The 20th Century has given us many great pianists of the highest quality. Fortunately the choice of the most important of these has not been left to me. The producers of the the film "THE ART OF PIANO Great Pianists Of The 20th Century" have made the choice in a brilliant documentary which, while perhaps leaving out a personal favorite or two, has assembled a selection of the pianists who best represent the age.
This is a film that encapsulates the essence of a great pianistic age that married virtuosity and musicianship with the most thrilling aspect of individual showmanship. These concert pianists were larger than life. Indeed they were much too large for a salon or a drawing room. Their stage presence was such that a packed audience at Carnegie Hall would feel stunningly outnumbered by a solitary man or woman, alone on stage with a magnificent black beast of a concert grand piano.
The opening sequence of the film is a wonderful montage of the finale of the Allegro from Beethoven's "Appassionata" Sonata No. 23 in F minor, opus 57. It is a sequence of segments from performances by Solomon, Claudio Arrau, Dame Myra Hess, Sviatoslav Richter, and Artur Rubinstein carefully spliced together. It is a gripping sequence, and telescopes the essence of the enormous interpretive differences possible in a performance of the same music. (Dame Myra and Richter get my votes in this case, and how different their approaches are to this music.)
In what is unquestionably the most poignant scene in the film, Alfred Cortot demonstrates for a student the correct approach to "The Poet Speaks" from the Kinderszenen Opus 15 of Robert Schumann. It is pure Jean Cocteau. So much so that for those who do not understand his spoken French, Cortot's facial expression and vocal inflection are quite sufficient.
And the commentary of colleagues and pianists of the subsequent age of pianism provides an invaluable counterpoint to the subject of the film.