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The Golden Age of pianism may be past, but the archetype of the 19th-century virtuoso still exerts a strong influence over pianists today. Whether through listening to early recordings or scrutinising letters and manuscripts, the serious pianist can learn a huge amount from immersing themselves in the intellectual traditions of the Romantic era.

Charles Blanchard is the ideal guide for anyone embarking on this journey. Positive Piano, self-published by Blanchard in 2015, provides a wealth of quotations from great artists and thinkers of yesteryear, helpfully organised into themed chapters that explore different facets of piano playing and artistry in general. Some of the advice is practical and specific, such as Scott Joplin’s dictum ‘It’s never right to play ragtime fast’, but most of Blanchard’s material is anecdotal, figurative and highly subjective. What links it all together to form a compelling narrative is Blanchard’s own commentary, which provides context for each quotation and frequently refers back to his central theme – the indispensables of pianistic success.

Blanchard’s chapter on ‘Social Skills’, for example, tells us: ‘If you’re struggling with jealousy – get over it. This powerful emotion will hamper your efforts to improve yourself. Simply acknowledge the merits of others; after all, they’ve worked hard for them. Now get to work on yourself.’ He illustrates this advice with a dozen quotations from Haydn, Schubert, Liszt at al, including the following nugget from Chopin: ‘A genuine virtuoso of proved worth knows no jealousy.’

Blanchard’s sources are extremely varied, running the gamut from classical philosophers and religious thinkers to modern psychoanalysts, juxtaposed with quotations from 19th-century composers, performers and intellectuals. Not every quotation is apposite, but the collection as a whole provides plenty of food for thought. Recommended.

FRANZ WULF Read the full review on Agora Classica


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