Bad Art – Massacring Mozart

Here is a clip of me playing the first movement of one of my favourite Mozart piano sonatas, K330. Below is a clip of the excellent Krystian Zimerman playing it how it should be played. It illustrates the enormous gulf between people who know what they’re doing and people who don’t – which brings one to an uneasy consideration of the perils and pitfalls of the internet as a supposed “showcase” for talent. Musical performance, closely followed by painting, is one of the most effective means of public self-humiliation available to us. Yet the spirit of delusional self-belief is such that this does not prevent people from airing their dire accomplishments online in the hope of recognition. If music and painting are casualties, then so too, to a much greater extent, are fiction and poetry. These have become games anyone can play, since while fiddling incompetently about with a violin, piano or trumpet requires at least some basic instruction, clattering away on a novel or poem requires none. Aside from poetry and fiction, a third casualty of the internet free-for-all is dramatic performance, particularly stories, novels or poems recorded by amateurs or, worse, by bad actors. I suppose the one positive thing that comes out of all this is that now, more than ever in history, we have a chance to compare what is excellent with what is not. I’ve always felt that one of the fundamental principles of teaching is to encourage pupils to form qualitative judgments on what they read, look at or listen to – and they can only effectively do this by being aware of what is plain bad, and why it is so. The internet has become a valuable resource in this respect. Enough of me. Over to Krystian Zimerman!

4 thoughts on “Bad Art – Massacring Mozart

  1. You can add sports of all sorts to the list, or any number of home repairs or even cooking. Attempting something and then, if we’re humble enough, seeing it done right adds to our appreciation.
    The reality remains that you listen to master pianists in a way that’s quite different from my approach, and we both listen to an opera differently than trained singers do. (Well, as a choral singer now, I do pay attention to breath and diction, but that’s a far cry from all the technical vocal technique.)
    I bet you sit on the left side of the hall when a pianist is featured in concert, just to watch his fingers — and those black keys. And you keep an eye on those pedals, too.


    • Yes, it’s a long list. Come to think of it, there are even people who are bad at being plain jack-asses. Even that is a fine art 🤠. And yes – watching fingerwork, etc. But (and this is the defining feature of musicians of the second rank) the fingers and pedaling can be perfect but there is still something missing.


  2. When I think of a “perfect” performance and the “perfect” performer, it makes me nervous because I’m so imperfect according to the standard of technical acumen when it comes to playing piano for instance. I think we all have our threshold of tolerance as performers or audience members. I enjoy the imperfect performance that holds my attention because of the soul who I see perform. At the extreme, if something is unarguably hideous, despite the gusto with which it is performed, it tickles my funny bone and I must imagine myself some place else, or else I’d rudely laugh straight in the performer’s face. I, however, disgust myself at times, that I’ve never been able to reach a level of acclaimed excellence when it comes to music or writing and it is like a dagger in my soul every time someone appreciates what I know is amateur to the trained ear.


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