Hoodwinking a genius

I hadn’t heard of this guy, Emil Gilels, before. Russian piano virtuoso. So I got a CD of him playing Grieg’s Lyric Pieces. Hadn’t heard of them before either. Some of them are nice. The nicest of all is the first one, Arietta (op 12 no. 1).

Gilels recorded them in Berlin in the early Seventies and he wanted to find exactly the right mood for each of the pieces. He’d practice on a piano they put in his hotel room and then he’d come straight into the recording studio, and the thing he was mad about was the microphones. The sound engineers knew which mics gave the best sound, but Gilels had his own ideas, and he’d make them move the mics around for ages, and then he’d tell them the definitive recording had to be taken from this particular microphone. The lads said okay, but they’d been codding him. Some of the mics he really liked weren’t even plugged in.

I want to get this anecdote to Milan Kundera because I’m sure he could get some beautiful meaning out of it, or write a book where whatever is at the heart of this anecdote – this friendly deception, this indulgence of whim – would be at the heart of his book.

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