A knife in the hand

22nd February 2012 | Concerts, Daily Life, Musings | 4 comments

It was lucky I didn’t have to play the piano much while I was in Austria, because I have been nursing a small injury to my right hand. It happened back in December when I was playing a solo programme including Ligeti’s ‘Musica Ricercata’. In the second piece, as the composer later revealed, there’s a moment which represents ‘a knife in Stalin’s heart’. Ligeti directs the pianist to pause, and then to play a sudden high note with ‘tutta la forza’. This note is the moment of the knife going in. To make matters worse on the evening of my performance, I had explained all this to the audience beforehand. When the moment came, I raised my right hand dramatically and stabbed the note with all my might. Wham! A few seconds later I felt a kind of flash of lightning shoot painfully through the back of my hand. Oh no! What had I done?

I was amazed that my fingers still appeared to be moving, still able to play the piano. I got to the end of the concert. But my wrist was hurting, and it continued to hurt for weeks. Eventually I got some good osteopathy, and now it seems to be loosening – much to my relief.

Gyorgy Sebok once said that your playing should never sound like the illustration of a lecture which is being silently given alongside. The moral of my tale is similar: do not deliberately draw the audience’s attention to something you are going to do, because you will probably overdo it.


  1. Paul Austen

    The second moral of the story is stick to Mozart – phyically much safer though still hugely demanding and you are a wonderful performer of his music!!! Looking forward to Perth on Saturday!! :o)))

  2. peter

    Conscious intention is a very strange thing. My father spent two decades playing the trombone in a marching band, until one day a small boy in the street asked him how it was possible for him to move his right arm independently of his legs. He had never thought about this before, but now he could not stop thinking about it, to the point of paralysis. From then on, he found it very difficult to play while marching.

  3. Susan Tomes

    It’s like that story about the centipede (or was it millipede) – when asked how he managed all those legs, he thought about it and suddenly couldn’t co-ordinate them any more.

  4. Paul Austen

    Oh dear, that would certainly have impeded his progress!!! Oh dear, sorry but couldn’t resist that one!!


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