Music and Vision homepage

Provocative thoughts from Patric Standford

Getting Physical

It was quite natural for we panel members, listening to student audition recitals, instrumentalists in a bid to achieve graduation or diploma or impress us for some other good cause, to exchange quiet comments about phrasing, touch and fingering, interpretation, musical understanding or the lack of it, technical facility -- all those matters which in such a situation one is bound to observe. But one topic for comment that invariably arose during these sessions was the manner in which an instrumentalist would endeavour to persuade listeners of the depth of sincerity and passion in their playing, demonstrated through a repertoire of physical convulsions and contortions, spasms, shudders and tremors, suitably adapted not only to the assumed requirements of the music, but also to the construction and character of their instrument.

Pianists were often the most demonstrative in the cause of emotional fervour. Their elbows would frequently be a substitute for a rise and fall of dynamics and an elongation of phrases upon which they had inflicted a merciless rubato. One free hand might coax the other into delicate obedience, and both hands could be thrown into the air to affirm the bravura ending, remaining poised above the head, impressively statuesque had the player not been seated -- though some momentarily parted from that resting place too if the paroxysm had been particularly severe.

Violinists would wrestle an invisible tormentor set upon tearing the instrument from them, flinging wide the bow arm or almost touching the floor with the scroll. Cellists from their static confinement throw their heads from side to side, scowl and grimace as their sensitive fingertips suffer the searing agony of the white hot strings and, like their violinist colleagues, occasionally stamp a forceful foot.

The monopoly they hold over the music's passion leaves nothing much for we listeners to bother experiencing. Unseen, perhaps their performances are like any other, no more or less impressive, but in the concert hall they will be heroes for audiences that, jaded by the noise made by this too often played musical inventory, like to see it all choreographed with spectacular 'expression'.

Perhaps there is a school for instrumentalists teaching 'passionate performance movement', though not one of great interest to less mobile instrumentalists, for a French horn or guitar must just play -- or for a really great performer on any instrument, who does not need any such histrionics to connect us to the composer.

Copyright © 30 August 2007 Patric Standford, Wakefield UK


From: Gordon Rumson


Just read today's article and I agree 1,000 percent.

Just moments before I'd watched a Youtube example of such a pianist. I felt seasick.

A year ago, I watched the repulsive spectacle of a pianist who managed, with his ridiculous gestures, to throw himself off the piano bench!!! At various points his left leg was lifted to the level of the keyboard!

Sadly, he was not doing a comedy routine, but there is no possible way to take such a fellow seriously.

Would that these pianists could see themselves as others see them.




 << Music & Vision home                 Elgar and England >>