The work of the performer may seem repetitious. We are measuring out time with our playing and practicing. We are measuring out life, one Beethoven sonata at a time.
In a sense, am I measuring my way toward death with my performances? I might speculate: “Will I play Beethoven’s “Pathétique” Sonata a hundred times more before I die?” Or five times? Or never?
Arnold Schoenberg: Gustav Mahler’s Burial, 1911
Of course, all kinds of people are measuring with their repetitious details — the increments of their lives. But the particularly ritualistic aspect of performing classical music lends itself to these morbid speculations. And since learning a difficult piano piece represents many hours of work, the time put into each piece is a significant fraction of a life.
So, how many more “Waldsteins” or Polonaise-fantaisies?
Looking over a long list of pieces I’d written down when I was twenty — pieces I hoped to learn in a lifetime of musical work — the thought crossed my mind: “Not enough time left …”