Why are modern pianists so boring?

Why are pianists today so boring? The stilted way they often dress, the seriousness of performance, and even the way the whole pianist community or subculture works, is out of date. Why are pianists no longer the stars of the art scene – why does it even sound odd to suggest that they once were? What has changed? Here is an old, but great article by Martin Kettle in the Guardian, recently unearthed by my classical pianist sister who now spends more and more time on experimental music, exasperated by her own “tribe”:

“The days in which every middle-class home, and many working-class ones too, contained an upright piano – and at least one person people who could play it a little – have not been completely erased from memory. But they are fading fast. The gramophone, the radio and above all the television long ago replaced the piano as the focus and main source of home entertainment. It will never reclaim that place.

The piano’s fall from eminence has been accompanied by a falling-off in the replenishment of the piano repertoire. As in all other music, composers have gone in other directions. Who, since, let’s say, Shostakovich (and even this is stretching a point), has written piano music that genuinely holds its place in the recital repertoire? Certainly, few composers any longer write music that amateurs are able to play (not that many amateurs could ever play much Chopin); or (more importantly) that amateurs want to play, even in simplified editions.

In this context, it is hardly surprising that the piano recital itself should have begun to wither too. The recital has undoubtedly become a less mainstream part of musical life. There are fewer of them. They are not such big events in either box-office or artistic terms. Of course, there are exceptions. There always are. But we are kidding ourselves if we pretend that nothing has changed.”

Martin Kettle, The Guardian, 5 Sept 2002, Why are modern concert mathematicians so boring?


Categories: The Idle Ethnographer

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2 replies »

  1. “Who, since, let’s say, Shostakovich (and even this is stretching a point), has written piano music that genuinely holds its place in the recital repertoire?”

    There’s György Ligeti, whose Études for piano are frequently played at piano competitions and have been recorded several times.

  2. Also, how relevant are recitals at a time when most people listen only to recorded music? And aren’t, say, Keith Jarrett and Michael Wollny pianists?

    Perhaps the issue here isn’t piano per se, but the whole social structure known as classical music.

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