When we celebrated the birthday of Romanian-born pianist, Radu Lupu, last week, I made the observation on the air that a number of pianists have idiosyncrasies, and Lupu’s mild and harmless one is to sit on a regular office chair when he is playing.
If one is talking of idiosyncratic pianists, anyone’s top five list would surely have to include Glenn Gould. His piano chair was so extraordinary that it is now on display in a glass case at the National Arts Center in Ottawa. It was fashioned by his father from a couple of folding bridge chairs, and it’s height was exactly 14 inches (6 inches lower than the height of a standard piano bench) so that he could crouch over the keyboard with his trademark posture as he played.
I was thinking about this when I went to hear the Shriver Hall Concert Series recital by the Polish-Hungarian pianist, Piotr Anderszewski, on Sunday evening. If you were there, you will have noticed that, like Radu Lupu, he used a regular office chair—but only when he played Bach’s 3rd and 6th English Suites. When he played the Schumann C Major Fantasy, he sat on a regular, adjustable piano stool. But he was unfussy about it. Sometimes, pianists will spend so much time fiddling with the handles that pump a piano stool up and down that I half wonder if they will have any energy left to play! Anderszewski just sat down and played. Beautifully.
There’s no doubt that s specific type of chair can really have an affect on the way one works. Your energetic morning host, Mark Malinowski, for instance, uses a chair that he can pump up almost to standing height (so think about that next time you wake up to him!) Glenn Gould, on the other hand, got his energy by maintaining as close a contact as he could to the keyboard. As for Anderszewski, his choice of chair seemed all of a piece with the thoughtful approach to his music making. There was a compelling stillness and absorption to his playing. And, you know how it is often what is not said that is so telling? Well, his measured silences between movements and his sense of timing about when to break those silences contributed in no small way to the overall effect of the reverence one felt he had for the music. Clearly he had considered every detail, even how sitting on an upright chair for the intricate counterpoint of Bach, would have a different dynamic compared to sitting on a regular padded piano stool for the Romantic lushness of Schumann.
chamber music, J. S. Bach, piano, SCHUMANN