Impersonation Instead of Interpretation. Have music recordings harmed piano-playing?
By Stuart Isacoff.
Recordings have made possible the wide dissemination of marvelous musical works performed by the greatest players in history. Today, we can hear Glenn Gould’s Goldberg Variations (either one) or Oscar Peterson’s improvisations any time we like—and we can do this at home, or in our cars, or while jogging in a park. In what other age has so much rich musical heritage been so available? Still, this bounty comes at a price. In some ways recordings have had a negative impact on the art of piano-playing.
Some of this has been an unavoidable consequence of freezing a moment in musical time—of bestowing stultifying permanence on an art form that, to stay alive, must breathe, dance, surprise itself, and, yes, even stumble. Because of recordings we have come to adopt a perverse view of musical performance as something disembodied—absent the physical presence of the artist—and comprising merely discrete quantifiable elements, like sets of pitches, articulations and dynamics. In this we lose sight of many essentials: the theatricality of a performance, the interrelationship of artist and listener, the full experience of spontaneous, unbridled creativity.