That a recording exists of the voice of Tchaikovsky tantalizes the imagination. If there is a Tchaikovsky recording on an Edison cylinder, might there not also be, hidden away in a dusty shoebox in an attic somewhere, another cylinder with Liszt at the piano? It’s not outside the realm of possibility. After all Liszt lived for almost nine years after Edison invented the phonograph. In the absence of that mythical cylinder, however, we can still enjoy some rare footage, both audio and video, of famous 20th-century composers, both on stage and at home. Rachmaninoff charms the audience in one film with his gruff good humor, while Toscanini and Walter commiserate in another.
Hear Sergey Prokofiev play one of the waltzes in his ballet Cinderella and speak about what he was working on at the time of the interview (1946) :
Translation from YT:
Prokofiev is being asked: “Sergei Sergeevich, maybe you will tell our viewers about your work?” He replies: “Well, right now I am working on a symphonic suite of waltzes, which will include three waltzes from Cinderella, two waltzes from War and Peace and one waltz from the movie score Lermontov. The War and Peace has just been brilliantly produced in Leningrad, where the composer Cheshko made an especially noteworthy appearance as a tenor, giving a superb performance in the role of Pierre Bezukhov. Besides this suite, I am working on a sonata for violin and piano [No. 1 in F minor], upon completion of which I will resume work on the Sixth Symphony, which I had started last year. I have just completed thre suites from the Cinderella ballet and I am now turning the score over to copyists for writing the parts, so that most likely the suites will already be performed at the beginning of the fall season.”
Even in silent film excerpts, the power and raw personal magnetism of such personalities as Camille Saint-Saëns and Gabriel Faure are plainly evident. Certain performances of famous works by their composers shatter the myth of “standard performances,” such as Widor’s playing of his famous Toccata at a much slower tempo than expected. These 14 film excerpts listed on cmuse.org are amazing to watch and will give viewers another perspective on 20th-century composers and their music.