Images, 1re série:

Hommage à Rameau

Claude Debussy

(fragmented recording)


Original recording by Ricardo Viñes:














My recreated performance:




















Cross-cut video:




















Annotated score:












This is the second of the two fragmented recordings by Ricardo Viñes, and like the Debussy etude, this performance is also missing the first third. This recording was also recreated in its existing form and later “reconstructed”.



The recreating experience


Not only are the two Debussy recordings by Viñes similar by their fragmented nature, they are also quite similar with regards to Viñes’s playing style. The Hommage à Rameau-recording is like the etude also a testament of Viñes’s sonority, achieved by complex combination of “arpeggiation,” “dislocation,” brisk articulation and rich, but nuanced pedal work. My markings in the annotated score is similar to those found in the etude: Thick red arrows indicating unmarked tempo modifications (rushing/slowing) and red circled areas which are described in detail in this text. Also in this recording, the complex interplay between “arpeggiation” and “dislocation” was grouped in three categories:


  1. “Dislocated” chords - (“un-rolled”), marked as red circles with arrows showing the “dislocation.”
  2. Expressive arpeggios - used to separate the melody from the chord notes, or to create expressiveness in the melodic line.
  3. Directional arpeggios with "dislocated" melody - marked as arpeggio lines with arrows to demonstrate if they are played upwards or downwards, and with blue circles and arrows showing the “dislocated” melody notes.


Like in the Debussy etude, there is a general tendency of a “forward moving tempo” which includes occasional rushing and slowing down. In bar 31, we can see an example of un-rolled” chords dislocated from the bass line. In bar 33, we can hear the “expressive arpeggio,” which creates a tenuto feel on the first beat of the bar. In 35, we see a very similar and complex use of “arpeggiation” and “dislocation” as in the etude. The rich sonority is achieved by a constant use of the sustain pedal, with very subtle shifts that never disrupts the low G sharp octave played on the third beat. The arpeggios are very rapid and the octave melody (marked in blue) is delayed – with a very brisk and accentuated staccato attack so that it rings out into the sonority without muddying” the sound. The same practice is repeated in bars 41-42. It should be mentioned that among my various experimental approaches on recreating this sonority was the use of the sostenuto pedal (the middle pedal on a modern grand piano). Matthew Goodrich writes the following in his dissertation: 


The Pleyel grand piano he [Viñes] was awarded for his July 1894 Conservatoire First Prize - delivered on 16 January 1895 - included a third, sostenuto middle pedal. (Another French piano maker had invented the system, while Pleyel copied it.) Viñes certainly would have taken to it immediately, and Ravel certainly would have played this piano as well. One can well imagine the two young musicians experimenting with the new sounds possible through its use. Roberts points out that these instruments would have been available in Paris in the 1890s, and indeed Madame de Saint-Marceaux’s new 1896 Steinway - subsequently played by scores of composers and performers - would almost certainly have had one. But most pianos in use at the time would not have had this pedal.[1]


Although it is not unlikely that Viñes could have taken advantage of such a pedal on some of the grand pianos he encountered during his lifetime, I have not in any of the recreated pieces found evident use of it. It is possible to play sections such as bar 35 with the use of the sostenuto pedal, but having open-mindedly experimented with this, my view in the matter is that the sonority achieved by the use of the sostenuto pedal does not come close to the rich sonority Viñes achieves through the complex combination of “arpeggiation,” “dislocation” and brisk articulation.


In bar 36, Viñes “dislocates” the G sharps from the left and right hand and thus separate the voices in the polyphony. It should also be mentioned that Viñes is by no means restrained by the marked più pianissimo and pianissimo indications in the score. Indeed, the climax of the line in 36 is played fortissimo rather than mezzoforte. An example of “expressive arpeggios” can be heard in bar 48, where Viñes prolongs the arpeggio in contrast to bars 43-47 and 49-50 where we instead hear the “un-rolled,” but “dislocated” practice. As in other examples, we hear this “un-rolled” practice of the chords that are not made up by individual voices. As stated before, this is in line with my argument of Viñes using “arpeggiation” on chords first and foremost to emphasize the polyphonic material. Also, worth mentioning is the second right hand chord in bar 43 where he plays the following notes: F sharp, B (not the written C natural), D natural and F sharp. This is in line with how the other chords are written out in this section, so probably a misprint in the score in Viñes’s view. In bar 52, he changes the written notes in the run towards the end of the bar. He starts out the way it is written, but then he changes the B - D - F - A chord pattern to B - Db - E - A. These last two “chords” are very much rushed, so this could be wrong notes in his playing. Whatever the reason, Viñes plays this in one large gestural sweep, rather than clearly articulating the notes in the figure. In bars 55 and 56, we see a contrasting use of “arpeggiation” on the first beats. In bar 55, Viñes “arpeggiates” the chord on the first beat “expressively”. In 56, he makes a contrast by “dislocating” the chord (not an arpeggio). In 57 and 58, Viñes uses a lot of sustain pedal so that the low D sharps are sustained through the bar. The tenuto in the right hand is achieved through accentuated and quick attacks in combination with the sustain pedal following the “arpeggiated” chords/intervals. In bar 63 and onwards, the main melody is clearly separated by “arpeggiation”. I found that I also in this case had to release the keys rather rapidly to avoid muddying the sustain pedal, which is held to sustain the low G sharp in the bass. Thus, the legato line is once again realized through accentuated and brisk finger attacks in combination of the sustain pedal – not through “finger legato.” In the last section of the piece, we hear a subtle use of “dislocation” between the chords and the left hand. In bars 69 and 70, the “arpeggiation” is slightly prolonged (expressive), probably to emphasize the tenutos in the original score. In 71, the “arpeggiation” is followed by the “dislocated” and thus delayed D sharp middle-voice so that it is played last. The chord on the fifth beat is not rolled, but the melody note (D sharp) is very subtly “dislocated” from it. At the fifth beat in bar 73, Viñes adds a G sharp in the bass which is held until the next bar where he adds a low G sharp. He repeats the G sharp from 73 on the second beat of 74. This is possibly a “re-arrangement” by Viñes with the aim of getting more bass in the sonority. On the very last chord of the piece, he “re-arranges” the written G sharp - B - D sharp - G sharp - D sharp - G sharp - B - D sharp, to instead a G sharp - B - D sharp - G sharp - B - D sharp - G sharp. This romantic practice of making embellishments or re-arranging the end of a piece is something Viñes does in different forms on all of his four Debussy recordings. In this case, his reason for changing the written score might be the more pleasing “tonic feel” of putting the G-sharp on the top instead of the original D sharp. 



