We live in a time of superhuman performers. The stars of the classical piano world do things that hardly seem humanly possible — certainly that are far beyond me — and people love it, demand it. It’s a mixed blessing: on the one hand, it’s amazing to hear the most difficult works performed with such ability; on the other hand, the emphasis on the performer, the great cult of the virtuoso, can make us forget about the music itself. Should hearing a piece of music be like watching somebody juggle 9 bowling balls on a tightrope, or like embracing an old friend?
It is often true of the composers dearest to me, Chopin first among them, that much of their finest work is their least virtuosic, and thus their most neglected. How many virtuosic pianists just gloss over a little piece like this one? (Yes, Martha Argerich, I’m talking to you.) But it is a masterpiece, not simplistic but simple, yet as wonderful as any music we pianists have the chance to explore — and painted in so few strokes, with such subtlety…. The world of music could learn from the world of math a reverence for the simple and elegant. Genius shows itself in simplicity.
So here, brave listeners, take a moment to forget about virtuosity and performers and Grammies and all that nonsense, and listen to the music itself as if it matters.