chapter  9
20 Pages

Elements of Interpretative Approach

Having identified, located, and categorised 136 recordings of the Prelude, it is possible to investigate elements of interpretative approach across the entire set. To place in context observations made in chapters 6 and 7, this chapter draws on some of the same interpretative approaches and examines them across the wider recorded performance tradition of the Prelude. The chapter starts with the question of tempo (and duration) in the Prelude, since it is the single most frequently discussed issue by performers, critics, academics, and audiences. Plotting on a graph the durations of all 136 Prelude recordings against the year of recording provides an immediate overview of one aspect of the recorded performance tradition (figure 9.1). As the trend line indicates, over the course of the last century, there has been a gradual tendency to take more time over the Prelude. The vast majority of recordings slower than the average 3:41 occurred in recent years. For more than fifty years, only one example lasted more than the overall average, Menuhin 1936. Recall the Herrmann (not Heermann) solo Bach edition published in 1900, in which the editor gave the Prelude a metronome marking of ± = 120 (see table 1.3), which equates to a performance lasting about 3:27. No single record came close to Herrmann’s metronome marking for more than three decades – Elman 1932 (3:25) and Menuhin 1936 (3:49). From the set of 136, 103 are by men and 33 by women, with men averaging a faster 3:38 and women a slower 3:49. The vast majority of early recordings were by men, and the first female to record the Prelude in this set was Johanna Martzy in 1954. The number of period instrument performers are almost equally divided between men (eight) and women (seven). All four of Heifetz’s recordings appear faster than the trend line and considerably faster than the average. The Heifetz 1946 live recording is seventh fastest of all 136.