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#1696770 - 06/17/11 01:20 AM Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality?
Skorpius Offline
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Registered: 10/17/08
Posts: 751
I had an interesting conversation with my teacher today. He told me that when he studied with Dame Myra Hess, she told him that she felt that virtuosos of the time, namely Horowitz, had ruined two generations of potential musicians because many tried too hard to be flashy and virtuostic like him...what is your opinion? Has "showing off" become a goal for many rather than making music?
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#1696780 - 06/17/11 01:44 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Mark_C Online   content
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19777
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Whatever the answer may be, IMO Horowitz isn't a good example, because he was much more than "virtuosity." He had a wide and infinitely-nuanced palette of touch and color, he played with great charm and wit -- and he did original and creative things, which admittedly many people regarded as unmusical. But in any event, he's a bad example if you want to talk about "virtuosity" at the expense of all else.

Anyway, forgetting about Horowitz, I think the answer to your basic question is "yes," there was such a movement. I think that more recently -- I'd say in the last two to three decades -- it has been significantly reversed.
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#1696785 - 06/17/11 01:54 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
fledgehog Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/09/11
Posts: 273
Loc: West Hartford, CT
yep. Not only is there a greater emphasis on technicality than musicality, the emphasis on musicality that still exists has become incredibly rigid, mechanical and conservative. Performances by the old Romantic masters like Horowitz, Rachmaninov, Cortot, etc...would probably get failing grades in modern-day conservatory juries.

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#1696786 - 06/17/11 01:56 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Mark_C Online   content
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19777
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(Notice that Fledgehog is putting Horowitz in the opposite category from what Skorpius said!) smile
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#1696794 - 06/17/11 02:10 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Mark_C]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5261
Loc: Europe
Originally Posted By: Mark_C
(Notice that Fledgehog is putting Horowitz in the opposite category from what Skorpius said!) smile
sshhhh... no one had noticed until you said so! :P

I think that our world is slowly (and I do mean slowly) becoming a shallower place... In every account. It appears to me that the values of today or very different of those in the 1960s... Not to mention that there is a very strong current to allienate people. The Internet has something to do and so does technology. You no longer need to have recitals, you can have a web cam and have many watch. You no longer need to go out to a studio, you can record yourself, or make it with a sampler. You no longer need to have a violinist, you can just use a computer. You no longer need to go out to the movies...

Sociality is declining, there's evidence of that in the pop world, as portraied bellow (both lovely):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x29l5eHHoXo

David Ford is great and lovely and he's using a looper to replicate whatever he's playing (like a canon perhaps), thus do music... on his own (and 1 single camera man).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPW6fKiilIc

UJAM. Sing on it and it will harmonize and orchestrate it in any style you want! With its own lovely instruments! No need to know about notes! No need to know about music. Although I would be curious to see how it deals with 12 tone stuff! laugh

_______________

On the opposite end, with technology we can avoid any difficult and technical stuff. We can simply keep recording them until we get the notes right... No hurry in making it faster.

And we don't even have to play them right:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFCjv4_jqAY

Melodyne DNA. Direct Note Access. Get a recording (Rachmaninov anyone?) and change the notes! THE NOTES! Sergey, missed a note? Not to worry... We'll fix it! Your student messed up? Not to worry too, the Spice Girls were fixing their voices, why not your student?

Darnit! I should've studied sociology along with composition! I'm SO interested in these stuff (not the technological stuff, the social stuff), but unable to grasp more than a mere of what's going on...
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#1696795 - 06/17/11 02:12 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Nikolas]
Mark_C Online   content
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Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19777
Loc: New York
Off the subject, but......speaking of what the world is becoming, I hope you and your family are OK.....I'm talking about what's going on over there in Greece.
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#1696800 - 06/17/11 02:24 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Nikolas Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/26/07
Posts: 5261
Loc: Europe
Well...

Health wise me and my immediate family are ok. Everyone else I know seems to be suffering though:
My sisters in law husband has a father. The father has a brain tumour and yesternight has a stroke.
Two of my friends are going to be married and with a child already on the way. both their fathers have cancer.
One of my students lost her mother due to cancer and last week her brother tried to kill himself (a doctor, btw. So he's very conscious of what he's doing, as you can understand).

