The limits of “playability”: a moving target

Posted on: March 19, 2015

“Classical composers have for centuries been dreaming up pieces so physically challenging they have initially been considered beyond the realm of human capability—until someone comes along and exerts such superhuman effort that they raise the bar for everyone else,” writes Clemency Burton-Hill on Tuesday (3/17) at the BBC’s website. “In 1878, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky wrote a violin concerto in D major … declared ‘unplayable’ by Leopold Auer to whom the work was originally dedicated.… It was to be another three years before the violinist Adolf Brodksy finally nailed it…. Similar stories abound in the classical canon—from Liszt’s gasp-inducing Transcendental Études, with their gigantic leaps, to ‘Rach 3,’ Rachmaninov’s epic third piano concerto…. ‘The thing with these sorts of pieces is that they took a long time to work out,’ says conductor Nicholas Collon, whose groundbreaking Aurora Orchestra often programs seemingly ‘unplayable’ works, to memorable effect. … ‘Rach 3 is still as hard as it ever was, but people understand that it’s possible, so they tackle it and go for it. … The feeling that you can eventually ride above the technical challenges and present an amazing piece of music to the audience—that’s a huge reward.’”

Posted March 19, 2015