In A Pianist's Landscape, Carol Montparker quotes Martha Argerich as saying, "I love to play the piano, but I hate being a pianist." Alone onstage and performing from memory, a piano soloist probably has the loneliest, most nerve-racking job in music. Boris Berman's Notes From the Pianist's Bench offers an illuminating program of technical tips culminating in advice on what he calls the "technique of the soul," a method of consciously learning a series of emotional responses that reliably situate the performer inside the spirit of a piece. Drawing on Stanislavsky's theories of acting, Berman explains that "during the emotional high of an inspired performance a pianist should never cease listening to an objective inner monitor that guided him through hours of preparatory work."
One contemporary pianist famous for listening to his inner monitor is Alfred Brendel. In his recently published conversations with Martin Meyer, Me of All People, translated from the German by Richard Stokes, Brendel recalls the enviable confidence of his early career: "I went on stage, played and did not realize what fear was." The main challenge, he says, lies in balancing fidelity to the work itself with personality and spontaneity. When things go well, "one has the impression that the work is playing itself." And, according to Charles Rosen's Piano Notes, a good performance occurs not in spite of technical trials but sometimes even because of them: "There has to be a genuine love simply of the mechanics and difficulties of playing, a physical need for contact with the keyboard, a love and a need which may be connected with a love of music but are not by any means totally coincident with it."
"Music is not just sound or even significant sound.... There has to be a genuine love simply of the mechanics and difficulties of playing, a physical need for the contact with the keyboard," writes Rosen, a concert pianist, music critic and National Book Award winner (for 1970's The Classical Style: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven). He explores those mechanics, difficulties and more in this thoughtful and wide-reaching blend of history, homage and memoir. In a slightly uptight but obviously learned manner, the author explains the various elements that the piano-playing experience entails, from a child's understanding of the fingering for a C major scale to an accomplished concert pianist's position on her stool. Rosen is mainly concerned with the physicalities of playing the instrument, and he takes readers from concert halls, discussing the order of pieces to be performed lest a pianist follow a work in E-flat major by one in D major to the recording studio, examining the facility with which one can splice piano music. Although nearly all of Rosen's examples are from the music of Bach, Debussy, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann and other classical musicians which may alienate readers who play jazz or popular piano his musings are indeed modern; he ponders what will become of the "dinosaur"-like piano in the 22nd century and addresses the problems of performing in a country where piano concerts are only de rigueur in large cities. Filled with trivia and thought-provoking commentary, Rosen's book is a sometimes dense, but important, study of the physical factors involved in tickling the ivories. (Nov. 6) Forecast: Piano tuners, teachers and budding and professional concert pianists are the most appropriate audience for this, and they'll recognize Rosen's name. The book is most likely too serious for some casual piano players. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Seven essays on how a pianist relates to music, instrument, and performance (through both body and soul), from National Book Award-winner and pianist Rosen (Romantic Poets, Critics, and Other Madmen, 1998, etc.). Piano hasn't just been the preeminent area for musical experimentation over the past 250 years, writes Rosen, the place where Beethoven developed his sonatas, Gesualdo his madrigals, Debussy his radical harmonies. It's also an instrument that requires a major injection of the body: think of those parallel octaves, as much sport as art. Rosen witheringly deflates the stiffs who think the body is morally inferior to the ethereal mind, revealing the pianist's "inexplicable and almost fetishistic need for physical contact with the combination of metal, wood, and ivory." It is absurd, he says, to take the body out of the equation; one need only think of improvisation, or the process of learning difficult technical passages. Non-musician readers may not feel the full impact of Rosen's words, and may wilt at the pages of notation, but they can feast on his tour of the piano's architecture and his story of all that can go wrong with the instrument during a performance, or his journey through the styles of composers from Bach to Boulez. Rosen discusses the importance of public performance ("a chance to bring a work of music into something approaching its ideal objective existence," with audience conveying the objective factor); his fear that "the music school and the piano competition tend to hinder the direct and experimental approach" by favoring routine over individual eccentricity; and a disadvantage of recorded music, namely that "the intense concentration that the art of musicsometimes requires has become harder to command" when the listener can wander off to get a glass of beer. Lively exegetical writing, particularly for laypeople, even if trying to make known the sheer physical pleasure of playing is akin to explaining the sensation of color without recourse to sight.
The New York Review of Books If your shelves have room for one volume about the piano from glory to decline, Piano Notes is the book of choice.
The New York Times A fascinating analysis of a performer's relationship to his instrument.
The Economist Rosen brings all of his experience as one of the most intellectually rigorous pianists and brilliant music historians alive today to this wide-ranging and approachable book.
American Record Guide A gold mine of experience and wisdom.