Robert Estrin - piano expert

Is There Editing in Classical Recordings?

How much editing is applied to classical music recordings?

In this video, Robert tells you how much editing is applied to classical music recordings. What you'll find out may be different from what you may think!

Released on October 23, 2019

    
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DISCLAIMER: The views and the opinions expressed in this video are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Virtual Sheet Music and its employees.

Video Transcription

Hi, this is Robert Estrin at livingpianos.com, your online piano store, with a great viewer question. Which is, how much editing is there in classical music recordings?

I have vast experience with this, having owned recording studios over the years, and I've done a tremendous amount of albums and demo recording. And yes, there is editing. And you might wonder, well, how does this work? You play a piece, you miss a note, hey, we can put that note in there. Does it work that way?

Well, with modern technology, it almost can. In the olden days, not that long ago in the days of tape, it was possible to razor blade edit, and you would not believe what is possible. But here's the key, to be able to get successful edits in music, you have to have a keen understanding of the work. That's why the producer of a recording, and the engineer, have to really understand music in a deep way.

For example, if you were to try to edit a performance to make a perfect recording by playing until you missed, and then starting there, and going onto the next place you missed, and going through the whole thing. Yeah, you might get all the notes, but you're not going to get much of a musical performance. Because the whole feeling and the continuity has got to be there.

So what is generally done is to play complete works several times, and then choose the best parts of them and put together large sections. You don't just put in missed notes here and there, but you might take the first exposition of a sonata, and maybe a development from a different take, and maybe the recapitulation will come back to the first take.

Now, if there's a particularly thorny section of a piece of music that is really difficult to play accurately, first of all, you cannot edit anything that you can't play. So if you hear a perfect performance and think, "Oh, that was all editing," well you ... They had to play it at some point. So you can't put in something that wasn't played to begin with.

So if there's a particularly difficult section, and it's a chunk of music, they might have the performer play that a whole bunch of times so they know it's covered. So worst case scenario, they could cut in before and after that section. And it's critical to know where you're going to try to cut in later, so that you don't just try to squeeze something in. You might know that if you have a total silence, of course you can cut in there. Or a very strong cord, boom, that punctuates a new section can mask the edit. So there's a great deal of editing in recordings, but not the way you think.

It's not about replacing missed notes, even though with digital technology it's almost to the point where you could do that. But you'll never get a fluid performance on a high level of expression and continuity trying to edit that way. You've got to be able to play the notes. It's just a time saver.

Think how many performances you'd have to do to get a perfect performance of a work that takes 20 or 30 minutes. You might miss one little thing here or there, and it's unfortunate a recording to have it, so editing could be extremely useful for capturing the best a performer has to offer, without completely wearing them out in the process.

I hope this has been enjoyable for you, and keep the questions coming in. Once again, Robert at livingpianos.com, your online piano store.
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Comments, Questions, Requests:

Hank * VSM MEMBER * on October 30, 2019 @11:24 am PST
Hey Robert,

I have found over the years that my favorite recordings are live performances. In the real world of performing, mistakes happen. We are not supercomputers. I consider a few missed notes as the “human factor” which, in an odd way, makes a performance truly live!!

Hank
reply
Robert Estrin on November 2, 2019 @1:10 pm PST
There is an element of spontaneity in live performance which is often times lacking in recordings. However, little slip-ups in live performance which are only momentary blips can be come annoying upon repeated listening. So, it is understandable that artists would prefer to enshrine accurate performances for posterity.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on October 26, 2019 @9:56 am PST
Thanks for your reply Robert. I think you're quite right! Decades ago
I recall listening on radio a riveting live performance by Glenn Gould
and the NY Philharmonice (Leonard Bernstein conducting) of the
Beethoven 4th piano concerto...it was an amazingly exhilirating
performance. Later they made a recording of the same piece,
which lacked that spirit altogether, though note perfect it was.
The broadcast version was exciting and inspired playing...where
as the recording was not. I made a tape recording of that broadcast and I would compare it to the later LP recording, which
convinced me that my judgment was not some trick or error of
memory.
reply
Robert Estrin on October 26, 2019 @3:03 pm PST
That's one reason why all the performances I have posted on YouTube are from live performances. However, with the right mindset, a recorded performance in a studio can by very spirited.
Tosh * VSM MEMBER * on October 23, 2019 @10:04 am PST
I suppose Glenn Gould would have been in favor of such editing.
Given that he was a committed technophile.
But I wonder about the great violinist, Jascha Heifetz, who was
recording even before tape recorders were developed.
reply
Robert Estrin on October 25, 2019 @5:13 pm PST
One reason I love listening to historical recordings of great musicians is that you hear complete performances with no editing since 78 RPM recording didn't allow for editing. As a result, you hear much more spontaneous interpretations than in most modern recordings which are carefully crafted to be note perfect.
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