Never play Debussy without a page turner

Never play Debussy without a page turner


norman lebrecht

January 31, 2016

Here’s why.

Maria Szwajger-Kułakowska

The pianist is Maria Szwajger-Kulakowska, a legendary figure in Polish chamber music; the violinist is Patrycja Piekutowska. The venue: Lancut Music Festival.


  • Anmarie says:

    Thanks, NL!

    A world without page turner mishaps would be a sorry place,.

  • Ann Goldberg says:

    Thanks, NL.

    Life would be a sad story without page turner mishaps!

  • David Rudge says:

    Simply buying the music would have helped too.

    • Tom says:

      Who says she hasn’t bought the music? I always play from photocopies because I don’t want to write in my books, and sometimes it is easier to have 4 pages on the piano and sliding one to see page 5 than having only 2 pages and having to turn twice.

      • SVM says:

        An unmarked book is a sign of an unpractised piece! As long as you mark up your score in pencil and not too heavily, you can always erase it later.

        Where a work or the typographical arrangement thereof is still in copyright, photocopying the *entire* work for ease of page-turning is likely to be illegal, even if the publisher is signed up to the MPA Code of Fair Practice. Permission 2 of the Code reads as follows:

        “Performance Difficulties: A performer who possesses a piece of music and who needs for his personal use a second copy of a page of the work for ease of performance due to a difficult page-turn, may make one copy of the relevant part for that purpose without any application to the copyright owner. Copying whole movements, or whole works is expressly forbidden under this section. When such a work has been hired, the copy made must be returned with the other hire material after the performance. Each copy must be marked with the following: ‘Copy made with permission’”

        Source: [accessed 31/01/2016]

        • Ryan says:

          Get off your high horse. If she wants to photocopy the whole piece, it’s no big deal. Maybe she got it from IMSLP.

          • Nhat-Viet Phi says:

            Indeed. Laws are one thing, but I would prefer to think that if you can’t prove revenue was lost, you’re just wasting valuable time and oxygen. PARTICULARLY if a legal original is also at the piano or somewhere in the building.

            (P.S. user of iPad + AirTurn)

  • Robert Hairgrove says:

    There’s actually a fairly simple solution here: when I have to play from a copied score, I also tape the pages together in similar “accordion” style. One merely needs to fasten the last page to the edge of the music stand somehow. I always use a clothes-pin which seems to do the job quite well. I even played things like Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” sonata and the Schumann Piano Quintet like that and got away with it!

    “Buy the music” … well, I always DO buy it, but if the page turns are not adequate, I generally copy the score anyway and rearrange the score (usually by scanning it into the computer and rearranging the staves in a graphics program and then printing it out again).

  • Gerald Elias says:

    …or you could memorize it.

    • Brian B says:

      There is audio of Stokowski rehearsing the Dvorak 9th with the ASO. A violinist apparently started laughing because she missed a page turn and Stokie saw it. He stops the orchestra and just laces into her when she explains. “Haha. What a funny page. That is not the proper spirit. You are not being serious (or words to that effect).You can surely memorize it there.” Didn’t yell, mind you. But he is absolutely withering. She must have wanted to sink through the floor.

    • MSW says:

      Surely you jest; no one performs chamber music from memory, excepting possibly groups that have performed the same work countless times together with the exact same personnel and they can absolutely count on each other. The music is there to help bail out problems, including those sometimes caused by other people, and to avoid another, even bigger disaster.

    • Dan P. says:

      Exactly. There is no real reason to need the music during the performance unless one doesn’t really know the piece well enough. In my experience, staring at the page decreases one’s ability to focus on what everyone else is doing and that decreases the ability to respond to the changes in nuances that invariably happen during each performance. I just find it regrettable that more musicians don’t take the time to learn a piece well enough so that they inhabit the music rather than just reproduce it.

      • Robert Hairgrove says:

        @Dan P: “Exactly. There is no real reason to need the music during the performance unless one doesn’t really know the piece well enough.”

        Would you care to expand a bit on what you believe is “well enough”?

      • Robert Hairgrove says:

        Many famous artists are known to have played chamber music and accompaniments by memory: Rudolf Serkin and Vladimir Horowitz are two that come to mind. There are others who always use (or used) the score even in solo work: Svialtoslav Richter and Leon Fleisher, for example. I would never accuse either of those artists of not knowing the score “well enough”.

        I think it all depends on what the artist is most comfortable with and is able to serve the music best. Memorization requires a certain kind of concentration during the performance which I think is detrimental to accompanying. Not having to worry about forgetting frees up the attention to concentrate on what the soloist is doing. For the soloist, it might make more sense to memorize the score. But if the accompanist plays by memory, and the soloist doesn’t, wouldn’t that be a little strange?

  • paula forrest says:

    Or put it in a binder!! This was worthy of Victor Borge.

  • Nancy Bloomer Deussen says:

    This is simply hilarious. Having a page turner isn’t necessarily the best solution though as I have had a page turner turn two pages, turn too late or too early. Piano music is a difficult problem because we have fewer periods of multi rests than other instruments and we play most of the time-especially in chamber music.

  • Tyr says:

    That’s what happens when you print music on toilet paper.

  • The Photocopy Professor says:

    Learn to make two-sided copies. Not hard. Really! Save the environment and your sanity.

  • James the Pianist says:

    I am a pianist from the USA and have never understood Europeans’ aversion to putting music in a binder. Especially for outdoor performances at piazzas in Italy, etc. The wind ALWAYS gets the music when human mishaps don’t!