The role of pianist-philosopher was invented by Artur Schnabel, a formidable mind and ferocious performer. It seemed sui generis. No other instrument bred artists whose public intellect was as powerful as their stage persona.
Alfred Brendel developed along similar lines. Daniel Barenboim likes nothing better than an hour spent in philosophical speculation. Sviatoslav Richter was an ambulant encyclopedia. It was not enough to be intellectual, however. The p-p had to be formidably articulate.
None, even in the notably verbose French culture, outshone Charles Rosen for virtuosity with words and ideas, alongside a captivating flair for keyboard interpretation. Charles died this week, aged 85.
(c) Marion Kalter/Lebrecht Music&Arts
Here is a recent video of Charles in his element.
Will there ever be another like him? Contemporary culture militates against both intellectualism and classical music. Public intellectuals seek their references in rock. Classical pianists have taken to reading thrillers.
Still, there are a few who excel in both dimensions. Piotr Anderszewski, for one. Jeremy Denk another. My neighbour Stephen Hough, above all.
Someone should organise a contest for the vacant title of pianist-philosopher. Any further nominations?