Endlessly fine things
I have been beaten down by the anomie & the angst etc. and I am just sending out a list of pleasant things. forgive me
1. My fourth-favorite pianist.
My fourth-favorite pianist is very precious to me because in his own time and milieu he was known to be a Dracula. and before you get that look in your eyes, know please that it was them of his times as called him a Dracula and not me. I am not inflating tired slang the way a jaded party clown whose face-paint but barely hides the grim wrinkles ‘round his mouth gamely blows and blows into a slack balloon to fill it with fun, with bonhomie, with good feeling, I am not too fine to say a simple Wampire, a hardy and time-honored word, I am not her who has always got to be putting old phrases in new bottles, or the reverse as it may be. No! I am only repeating what other people say. And they did say it! And it for no reason! A thin mustache and trousers hemmed high to show off his socks while pedaling are the only clues of any significance, and that was just regular European style of the time.
No, but the reason they called him a Dracula was he was an elegant red-haired Italian, and because he always traveled with his own piano, which even by last century had become suspicious. This is Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli, who else. He had red hair, I have verified this, although you can’t tell that in the best recordings of him, which are invisible, or in the best video recordings of him, which are in black and white. In later life it had that dyed-with-shoe-polish quality that only made it spookier; though it may, for all I know, have been natural his whole life long in defiance of his own supernatural qualities.
now, I never get tired of complaining about large-limbed men who tuck their mantid knees up under their pianos and flop their long-fingered hands all over the keyboard like so many giant crystal cave spiders climbing a tiny staircase. I have, me, small soft hands like little early-born Angora rabbits. If they were strong that would be all right, but they are not; they are weak, eager, twitchy, undisciplined; and just like Angora rabbits, if you don’t train them with rigor in their first thirteen years they will never be good technicians in later life. So I get angry at my betters. Jealousy is a powerful emotion, and I believe in it. To disdain jealousy is to disdain gasoline because its dirty extraction method makes it no good for starting fires. I mean: you should disdain it, it’ll ruin the world, but once you’ve got it, however you did get it, it does work. I am F. Murray Abraham as Salieri with the firelight playing across his hard features as he shovels his faith into the furnace and curses God for giving him these tiny feeble hands. but it isn’t an affectation, I am really like that.
but Michelangeli was elegant, and I forgive him his strength because of his elegance. I mean his playing, but I also mean his playing manner. They don’t always match—I don’t know why they ever should—but they do sometimes. Most pianists are the least glamorous people in the world. and it is all right for them, they are for listening to and not for looking at. Benedetti Michelangeli is the one man who ever played in white tie & tails without looking a fool. Offstage his turtleneck achievements were staggering.
Here is what his onetime wife, Giuliana Michelangeli, said regarding those who called him cold:
"They don't understand his art. Endlessly fine things are difficult to understand immediately. They make your feet rise from the ground - both of them."
Cold is a very fine compliment, call me cold and I smile on you like the Venus of Alexandros, but this is better. I have made one foot rise from the ground, now and then, I think I have. but two at once? more than I have ever done, though not more than I hope to do.
I don’t know about his personality or his life but in videos you get, or I get, a supreme sense of correctness: infinite fuss; precision. Not sprezzatura, or not what I understand that to be—there is perfect ease in many recordings, no visible strain, but there is also no casualness, no concession to an audience’s old delight in watching a player make perfected art look easier than it is, or no wish to make the ease look like the result of anything but ten thousand years of deathless thinking, thinking that chases away the restless blood-thirst for whole centuries, thinking, in the catacombs under the city, about his phrasing.
this has been a list of One. stay right here and don’t move, I’ll add to it, little by little. you see if I don’t.