Finance wise I'm doing VERY ok for a freelancer at this time. With 32 students (private and in a conservatory), and quite a few games and other things, it seems to be floating quite nicely. On the other hand my wife, an architect hasn't had a single job since last March (so more than a year and 1/4).

The country is in the ****... One of the main reasons is that nobody is willing to change their ways (which are part of why we're there in the first place, unlike Ireland, or Spain and Portugal and thus THEY got better terms in their financing), and noone, for good reason, has any trust to the politicians. The politicians, btw, are acting like shadow puppets I'm sorry to admit and they have no body, faith, or strong will in order to help. At least if they had strong will perhapst things would've been different, but right now?

Sorry for the rant. If a mod wants to move this and the above post in a new thread, by all means...

And thanks Mark! I appreciate your concern!
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#1696811 - 06/17/11 03:05 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Michael Glenn Williams Offline
Full Member

Registered: 10/05/08
Posts: 114
Loc: Southern California
I'm not sure anymore what is "flash" or "virtuosity" When there is clean fast playing it sounds good. However can't someone be a virtuoso of other aspects like layers of dynamics? or that not considered virtuosity? Recently passed Vitaly Margulis was such a master.

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#1696820 - 06/17/11 03:43 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
kevinb Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/09
Posts: 1565
Conspicuous virtuosity has been a problem (if that's the right term) since at least the start of the romantic era, and to a lesser extent since performances of art music became a public matter. The concert-going public liked, and still likes, displays of technical brilliance. In a way it's a bit like watching somebody doing cartwheels on a tightrope -- there's no particular reason to do it, but we're all amazed to see it done.

Understated virtuosity impresses me a whole lot more than the flashy kind. There are many pieces that I know from my own humble efforts are horribly difficult to play, and yet don't sound flashy. Nevertheless, they still require considerable skill to make a good performance of.

For better or worse, extravagent virtuosity is a phenomenon that I think we have to live with.



Edited by kevinb (06/17/11 03:43 AM)

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#1696841 - 06/17/11 05:25 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5118
'To become more than a virtuoso, first you must become a virtuoso' - Horowitz's advice to Murray Perahia, after which Perahia went on to play some repertoire not normally associated with him (Liszt transcriptions, Rachmaninoff etc), and developed a more powerful sound. Some people regretted that, but there's no doubt that he expanded his repertoire and tonal palette, even if it might have been responsible for his subsequent injury problems.

IMO, the separation of (technical) virtuosity from so-called 'musicality' is a red herring: pianists who weren't technically well-endowed (or maybe just didn't practised hard enough) used to hide behind such a cloak - that they were 'musicians' rather than 'virtuosos'. But the new generation of pianists have shown such people up - pianists who can play as brilliantly as Horowitz (with far fewer wrong notes) and also do introspection and slow beautiful stuff and phrase long lines like the best divas. Pianists with individuality. Pianists like Yuja Wang and Benjamin Grosvenor, for example (sticking to the under-25s).
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#1696860 - 06/17/11 06:51 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
pianoloverus Offline
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Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19342
Loc: New York City
IMO most of the great pianists(those included in the Phillips series Great Pianists of the 20th Century, for example) have been both great technicians and great musicians. And quite a few of those pianists are still playing or at least played during the recent years from 1985-2000.

Similarly, if one looks at the recent list a British music magazine published of the 20 greatest pianists since 1900(as voted on by great contemporary pianists)virtually all were great technicians and great musicians. I think virtually all the winners in recent years of the biggest competitions also fall in that category.


Edited by pianoloverus (06/17/11 01:38 PM)

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#1696868 - 06/17/11 07:33 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
debrucey Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/18/06
Posts: 2606
Loc: Manchester, UK
No it hasn't.

