Musical genius can partly be described as the ability to sight read, the musical art of playing music one has never heard or seen before.
There are many stories of the legendary abilities of the great composers, and today we will show you several hair-raising examples that will have you running to the practice rooms to hone your sight-reading and related abilities.
Or perhaps you will collapse in frustration. Read on.
Mozart was said to be able to read and play any music instantly.
No practicing, no rehearsing. Not only that, he could, for example, write out the four separate parts of a string quartet BEFORE he had written out the complete score.
This means that he had a perfect mental impression of every note in a piece he had never played, and never heard.
Beethoven once had to play one of his piano concertos on a piano that was a half step out of tune. With no time to tune the instrument, there was only one choice: play the concerto not in the key of C, but in the key of B, instantly, which he did with not a single wrong note, to the utter astonishment of the orchestra.
To put this in perspective, in case you don’t know what musical “keys” are, it is like an actor who, five seconds before taking the stage as Hamlet, is told suddenly, “Oh, by the way, please do the part in Swedish.” No problem, said Ludwig, and did it straightaway.
Liszt was legendary for his technical flights of fancy. Once the composer Grieg brought the great master his A minor piano concerto, which he humbly showed to Liszt in a handwritten manuscript. It was a very messy manuscript, indeed, for by Grieg’s own account it was full of scratched out passages and terrible music handwriting.
But Franz Liszt was not deterred by the tattered condition of the score. He calmly opened it, looked at it for a moment and then played it perfectly and with gusto in front of the dumbfounded composer. All the while Liszt missed not a note, mind you, keeping up an erudite and witty commentary on the orchestra parts, which he played as well, along with the solo piano part.
Liszt was in fact encyclopedic in his knowledge of all the music published in his lifetime. He is said to have played every known piece in history, perfectly, in his weekly master classes. And this included not only piano music, but any music, operas, symphonies, concertos, popular music. Anything.
In a spirit of encouragement, remember that even Liszt had to develop this breathtaking musical craft. When he first came to Paris as a teen aged firebrand, he was a gawky Hungarian boy and needed polish in order to become the first genuine superstar of classical music.
Now go back and practice.
Copyright 2008 Walden Pond Press