Why Must Pianists Play from Memory?

Started by Scott, April 20, 2007, 02:37:49 AM

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Sometimes playing with score can be harder than playing without one.



Quote from: Drasko on February 27, 2009, 01:17:17 PM
Sometimes playing with score can be harder than playing without one.


I went to a Stockhausen recital recently and thought at the time that that must be a hard page-turning gig.

Durch alle Töne tönet
Im bunten Erdentraum
Ein leiser Ton gezogen
Für den der heimlich lauschet.



Quote from: jlaurson on February 27, 2009, 12:51:15 PM
The "Problem" of score/no-score is almost entirely a psychological one.

The symbolic value of playing from memory indicates complete mastery.

That's not actually true, but it's a reasonable assumption and so far, so good.

But from that has developed a faulty inference that _not_ playing from memory means _not_ having complete mastery.

What audiences mind is not the use of the score, per se, but the association with the use of a score... which is, quite frankly, a second rate performance.

This is reinforced by the fact that most of the performances that do use a score actually _are_ second rate, since everyone who doesn't have to use a score won't... and since the first rate performers have--grudingly or not--learned to learn/play things by heart.

It's a social dynamic that's difficult to break, not unlike the "no clapping between movements" rule. If we knew that everyone clapping after the first movement of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto were music critics/connoisseurs who, aware of there being three movements and aware of conventions, wanted to express their particular approval of that movement, we'd be perfectly happy with it and maybe even join in.

Since clapping after the first movement of the Tchaik PC, no matter how much the music screams for applause, is a sign of ignorance, noobism, we look upon them with disdain and hush them into the ground.

Same with the score/no score. We expect (and often get) mediocrity--and the only way to break out of that is through being made conscious of the irrelevance of performing with or without score, as long as the interpretation is sufficiently good.

What would help? If Maurizio Pollini performed with a score. If Murray Perahia performed with a score. If M.A.Hamelin performed with a score... players that no one would ever doubt not having the absolutely highest technical (and in the first two cases also the expressive) capabilities.

Short of that...

Meanwhile, when I see that Christian Thielemann--a conductor who has conditioned us to expecting memorization and connect them with extraordinary performances--brings the score to conduct, I fear the worst.   ;D

Hi. I went to a performance of Vingt regards a few years back by Peter Donohoe, who was interviewed beforehand, saying that some works get better when entirely from memory, and some don't. He seemed to be saying that in some cases it's best to keep your eye on the written layout of the music rather than trying to commit everything to memory: Yvonne Loriod played it from memory, and of course it has to be memorized in order to play it anyway, but Donohoe kept the score in front of him, watching the pages even in the super-fast sections.

Rabbity Baxter

Quote from: Maciek on April 20, 2007, 03:42:27 PM
Thanks, Scott! :)

On most of the concerts of contemporary music I've ever been to the music was played with the score. However, I do remember three outstanding piano recitals where the pianists (excellent pianists, needless to say!) played everything from memory: two were given by the Australian pianist Michael Kielan Harvey (in 1994 and 1995 but I still remember them!), and one by the French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard (in 2000 but, strangely enough, I remember this one a little less distinctly).

Oh, and both Krenz and Czyż often conducted contemporary stuff without the scores (sometimes even first performances!).

I have, however, seen Aimard play early pieces by Scriabin (badly) using the score. In the Barbican in London a few years ago. Most embarrassing!
I think he must be a crony of the director there, since I can't imagine anyone in their right mind hiring Aimard to play in a series of concerts of this composer.