My first major project using the GNU Lilypond music typesetting software was to re-typeset the piano piece Le Chemin de Fer (The Rail) by Charles-Valentin Alkan. I had seen performances of this fun and ridiculously fast piece on YouTube and tried learning it myself.
Part of the motivation was to create a MIDI file to play it at Alkan’s insane indicated tempo of 112 to the half note, which equates to the right hand playing continuous scales and arpeggios at a rate of nearly 15 notes per second.
I had retrieved a PDF file of the M. R. Braun edition from here. It’s a fancy, historic typeset of this piece. I decided to see how close to identical I could get with Lilypond. It’s not perfect but I can’t imagine getting any closer with other typesetting software. Some of the challenges included:
The LilyPond file is organized into 20 sections, 10 for the left hand and 10 for the right.
The MIDI file is automatically generated when LilyPond is run.
You can play the MIDI file in your browser using the tools from www.midijs.net. The speed is indeed ridiculous.
The final PDF file!
Watch an unbelievable performance of the piece. There are a surprising number of good performances on YouTube, plus many MIDI renditions.