Sunday, September 7, 2014

Touch: A Thing of the Pianistic Past?

As more and more people form their impressions of music from recordings it becomes harder and harder to make a case for touch as a fundamental conveyor of musical meaning.  Very few recording producers have any notion of how central this is to piano music.

Touch was very beautifully identified as the most alive of all the senses in an op-ed piece in the New York Times of Sunday August 31.  The author, a philosophy professor at Boston University, bemoans the replacement of human touch, that most sensitive event, with touchscreen, its exact opposite. 

In order to cultivate touch there must be sound differentials, many of which, once innate to the piano, are being engineered out of piano design.  Take the difference between white and black key leverage, therefore resonance.  It was some ingenious Frenchman who got the idea that all five fingers should sound alike, whence probably came the notion that all keys should sound alike, whence came the inability to hear slight differences between tone qualities associated with leverage, with position of the finger on the key, etc. 

These are not things that only advanced pianists hear and use.  In fact, many so-called advanced players have such firmly equalified techniques that they can no longer hear tiny differentials in the sounds they make.  But children hear the differences and are fascinated by them, as who wouldn't be if given the chance to relish them?

Sorry, folks, commercial recordings just aren't up to the task.