I’ve been watching some documentaries on classical music lately.
This film about virtuoso piano tuner Stefan Knüpfer from Steinway & Sons was broadcast on Dutch television a couple of weeks ago. “Pianomania” follows the exploits of Knüpfer during his work with pianists like Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Alfred Brendel and Lang Lang. It’s really nice to see Knüpfer and his craftsmanship on display, the significance of which is all too easily forgotten. An important part of the documentary is the interaction between Knüpfer and Aimard, who is to record “Die Kunst der Fuge” by J.S. Bach a year from the beginning of the documentary. Their collaboration seems a fruitful one, despite the breadth of musical problems they have to solve, often punctuated by Aimard uttering the phrase: “Everything is perfect, but I have one petite question”…
Rostropovich: The Genius of the Cello
This BBC documentary offers a nice celebration of Mstislav Rostropovich, the most important cellist of the 20th century in terms of musicianship and influence. Without Rostropovich hounding all the contemporary composers he met to write cello pieces for him, we wouldn’t be able to listen to Dutilleux’s “Tout un monde lointain”, Shostakovich’s Cello Concertos nor Britten’s works for cello.
A minor gripe is that John Bridcut’s documentary can be a bit too celebratory at times. For example, I wonder about Rostropovich and the women Tully Potter mentions at one point, but quickly dismisses as not appropriate in the context of the film. But that might just be my gossipy nature…
The whole documentary is available in HD on Vimeo.
Richter: The Enigma
In a previous blogpost from a good while back I wasn’t very kind with regards to Sviatoslav Richter and Franz Liszt. I’ve reversed almost completely regarding the latter, but Richter — despite being a brilliant pianist — is still not my first choice when it comes to recordings. He is, however, a very intriguing personality, something which is also evident in Bruno Monsaingeon’s film on Richter.
It’s astounding how critical Richter is about himself and his playing, many acclaimed performances are discarded as mediocre or plain bad by him. Equally amazing is his dismissal of choosing a piano before a concert (one should just be able to play with what’s at hand) and his preference for playing in the dark. For Richter it’s all about the music, not about the grimaces and hand movements of the pianist.
The film contains a wealth of archive footage of Richter, along with several key performances. The archive footage often show a boyish, often mischievous Richter, the more recent interview sections showcase a more melancholy old man. Near the end of the documentary he makes a painful confession: “I don’t like myself.” A statement which seems at odds with the burly younger Richter, but as he found himself unable to perform in public in his later years (he mentions his loss of absolute pitch) his bitterness towards life might not be such a surprise.
Note By Note: The Making Of Steinway L1037 (2007)
“Note By Note” focusses on the one year production of a Steinway grand piano (number L1037, model D-274) and features interviews with employees of the New York Steinway factory and several well-known pianists.
It’s amazing to see how much craftsmanship is involved in the process — several stages of tuning, laborious woodworking to fit the harp and sound board — and how much of it is still done by hand — Steinway’s competition has increasingly automatised parts of the production line (including tuning) according to the documentary.