I’m practising Schumann’s wonderful set of piano pieces, Davidsbündlertänze, for a concert later this year. As usual, progress is unpredictable. Sometimes things move on, sometimes not. Feeling short of inspiration one day this week, I sat down to listen to a historic 1937 recording by Alfred Cortot, renowned for his interpretations of Schumann and Chopin.
It had a curious effect. Cortot’s impulsiveness and spontaneity is often inspiring, but he was clearly living at a time when accuracy was not as highly prized as it is now. It’s astonishing to hear how many wrong notes he plays, sometimes whole fistfuls of them when the going gets tough. I found it strangely liberating. Nobody today would willingly leave the recording studio with so manyon disc, but after I’d got over my surprise, Cortot’s performance reminded me what was important. It conveyed such focus on the line and spirit of the music that his wrong notes seemed (almost) irrelevant. Next time I sat down at the piano, I felt quite light-hearted, and found it easier to think of the big picture.