You’re probably too comfortable where you are

Rachman rferl.orgPhoto: http://www.rferl.org

I came across this box set of Rachmaninoff. Vladimir Ashkenazy playing every single thing he wrote for piano. I bought it. Christ, it was so expensive I didn’t want to tell my wife how much it cost. I’d just been paid, so I had that feeling, you know, that it was alright. And then, you bring it home – you need to shut yourself off for a week and play every CD over and over again to get the stuff you don’t know into your bloodstream, the way the 2nd and 3rd piano concertos are. Otherwise. Well, otherwise you might as well have just bought one CD.

And then I picked up a biography of him. By Michael Scott (The History Press, 2008). It zips along. And I learnt this: old Rachmaninoff hated recording. He felt that when he recorded a piece, he had to get every note right, and invariably there’d be something he didn’t like about the recording.

So what he started telling everyone was that recording was bullshit and the only way to listen to music was to go to a concert hall. Here he is in 1927 (2 December): “Radio is not perfect enough to do good music justice, but my chief objection to it is…[it] makes listening too comfortable.”

Isn’t that class? He goes on to say:

People often ask why they should have to pay for an uncomfortable seat at a concert when they could stay at home, smoke a pipe, put up their feet and listen comfortably. But I believe that one should not be too comfortable. To appreciate good music, one must be mentally alert and emotionally responsive.

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