorded 4 July 1933
No. 12 in C minor
Matrix: 2B 5209-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2029, Recorded 5 July 1933

Etudes, Op. 25
Recorded at EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London

No. 1 in A flat major
Matrix: 2B 7255-2 [part], First released on HMV DB 2308, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 2 in F minor
Matrix: 2B 7257-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2308, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 3 in F major
Matrix: 2B 7254-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2309, Recorded 21 June 1934
No. 4 in A minor
Matrix: 2B 7254-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2309, Recorded 21 June 1934
No. 5 in E minor
Matrix: 2B 7258-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2309, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 6 in G sharp minor
Matrix: 2B 7258-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2309, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 7 in C sharp minor
Matrix: 2B 7259-1, First released on HMV DB 2310, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 8 in D flat major
Matrix: 2B 7254-3 [part], First released on HMV DB 2309, Recorded 21 June 1934
No. 9 in G flat major
Matrix: 2B 7256-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2310, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 10 in B minor
Matrix: 2B 7257-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2308, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 11 in A minor
Matrix: 2B 7256-1 [part], First released on HMV DB 2310, Recorded 18 June 1934
No. 12 in C minor
Matrix: 2B 7255-2 [part], First released on HMV DB 2308, Recorded 18 June 1934

Trois Nouvelles Etudes pour le méthode de Moscheles et Fétis
Recorded 4th November, 1949 at EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London

No. 1 in F minor
Matrix: 2EA 14282-1B [part], First issued on HMV DB 21070
No. 2 in D flat major
Matrix: 2EA 14282-1B [part], First issued on HMV DB 21070
No. 3 in A flat major
Matrix: 2EA 14283-1 [part], First issued on HMV DB 21070

Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60
Matrices: 2B 5212-2 and 5213-1, First issued on HMV DB 2030
Recorded 5 July 1933 in EMI Abbey Road Studio No. 3, London


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