The Piano Accompanist

The piano accompanist has long been under-appreciated in the Classical music world. Behind every every great concert instrumentalist or singer, there is an accompanist responsible for half of the music being performed.


Pictured here is the great British piano accompanist Gerald Moore. As stated in the Wikipedia article from which this photo is taken, he accompanied many of the  world’s greatest musicians, and worked extensively with people like Hans HotterElisabeth  Schumann, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, to name but a few, and perhaps most famously with the  baritone Dietrich  Fischer-Dieskau. He and Fischer-Dieskau‘s recordings, such as this one of Schubert’s  complete song-cycles, remain some of the greatest lieder recordings ever made.

The piano accompanist or piano accompaniment is almost always associated with being reduced in musical rank to that of the part being accompanied; in fact, it is standard concert practice for the singer or instrumentalist to stand ahead of the pianist. Certainly accompanists do not get anything near the financial benefits or musical status or recognition of the solo concert pianist. As Tom Service writes in this article in The  Guardian newspaper:

Pity the poor accompanist, condemned to sit in the shadow of the great voices and the even greater egos of today’s singers. Being the pianist who plays for them can feel like the most thankless job in music. The singers couldn’t do it without them, but it’s the braying sopranos and the yodelling tenors who get all the glory, as well as most of the cash and applause – despite the fact that all they’ve done is sing a few tunes, usually in a foreign language, while the pianists slog their guts out playing fiendishly difficult accompaniments by SchubertSchumann or Britten.

The piano accompaniment does, in fact, carry an absolutely equal musical weight in almost all substantial works of note, such as in the major LiederSonata or chamber repertoire. In fact, most of  these works are named “Sonata for Violin/Clarinet/Flute and Piano”. This highlights the fact that the composer considers the piano accompanist to be an equal musical partner, rather than a lesser one whose primary function is merely to showcase the skills of the instrumentalist or singer. In fact, some earlier violin sonatas by composers such as Beethoven or Clementi were even originally called Sonatas for Piano with Violin Accompaniment, with the piano parts being significantly more technically challenging than that of the instrumentalist. Certainly the mainstay of the duo and chamber works or songs by Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Schumann and Schubert are excellent examples of an equal musical relationship.

In Part 2, we will explore some of the greatest piano accompanists of the last 100 years, and look at some recommended recordings from each.



14. June 2014 · Comments Off on The Piano Accompanist

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