The Piano As a Tool

Why is it not fussiness or affectation for a pianist to try to assure that he or she has the finest piano in the finest condition for each performance? Because the piano is, with regard to the performance, simply a tool. If the tool is faulty the performance will be damaged.

A piano tuner wouldn’t by choice use poor tools. If the socket on the tuning hammer were made of inferior metal, so that it soon wore out and slipped on the tuning pins, it would be useless for tuning; or if usable, it would waste effort. Would it be fussiness or affectation—or arrogance—for the technician to insist on a good tuning hammer? Would it be a statement that the tuner thought himself or herself better than other tuners? No! It would simply mean that he or she wanted to produce the best possible work for the pianist and audience.

Even with a defective tuning hammer, the tuning might get done acceptably—eventually. But musical performance allows no delays, no second tries; otherwise one gets what one does so often get: a routine experience; just another piano recital. But routine is not why people go to concerts; they go to be moved, to be exalted, to have life itself illuminated by great art. If one isn’t at least attempting to do this, one has no business playing the great works.

No performer can guarantee to play a great recital. But it’s hard enough to make music even on a perfect piano. Any imperfection in voicing, regulation or anything else–or in the fundamental sound quality of the instrument–makes it that much harder, that much more likely that one will not reach the heights.

Attempting to assure a perfect instrument is not an arrogant statement that one is oneself perfect; it’s a way of making up a bit for one’s own imperfections. A way of putting oneself on the spot. “Well, you’ve got a perfect piano,” you are saying to yourself. “You have only yourself to blame if the performance isn’t good.”

Of course most recitals are played on pianos in far from excellent condition, but that doesn’t mean this situation is desirable. The pianist who works actively to have the best possible instrument in the best possible condition is showing an ethical responsibility to the composer, the audience—and the music.[end of post]

Copyright © James Boyk 2015. All rights reserved.
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