It’s been suggested (by Charles Rosen) that a pianist who plays difficult passages notated in Robert Schumann’s piano music, to today’s standard of accuracy, is not giving an “authentic” reading. No one in the early nineteenth century could have done it, so, the argument goes, “mistakes” would be part of “authenticity.” (We might speculate on the impact the sounds made or make…)
In Ghent, a year and a half ago at the Orpheus Institute, we had a similar discussion. A cellist showed how, with help from technicians at IRCAM, he’s made new versions of interactive pieces by Brian Ferneyhough so that the vagaries of early computer technology can be vanquished. He showed, as well, how he replaces with new notation, the enharmonic and possibly-hard-to-read pitch notation in Morton Feldman’s Patterns in a Chromatic Field. But, a young composer asked, wasn’t Ferneyhough “future-proofing” his music? The stumbles are part of it! Failure is the music. And, I asked, how did Franz Liszt sound when he played Beethoven’s “Hammerklavier”?
When I read Roland Barthes’ “The Grain of the Voice,” I long to be Charles Panzéra, not Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. At least in that reckoning, I want direct, powerful “expression,” not artifice, not virtuosity — not art! (The “grain of the voice,” where the “rubber meets the road.”) Puzzling some of my colleagues, last spring, I wrote in my comments about a student’s end-of-the-year playing exam, “Less art, more truth!” Presumptuous, but that’s it.