Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In the old days--the really old days, say 150 years ago--there was a real piano-teaching industry. This has been wonderfully described in the very readable Men, Women and Pianos: A Social History by Arthur Loesser. In the mid-1950's, when the book was written, people seemed to be losing interest in the piano and Loesser forecasts its demise.

We are clearly in a new era of piano fascination. But I fear that in our time people are relishing the technological aspects of the instrument rather than its magical sound. Modern recording and playback techniques have helped legitimatize the surface of the sound. Students are encouraged to play without pedal until they are "ready" and then to keep the unique resonance of the instrument under strict control. People are afraid to make a mess. But I am convinced that it was this very "mess" that has fascinated listeners since the day of the instrument's invention and that continues to inspire composition -- and, incidentally, to defy electronic synthesis.