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#1696869 - 06/17/11 07:36 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Gerard12 Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 03/19/10
Posts: 757
Loc: South Carolina
It's a tough business. If certain pianists need to be more impressive than expressive in order to build a career, fill a venue, pay the bills, etc...... than so be it.

We - as listeners, consumers, whatever - have a choice whether we want to hear it or not.

We - as artists, musicians, teachers or students - are not going to accept
a lot of things that the general public (for lack of a better term) seems to embrace.

Without naming names, there seems to be a handful 'name' pianists in their 20's who have recording contracts whose playing sounds glossy, shallow and full of canned 'expression.' But that doesn't mean that they won't blossom into fully formed artists as time goes on.
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#1696870 - 06/17/11 07:43 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
bennevis Offline
5000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/14/10
Posts: 5118
Richter and Gilels were known as 'bangers' in their younger years, according to their teacher Neuhaus. What he meant was that they revelled in their virtuosity, and sometimes played fast and loud because they could. But as we all know, that doesn't preclude deep musicianship.

What's musicianship without the necessary technical equipment to bring your concept of the music to life? There're probably many great musicians who decided to become academics/teachers etc because they realized that they didn't possess a virtuoso technique. But they could pass on their wisdom to those that do, and thus enthrall audiences.
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"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."

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#1696893 - 06/17/11 08:53 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: pianoloverus]
Hank Drake Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/31/01
Posts: 1659
Loc: Cleveland, Ohio
Originally Posted By: pianoloverus
IMO most of the great pianists(those included in the Phillips series Great Pianists of the 20th Century, for example) have been great technicians and musicians.


What pianoloverus said. Ditto for several pianists who were inexuseably left out of that series, including Horszowski and Petri.

It's also worth noting that Dame Myra herself was quite a virtuosa in her prime.
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The composers want performers be imaginative, in the direction of their thinking--not just robots, who execute orders.
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#1696913 - 06/17/11 09:29 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Entheo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/04
Posts: 1114
Loc: chicago, il
Originally Posted By: Skorpius
I had an interesting conversation with my teacher today. He told me that when he studied with Dame Myra Hess, she told him that she felt that virtuosos of the time, namely Horowitz, had ruined two generations of potential musicians because many tried too hard to be flashy and virtuostic like him...what is your opinion? Has "showing off" become a goal for many rather than making music?


the 'ruining generations of pianists' by trying to be flashy and virtuostic started with criticisms of liszt.


Edited by Entheo (06/17/11 09:31 AM)
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#1696921 - 06/17/11 09:36 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
izaldu Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/18/08
Posts: 1250
Loc:
Yes it has , imho. Absolutely. The trend now is to have megafast fingers and not that much of a personal touch. No need to give names ... a "boring" virtuoso deserves as much respect as a genius interpreter

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#1696978 - 06/17/11 11:09 AM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
Kreisler Offline



Registered: 11/27/02
Posts: 13789
Loc: Iowa City, IA
Originally Posted By: Skorpius
I had an interesting conversation with my teacher today. He told me that when he studied with Dame Myra Hess, she told him that she felt that virtuosos of the time, namely Horowitz, had ruined two generations of potential musicians because many tried too hard to be flashy and virtuostic like him...what is your opinion? Has "showing off" become a goal for many rather than making music?


Showing off has been a goal for many since music was invented.

That being said, I do feel that many pianists today ignore a lot of great repertoire that isn't showy. We see it here on the forums - there's a tremendous amount of interest in Alkan for example. He's a great composer, but much of the interest is because of the virtuosic nature of his work. Compare that with how often Mompou is mentioned here. NEVER! And I suspect it's because although Mompou is a fascinating composer of extremely beautiful works, they're just not virtuosic enough to capture people's attention. Even with a single composer - lots of people seem to be interested in the Carl Vine sonatas, but few realize he's written several works for piano that are equally fascinating. (Red Blues, the Anne Landa Preludes, and the Bagatelles) But the sonata is the most virtuosic, so it gets all the attention.
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#1697022 - 06/17/11 12:36 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Kreisler]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19777
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Showing off has been a goal for many since music was invented....

