Pianist's Hidden Identities
November 7, 2010 5:16 AM   Subscribe

Classical pianists tend to be identified by their favorite repertoire. Thus, Murray Perahia got stamped as a Mozart and Schumann pianist in his early career, and people raised their eyebrows when he embarked on Liszt and other heavy repertoire. And Rudolf Serkin is today perhaps known best for his Beethoven, and not for the Chopin etudes he played in his earlier years. Searching for something totally else, I stumbled upon a few private recordings by Clara Haskil

Haskil is famous because of her sad life story but primarily, among music lovers, through her recordings: Mozart's Violin Sonatas together with Arthur Grumiaux; Schumann's Piano Concerto, or his Abegg Variations, for example. In other words, the gentler works of the Classical and Romantic canon. So here's how her Liszt sounds, and her Rachmaninoff.
posted by Namlit (5 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
When I play recordings from this era (or the 1940s or 50s for that matter) for young concert pianists of today, they are interested, but dismissive. "No one would play like that today. It just sounds old!" Why? What has changed so much?
posted by Faze at 7:14 AM on November 7, 2010

Fantastic post, thank you. Her clarity is just incredible - I can't stop listening to these selections. The Liszt in particular is killing me - total mastery, undetectable ego.
posted by facetious at 7:52 AM on November 7, 2010

I don't listen to huges swaths of solo piano music regularly, but Perahia's Goldberg Variations are as near-perfect as I can imagine, and one of my most-listened albums. Pollini's late Beethoven sonatas, likewise, seem to be the platonic essence of the music, distilled out onto disc somehow.

...and there are, I'm sure, vast numbers of people who consider both of them to be absolute rubbish and a complete betrayal of the music.
posted by Wolfdog at 8:38 AM on November 7, 2010

What has changed so much?

What you generally hear is that 'modern' pianists play more unified and take fewer risks in terms of interpretation, and emotionality than the 'old' ones.
I've recently heard a seminar where the very learned lecturer vaguely blamed "conservatoire culture" for this alleged unification of performing styles, which is, to me, a bit of a stretch: that culture embraces the entire 19th century too, and is behind some of the most idiosyncratic manners of piano playing you can find (think of Cortot, for example).
This old-new contrast may all have been a factor when you compared, in the 80s or so, Ashkenazy's Beethoven to Schnabel's, Pollini's Chopin to Cortot's, or Argerich's Prokofiev to Prokofiev's. Listening to the latest generation of pianists, as of the recent Chopin competition (which is all over youtube), for example, I cannot even say I see that sort of difference between old and new any more. Some of these people are taking enormous emotional risks and seem to me much less middle-of-the-roady text adherent than the born in the 1930s-1940s-generation of performers.

Statements like "it sounds just old" may very well be caused by a need to position oneself at an early stage of one's musical development. (Similar mechanisms of motivation apply to the "rubbish" and "betrayal" apologists in musical performance. It seems very difficult not to think that someone who plays in an unexpected way is 'bad' somehow. Worth trying to avoid that reflex)
posted by Namlit at 8:58 AM on November 7, 2010

A very young Maurizio Pollini

Of course, it's all a matter of subjective preference; all of these people have gifts form the gods. One of life's gifts is to experience what they have to give.
posted by Vibrissae at 9:11 PM on November 7, 2010

« Older Whereof we cannot speak   |   If Henry Rollins thinks you have too many tattoos... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments