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Piano

A Distinguished Performance

‘It is often perfection in little things which distinguishes the performance of the great pianist from the novice.’

I read that little snippet — a quote from Busoni — in James Francis Cooke’s book Great Pianists on Piano Playing. I haven’t read it all, but it’s out of copywright (I think) and you can download it here.

This quote made me think about my own tendency to mumble through weak sections. I then proceeded to think, or — more likely — a solitary thought occurred to me: how these same parts are usually the beautiful little ornaments which can make a piece sparkle, or could make a piece sparkle if I weren’t such a cretin.

The book was published over a century ago, which suggests I’ve joined a long tradition of average pianists finger-blasting notes into oblivion. Now, whatever my pianistic goal is, it’s not mediocrity, so I decided to apply this ‘perfection in little things’ to one of the pieces I’m currently working on:


A considered play-through revealed there were at least five such little things I’d previously been content to gloss over. And so began the process of correction. Of perfection. The ebb and flow of determination, tension, possible progress, probable regress, confirmed when I tried to play through, including the newly-mastered passage, only to realise I’d defaulted to my old habits.

Son of a bitch. Something I’ve never really said but my Italian piano teacher seems fond of it, so I’ve adopted it as my standard curse at the piano.

There were more sons of bitches than you could shake an illegal dog breeder at and, for all of them, across hundreds of micro-varied repetitions, I still haven’t perfected any of the little things. But I know that they exist and I’m fairly sure that Busoni has, in a single sentence and from beyond the grave, neuro-linguistically-programmed me to strive for perfection.

Thanks, Ferruccio, I think. I’m going to give my fingers a rest whilst I strip down to my underwear and await the climax of Super Carmen.