Schubert at the Piano by Gustav Klimt, 1899

The Piano in Art

I was looking for eye candy for this retro-published review of Håvard Gimse’s second volume of Sibelius’ Piano music recorded by Naxos, when I came across this blog post at The Collaborative Piano Blog.

The post directs the reader to an eclectic collection of paintings featuring pianos and pianists, compiled by Bruno Dillen, on Art in the Picture.

The painting featured in this post is Schubert at the Piano, painted in 1899 by Gustav Klimt. Check out the link and you can click on the various tags at the bottom of the page(s) to find other paintings featuring other instruments.

Sibelius admitted that the piano did not really work for him. In 1937 he said to his pupil Bengt von Törne: “I write piano pieces in my spare moments … as a matter of fact the piano does not interest me because it cannot sing.”

A very strange remark, to be honest. The piano cannot sing? But if you ask me, it’s because in Sibelius’ music, “singing” is not the song of human voice, but rather the “singing” that comes from nature – the arias of winds, the pedal hum of mountains, the faint birdsong and underlying breathing of Tapio’s forests, the hymns of rotating planets.  The piano, it seems, had never had a voice as suited to portraying nature compared to say, the flute or any of the bowed strings.

For similar reasons, Sibelius rarely used any percussion instrument in his orchestral works. Only the timpani is a regular.  If he used something rare, it was often to great effect, such as the single cosmic – gong – of the tamtam in The Bard.

In any case, a handful of pianists supported Sibelius’ piano works. Among them was the famous pianist Glenn Gould:

Sibelius never wrote against the grain of the keyboard. … In Sibelius’s piano music everything works, everything sings – but on its own terms. … Sibelius was able to make a significant addition to the far too limited piano repertoire of late Romanticism.

I got that quote off of the very important Sibelius reference on the web that is The article also makes the comment that “those who have found fault with Sibelius’ piano music have usually been music writers or critics. ” A point that I noticed early in my championing of Sibelius’ music, including his piano works, which I agree with.

Luckily, I am neither a music writer nor a critic. I’m an Inkpot Sibelius Nutcase.

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Leon is Singapore's resident champion of Jean Sibelius.

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