Lately, I have been on a "films about music" kick. I just watched Ingrid Bergman and Leslie Howard in "Intermezzo." It's an odd film, about a philandering violinist, though the best part is probably simply seeing the sparkling Bergman prior to the dominating screen presence she would later become. But in this film, as in most with a music performance, there's awkward moments when music is actually played, since Bergman (a pianist in the film) can't perform most what her character plays. Usually in these films, the camera takes an angle that avoids viewing the hands as the music is heard, performed by someone else.
Now consider a newly released Medici Arts DVD (3078048, distributed by Naxos) that concerns a professional pianist. It is a video of pianist Alexis Weissenberg playing Stravinsky's "Petrushka" in an arrangement along with Chopin, Prokofiev, Brahms and more, all from European TV broadcasts in the 1960s. But the neat thing is not the Bulgarian-born pianist's playing, which is spirited, but the filming by Ake Falck: Falck filmed Weissenberg "pretending" to play the piano!
Here is how it worked, according to the press materials:
"The shooting took 10 days and required a special 'silent' piano be built; Weissenberg performed in sync with a playback of his actual performance, while he listened through loudspeakers set at a distance from him."
Essentially, this is similar to the pervasive practice in movie musicals of recording singers in the studio and then having them lip-sync to that audio during the filming. The idea was that you would get better audio and more appealing images. But with a pianist, it just seems odd. And, while it is fascinating to watch as an oddity, it still didn't solve the problem. The audio isn't great and Weissenberg never gets completely in sync with the music -- how could he, with the speed of some of it!
I am sure that CGI has changed things, but the DVD offers one older, yet intriguing solution to the problem of filming music.