Yes. Kevin said at least since the Romantic era, and maybe it took off then, but.....well at least in Mozart's opinion smile ...what about Clementi?

And I imagine that Bach, writing his serious music, felt many musicians of his time were just slick technical show-offs.

Although I'd bet Bach did his share of showing off with his Toccatas and whatnot himself.... smile
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#1697024 - 06/17/11 12:40 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
PaulaPiano34 Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/16/10
Posts: 1217
This topic reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"It's not virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity but virtuosity for the sake of the music," Evgeny Kissin

Oh and BTW, IMHO I think Lang Lang is a perfect example of virtuosity overshadowing musicality. Quite truly, his playing bores me. Yes, he has the fastest octaves and the fastest, clearest runs and the most accurate, fast hand crossings, but he doesn't say anything profound musically speaking...

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#1697034 - 06/17/11 01:01 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Kreisler]
Entheo Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/12/04
Posts: 1114
Loc: chicago, il
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
Compare that with how often Mompou is mentioned here. NEVER! And I suspect it's because although Mompou is a fascinating composer of extremely beautiful works, they're just not virtuosic enough to capture people's attention.


Kreisler, thanks for that tip -- i too was unaware of Mompou and after sampling a few YouTube offerings ordered a book of (some of?) his solo piano pieces.

i personally love beautifully understated pieces. i so loved some of the keith jarrett tunes on his 'dark intervals' album that i paid to have them transcribed.
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#1697044 - 06/17/11 01:14 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: PaulaPiano34]
fledgehog Offline
Full Member

Registered: 01/09/11
Posts: 273
Loc: West Hartford, CT
Originally Posted By: chobeethaninov
This topic reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

"It's not virtuosity for the sake of virtuosity but virtuosity for the sake of the music," Evgeny Kissin

Oh and BTW, IMHO I think Lang Lang is a perfect example of virtuosity overshadowing musicality. Quite truly, his playing bores me. Yes, he has the fastest octaves and the fastest, clearest runs and the most accurate, fast hand crossings, but he doesn't say anything profound musically speaking...


the first quote explains a lot about kissin's playing! :P I do truly enjoy many of his musical ideas (most of his Liszt is phenomenal), but there are MANY parts where I feel like he could benefit from slowing down a little.

As for Lang Lang...he's more of a circus act than a pianist. I don't find his musical ideas boring, I find them disgusting.

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#1697078 - 06/17/11 02:18 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
gooddog Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/08/08
Posts: 4794
Loc: Seattle area, WA
I think it has. In my experience listening to several recitals by up and coming, professionally competing artists, I was very disappointed to hear thundering volume, blinding speed, fabulous technique and little or no musicality. My ears were ringing and I couldn't wait to leave.

On the other hand, it was interesting to read the NY Times article about the Van Cliburn amateur competition. It said the amateur artists took risks, made changes and played their hearts out. There was plenty of musicality there. I suspect the professional competition circuit makes pianists fearful to take risks because they are playing for the juries not from their hearts.
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#1697115 - 06/17/11 03:31 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: fledgehog]
wr Offline
7000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/23/07
Posts: 7840
Originally Posted By: fledgehog
yep. Not only is there a greater emphasis on technicality than musicality, the emphasis on musicality that still exists has become incredibly rigid, mechanical and conservative. Performances by the old Romantic masters like Horowitz, Rachmaninov, Cortot, etc...would probably get failing grades in modern-day conservatory juries.


I believe I am remembering this correctly - Arrau thought that Horowitz and Rachmaninov were deplorably shallow musicians, back when they first became famous. Although I don't agree, I can understand why he might think so.

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#1697120 - 06/17/11 03:46 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: gooddog]
Mark_C Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/11/09
Posts: 19777
Loc: New York
Originally Posted By: gooddog
....it was interesting to read the NY Times article about the Van Cliburn amateur competition. It said the amateur artists took risks, made changes and played their hearts out. There was plenty of musicality there. I suspect the professional competition circuit makes pianists fearful to take risks because they are playing for the juries not from their hearts.

