Memorization and Piano Scores
Whether you’re an elite symphony pianist or you just started taking piano lessons, at some point, you’ve probably wondered whether you should use a score when playing. The experts here at Pianos Plus are weighing in on both sides of the debate.
Franz Liszt, two centuries ago, helped to popularize the rule that a pianist should play music from memory. Chopin — and other “old school” classical composers and pianists — preferred that pianists use scores during performances to avoid accidentally improvising or debasing the composer’s work and intentions.
Ultimately, Liszt’s position effectively won the debate. In most modern recitals, it would appear downright unseemly to play with a score. But the debate rages on in professional circles. Those who argue for the status quo make the following points:
- Playing from the score distracts the total physical performance
- Playing from the score creates logistical problems: Who’s going to turn the page? What if the lighting is too low? What if the score blocks or alters the path of the sound waves, so the audience gets a “less pure” experience?
- Pianists may relax their preparation, if they know that they can lean on the score for guidance. They may be less inspired to meticulously understand a piece.
Advocates of using the score counter with the following arguments:
- Playing without a score can intimidate some very good pianists from going on stage;
- Philosophically, producing beautiful music is the main goal – not showcasing your ability to memorize
- If you have the music in front of you, you can more closely embody the composers’ vision
- If pianists could play with the score more often, they’d revitalize a diverse repertoire, including complex pieces by Fauré, etc.
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