It is easy to forget, with youtube and downloadable recordings, how hard it was to hear from the source in earlier days. I was having a discussion about the wonders of youtube for learning music just the other day with a colleague. I said that the course of my life would likely have been radically altered if we had access like that back in "my day". This really isn't an exaggeration, but it is a source of reflection and wonder to me -
In Debussy's day, the start of the 20th century, recording devices on wax and other earlyy "records" were not great, but they did have piano rolls. This was a system where people played the piano, and the hammers, as well as sounding the notes, punched holes in a long roll of paper scrolling by at a consistent speed. Remarkable, accurate, cool.
Player pianos were common, and as well as playing normally, you could insert a copy of the roll made by the artist in the player piano, and have the piano play itself from the roll of paper and its holes. Many famous artists used this to try to record what they were doing.
Today a student (thanks Sofia) sent me a most excellent youtube video of a piano roll playing that was recorded by Debussy, of him playing his marvelous Clair de Lune. It definitely opened my ears!