Fundamentally, a pianist is an actor. Like any other musician, the pianist must deliver lines, intone emotions, and maintain complete composure in performing these technical feats. Perfect timing, well thought dynamics, and consistent contrasts in timbre are needed to convey the structure of the piece performed. It is aggravating when an actor fails at this and delivers his lines as though he does not understand them. A pianist inevitably fails.

I never expect to. I start practicing piano expecting nothing except to escape boredom through art. Soon enough, I find myself past the simple, rich, eight-measure introduction to J.S. Bach's Ricercar a 3 from the Musikalisches Opfer. I'm plunged into a struggle to play the right notes in some repetitive, dissonant exercise in three-part harmony.

I compose myself, listening for the secret listener who must be hiding in the shadows of the adjoining room. Then, as I listen, I become newly aware of my sinful misrepresentation of the music. A negative of the necessary intonation appears, and I follow it, express. I glimpse a thread of the complex tangle of harmony in the music. I have reached a local center of enlightenment, the piano swells with my excitement, the thread-like voices seem to glow with gratitude for my releasing them, and I see yes, that this piece does have a structure and beauty I must convey. At the crest of that wave of emotion comes the crux. I shall never understand that structure, and I can never properly convey it.

Sometimes, though, my grasp of the music continues beyond that instant of enlightenment. This has happened to me only once, but that experience is what fuels me to keep playing the piano. After weeks of forced abstinence from my instrument, I again played the Beethoven sonata that I had been practicing for half a year, and it finally clicked. The rosalia became a series of calls and answers, the chord sequence progressed oblivious to the notes between, and transitions disappeared, replaced by seamless transformations of tone.

With perfect concentration and poise, I played half of the first movement before it decayed into my usual amateurish cacophony. I was oblivious. When my piano teacher pointed out the polish the piece had acquired, I was surprised. I played it again in my head, and it was good.

Pi*an"ist (?), n. [Cf. F. pianiste, It. pianista.]

A performer, esp. a skilled performer, on the piano.


© Webster 1913.

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