I would say talent has much to do with "sensitivity." Some artists are more sensitive. They feel music more intensely and therefore can express it more expressively.
Then, perhaps, it's the combination of extra sensitivity plus hard-won technique that makes the great instrumentalist. Those who "make the instrument sing."
Sensitivity would be far more important than technique since many pieces do not require great technique but all require sensitivity as a prerequisite to excellent expression.
That hits the nail on the head for me. Dave Horne, I loved your link - must break out my Pinker. This made me laugh - 'Take that, Howard Gardner!'
Could it be that "feeling the music more intensely" possibly accounts for some people naturally practicing more/working harder to master their instrument than others because they are getting some type of positive internal feedback that many don't? Could what appears to be self-discipline actually be, in some cases anyway, something of a "runners' high" sort of situation?
Little Blue Engine,
You make a really good point. That is, practicing more because you feel the music more intensely than most. Or, you're getting a "pay back" that most pianists can't experience. Stimulas/response, the more the stimulas the greater the response which leads to more practicing. I wonder also if, perhaps, this great amount of practicing helps to sharpen the pianist's superior sensitivities even more? You get what you pay for kind of thing.
This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings: "Everything has a price." Surely talent can be nurtured by lots of, willing, practice.
How much of a person's ability is due to natural talent and how much of it is due to the willingness to do whatever it takes? A tough question. No doubt it's a combination of these two things. As we know, the "work ethic" of people varies tremendously. Yet, so does the natural talent.