Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Music History Monday: Lending a Hand

Before moving on to the main topic for today’s post, I would like to announce a new feature here on Music History Monday, something called “This Day in Musical Stupid.”

I explain.

As regular readers of this post know, I will, occasionally, dedicate a post to the shenanigans and sometimes plain old idiocy of musicians as they go about their daily lives and business. More often (far more often!) than not, such antics are perpetrated by pop, rock, rap, and hip-hop “artists”, but frankly, not always. In the past, if there is a topic of genuine import on a given Monday, I would ignore such events. In the past, I have only reported them when there was nothing else to write about.

My thinking on this has changed. Why should I deny you the special pleasure that observing other people’s stupidity can give?

Exactly. So whenever I can, I will initiate a Music History Monday post with just such a date appropriate event. Here’s today’s “This Day in Musical Stupid.”

Franz Liszt in 1832, at the age of 21
Franz Liszt (1811-1886) in 1832, at the age of 21

Just so, musicians, who are, in their own right athletes, must know their physical limits. Yes: we read about Franz Liszt (1811-1886) holing up in 1831 at the age of 20 and practicing 7, 8, 9 hours a day for six years to attain his staggering technique. But Liszt was a physical freaking freak, and his practice regimen should have destroyed him. That’s because the greatest workplace danger facing any committed musician is over-training: over-practice.

There’s not a single musical instrument that does not pose some sort(s) of physical danger to its players: lip and facial injuries; shoulder tendonitis and bursitis; back and neck injuries. But no part of the human body has a more complex skeletal and muscular structure than the hand, and it is in the hand and wrist that many of the most debilitating injuries occur, in the form of acute tendonitis caused by repetitive stress and over-exertion.

Hand and wrist tendonitis is the bane of every piano player, and pianists must measure the gain of long practice hours against the threat of real injury. Pretty much all pianists experience injury here and there, for which rest is the best prescription. But many important pianists have faced serious, career-threatening and sometimes career-ending injuries, including Robert Schumann, Gary Graffman, Leon Fleisher, Wanda Landowska, Artur Schnabel, Alexander Scriabin, Ignaz Friedman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Clara Schumann, Glenn Gould (who, by the way, died 39 years ago today), Michel Beroff, Richard Goode, and Murray Perahia, to name but a few.…

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