Yes, but IMO with a "but." smile

As one of the competitors, of course I loved seeing that. But at least in some instances, I think the writer was being kind to us amateurs. I think some of the praised instances were actually more the performers' crude insensitivity to what sounds were coming out, a limited ability to modulate dynamics, and contrived rhythms.

While I'm sure that some of us take more good "risks" and feel more freedom to do things differently, I think that with a few wonderful exceptions (and I count our member Ken Iisaka among them), stuff like what was in that article is way overstated, and that some of the perceived admirable risks aren't what they might seem to be.
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#1697144 - 06/17/11 04:44 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: gooddog]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19342
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: gooddog

On the other hand, it was interesting to read the NY Times article about the Van Cliburn amateur competition. It said the amateur artists took risks, made changes and played their hearts out. There was plenty of musicality there. I suspect the professional competition circuit makes pianists fearful to take risks because they are playing for the juries not from their hearts.
I didn't read the NY Times article, but if that summary is correct I don't particlarly agree . IMO the biggest risk that many of the amateurs took was playing works that were not quite within (or sometimes very far from)what they could handle technically...hence the numerous breakdowns from many performers. There is nothing particularly admirable in taking a risk like that. Makng some minor changes to the score doesn't require much or count for much. If the reviewer was talking about the pianist who changed the Goldberg Variations on the last page, I don't see anything particularly astonishing about doing that.

I think the "taking risks" phrase is often used to mean "they chose a far from the norm and often unjustified interpretation". I think those playing in a competition for professionals are taking a much bigger risk in a different sense...their careers are quite dependent on the results.

While I think it's probably true that in a professional competition the performers might not have as much "freedom" as in an amateur competition, I don't think that it in any way follows that the performances in an amateur competition are more musical.

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#1697151 - 06/17/11 04:54 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
musica71 Offline
Full Member

Registered: 04/04/08
Posts: 424
Loc: Bend, Or.
Yes...The answer is yes! So many times in the M.T.N.A Auditions we heard kids that were technicians, playing things well beyond their years... and they were burned out in a couple of years. Some teachers get ahold of a gifted student and run them into the ground, don't give them time to develop musically and with a love of MUSIC, Just crash around and show off!
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#1697152 - 06/17/11 04:56 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Mark_C]
stores Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/09
Posts: 6646
Loc: Here, as opposed to there
Originally Posted By: Mark_C


Although I'd bet Bach did his share of showing off with his Toccatas and whatnot himself.... smile


Bach, was indeed a show-off. He was given to boasting that he could play any music at sight, no matter how technically difficult or densely scored.
_________________________

"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

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#1697155 - 06/17/11 04:57 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Skorpius]
stores Offline
6000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/28/09
Posts: 6646
Loc: Here, as opposed to there
Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality?

See, Lang Lang.
_________________________

"And if we look at the works of J.S. Bach — a benevolent god to which all musicians should offer a prayer to defend themselves against mediocrity... -Debussy

"It's ok if you disagree with me. I can't force you to be right."

♪ ≠ $


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#1697176 - 06/17/11 05:29 PM Re: Has virtuosity overshadowed musicality? [Re: Kreisler]
pianoloverus Offline
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/29/01
Posts: 19342
Loc: New York City
Originally Posted By: Kreisler
That being said, I do feel that many pianists today ignore a lot of great repertoire that isn't showy. We see it here on the forums - there's a tremendous amount of interest in Alkan for example. He's a great composer, but much of the interest is because of the virtuosic nature of his work. Compare that with how often Mompou is mentioned here. NEVER! And I suspect it's because although Mompou is a fascinating composer of extremely beautiful works, they're just not virtuosic enough to capture people's attention.


For those not that familiar with Mompou, I will use this post as an excuse to post a few of my favorites among his works:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9gCquIhX20w
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LVUIqMvcHlQ&feature=related
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esLN64KKo7o
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNNYEz600ns

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Has anyone tried out wireless USB hubs for software pianos?
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What books do you use for teaching beginners?
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Help buying digital piano for my son
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Headphone impedance for DP90se
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