Friday, July 15, 2005

Clipped Wings

The pianist Paul Wittgenstein lost his right arm in World War I. After the war, he continued to perform, commissioning works for left-hand alone from several prominent composers. (Ravel and Prokofiev, for example, offered full-fledged piano concertos.) More well known, perhaps, is the story of Leon Fleisher who, because of a debilitated right hand, kept his career as a concert pianist alive by conducting and teaching, and by performing works from a growing repertoire for solo left hand. (Recently, Fleisher began performing again with both hands; but to have maintained a foothold on the performance stage through most of the late twentieth century...with just five fingers...well, I am in awe.)

Wittgenstein and Fleisher surely put their south paws through the workout of the wonderful Brahms/Bach d minor Chaconne, a piece to which I will freely admit using both hands to read through--and clumsily at that! Once I would have laughed, the Brahms is merely a study, a joking test, right? To play "serious" piano music with only one arm involved is just too bizarre. Incomprehensible. Well now I must eat my words. In the past few days, an annoying ailment has rendered my right arm into a rigor mortis arm. The nerves are, preoccupied, and the fingertips wiggle slowly, lazily. Like a bird whose wing is clipped, I feel as though I'm hobbling along. Aimless. Playing with such an emphasis on the left upsets my sense of balance; I am unable to take flight. The weight on my sitz-bones is all wrong, and even playing scales is awkward; I am returned to beginning piano student status. Pianists are not meant to be tripods, I think. We balance best on four legs. I stare at my right hand--wiggle, wiggle--and sigh, and my admiration for the left-handed virtuoso, for Paul and Leon, increases fivefold.


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