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Does Performance Matter?

- Abstract

IT IS a commonplace idea that performance is of great importance in the communication of serious music. In a sense, it is easy to see why this should be so; for most people, music can only be heard when it is performed. But the value attributed nowadays to performance goes beyond this practical consideration. Indeed, there can be little doubt that we live in a musical age which exalts the performer, renders him fame and fortune far in excess of what is granted to living composers, and even confers upon a lucky few a measure of immortality through the medium of recording.

As a pianist, I have spent much of my own musical life in an atmosphere carefully structured to produce active believers in this cult of performance. I was trained mostly by Russian teachers, ending with three years of lessons from the queen of Juilliard piano teachers, Rosina Lhevinne, who died in 1976 at the age of ninety-six. From her and from my previous teachers I received a rigorously strict education in the way the piano was played in Russia even before the turn of the century; viewers of the recent films on the Kirov ballet school and on Russian gymnasts will have some idea of what this training was like in spirit even if not in specific content.

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