Comparison to other recordings


To investigate how the Ricardo Viñes interpretation of this piece stands in relation to other recordings, I have also in this case chosen four to compare with. Because of the fragmented nature of the Viñes recording, I have only compared bars 31-76.


In the recording of Pascal Rogé, we hear a much slower tempo than in Viñes’s.[2] His tempo is not “forward moving,”rather he generally tends to lean more backwards. Rogé plays quite strict in time, and as a result, he has a more six beats per bar-feel than Viñes. He does not add arpeggios not indicated in the original score and does not seem to have any intentional practice of “dislocation.”


In Jean-Efflam Bavouzet’s recording, we hear a wider use of different tempos.[3] His main tempo is generally more “forward moving” than we hear in Rogé’s performance. He does not rush the tempo, but rather plays complete sections in contrasting tempo. He does use some subtle “dislocation” to separate the voices, for example in bars 59-60, but it is far from a general practice. Bavouzet also seems to have a tendency of playing the melody before the chords when these subtle “dislocations” occur, such as in bars 72 and 74.


Walter Gieseking’s performance in this recording is played in a rather steady tempo.[4]  Although he generally does not use any form of “dislocated attacks,” he makes a few exceptions to this, for example in bars 43-49 and 61-62. Unlike Viñes he uses much less pedal in general. As an example, he interprets the originally marked rests between the D sharp bass notes in bars 57-58 literally, whereas Viñes keeps the pedal sustained with only very subtle shifts throughout the bars.


Once again, I found it interesting to compare the recording of former Viñes pupil Marcelle Meyer.[5] In her recording, she does not have the general “forward moving” tempo of Viñes and rather tends to slow down towards the end of the phrases. Thus, her performance is made up of several smaller fractions, rather than larger “sweepsDespite this, her performance does have a remarkable amount of similarities with Viñes’s recording. She applies the use of “arpeggios” and “dislocation” almost on all the same places we hear with Viñes. It is also interesting that she uses the same complex practice in bars 35-36, delaying the melody octaves clearly after the arpeggios. Her way of rolling the chords is a little bit slower than Viñes though, and she does not achieve quite the same sonority that Viñes is able to get out of his articulated attack on the octaves. Her execution of the bars 43-49, is remarkably similar to Viñes’s recording with regards to the rushing/slowing of the tempo. Although a little slower than Viñes, bars 57-60 is a very good example of Meyer’s combination of arpeggios and “dislocated attacks.” The same goes for bars 61-62, although also here a little slower than Viñes. Towards the end of the piece, we hear a similar albeit subtler variety of “dislocation” and “arpeggiation” compared to Viñes. Unlike the three other pianists in this comparison, Meyer does “re-arrange” the last chord and finish on a high G sharp. All of this leads me to wonder if she ever studied this piece with Viñes…



Final thoughts  


Also in this performance, I would argue that there is an evident romantic performance practice in the recording of Viñes. Again, this particularly applies to his tempo modifications and the general “forward moving” tempo. In relation to the “Viñes sonority,” there are sections in this performance of Hommage à Rameau which closely relate to the Debussy etude with regards to the complex interplay between “arpeggiation,” “dislocation,” brisk articulation and a rich use of the sustain pedal.



[1] Goodrich 2013, 155-156

[2] Debussy, Claude. Images 1re série, “Hommage à Rameau”. Played by Pascal Rogé. Pascal Rogé: Debussy: Piano Works, Images - Book 1, L. 110, Decca Music Group Limited, 1994. YouTube, accessed on November 4, 2021,

[3] Debussy, Claude. Images 1re série, “Hommage à Rameau”. Played by Jean-Efflam Bavouzet. Jean-Efflam Bavouzet: Debussy: Complete Works for Piano, Vol. 4 - Images & Etudes, Chandos Records, 2008. YouTube, accessed on November 4, 2021,

[4] Debussy, Claude. Images 1re série, “Hommage à Rameau”. Played by Walter Gieseking. Walter Gieseking: Debussy: His First Performers, Parlophone Records Limited, a Warner Music Group company, 2018 (according to CHARM originally recorded in 1948 for Columbia at EMI studio No. 3, Abbey Road, London). YouTube, accessed on November 4, 2021,

[5] Debussy, Claude. Images 1re série, “Hommage à Rameau”. Played Marcelle Meyer. Marcelle Meyer: Piano Performances 1925-1957, Unchained Melodíe, 2010 (originally recorded in 1947 for Les discophiles francais). YouTube, accessed on November 4, 2021,

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