Friday, 22 June 2007

A Short History of Pianos and Pianists

Born in the village of Żelazowa Wola, Poland, in 1810, Fryderyk Franciszek Chopin died thirty-nine years later after a turbulent life of great acclaim, passion and ill-health. Today his reputation remains: Chopin, more readily than anyone else, is understood to be the greatest composer for the piano.

An important social detail is that the piano itself was a relatively new and rare instrument during the period of Chopin's life. Its invention is normally traced to Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy, with the earliest recognisable piano being created in about 1700. Just over a century later when the prodigy Chopin left Poland for Paris, the piano was still restricted to the finest of houses and establishments. Today's world, where every aspiring family has a piano, and electronic piano keyboards of multiple sorts sprout from teenage bedrooms, was unknowable to Chopin.

Yet, Chopin's reputation remains. Frédéric is still Frédéric. We have not, as a society, decided that Frédéric can, somehow, be discarded simply because Kevin and Sharon can now also rumble up a bit of a tune. Nor have we decided the converse, that Kevin and Sharon should be prevented access to the instrument simply because they are unlikely to ever be Frédéric. Instead, we persist with a liberal attitude on the social question of who has the right to access pianos. Frequently, our liberal stance rewards us. It serves us up a treat when a new, great concert pianist is discovered, when a young niece masters 'Au Clair de la Lune', when the unexpectedly good pub-pianist embarks on 'The Long and Winding Road.'

It is indeed the liberal road that serves us best. Though there is no regulation to prevent access to pianos, and no rule that states that the instrument must be played in any particular manner, new generations of players tend to impersonate each other. Accreditation standards remain. Examinations are taken. Recognition of many sorts is sought. We humans remain distinctly social and contemporaneously competitive. To the best of my knowledge there is no serious group, other than The Taleban, campaigning for the restriction of access to pianos.

I have used this argument with two distinguished journalist friends of mine. Today, when we can all play the role of reporter and columnist, we should expect no corruption of excellence. The great journalist is still the great journalist. We will not be blinded into equating Kevin and Sharon with Truman Capote. Our liberal stance will reward us.


Dave Thomasberger said...

Good information! Chopin is definitely one of the most challenging composers to play.

Lei said...

I enjoyed reading this post very much, Peter. Before today, I have never linked Pianos with journalism. It is interesting to see their comparison.
And I agree with the conclusion that masterpiece and free style writing can live in harmony.
As human beings, we want to express ourselves and share experiences. Sharing leads to broader audience.
whoops, am I suppose to talk more about pianos?

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