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I also think that most of exaggerated facial expressions are natural.

In fact it's not correct that this is a new thing. I read in several sources that at the peak of Romantic era it was quite a typical scene when young long-haired pianist was rocking wildly on the bench when playing and his facial expressions were also wild. It seems Liszt was like that, too, in a significant part of his career. One critic wrote that Liszt looked like the devil when he was performing.

Then at some point this manner of behaviour became largerly derided, there were many caricatures in newspapers and humorous descriptions of such concerts. As a result pianists became much more concerned with how they look on stage, and that is what we can see in the mentioned pianists of the first half of 20th century. They tried to supress showing of their emotions, and mostly succeeded.

But later after some point (perhaps in The Beatles era) the cultural norms became more free in general, pianists (and their pedagogues) became less concerned with how they look on stage and they just let their feelings go.

My two cents.

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Glen Gould I’ve heard was very extreme regarding this subject

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Originally Posted by Wayne2467
Glen Gould I’ve heard was very extreme regarding this subject
Not for facial expressions but for other things like his nose near the keyboard, humming, conducting himself.

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In an interview or lecture on Mozart, Schiff quotes a diary entry or letter of Mozart that mocks a female contemporary performer displaying anything other than a neutral facial expression. He admires her playing but thinks it’s ridiculous that her face is in commotion.

So the topic seems to predate the romantics. I’m sure there is more once you widen the historic search to other instruments.

I think there’s a difference between people playing at home for themselves—where you can do whatever you want—and people walking on a performance stage and displaying what could be unkindly interpreted as histrionics.

I would agree that Gould is easily among the worst—I love his recordings but detest the stuff he recorded for TV: there is a lot on display there that has little to do with music and quite a lot with ego.

Last edited by Windjammer; 03/13/21 08:34 PM.

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Originally Posted by Windjammer
I would agree that Gould is easily among the worst—I love his recordings but detest the stuff he recorded for TV: there is a lot on display there that has little to do with music and quite a lot with ego.
How do you know his mannerisms are ego related and not just his natural way of playing like some people's facial expressions are?

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My two cents

I’d always assumed that exaggerated facial expressions were merely a bad habit, but I saw a YouTube video of Yo-Yo Ma playing an encore with the most outrageous contortions with many comments saying it was like he was having an orgasm. I found it somewhat distracting.

I watch BBC Young Musician of the Year with interest and try and judge whether the gurning and screwed-up faces that I call “Solo-itis” are put on and a signal to the judges: ‘look at me putting emotion into my playing’. Certainly, I don’t believe it is necessary (cf. the pianist winner from a couple of years ago) & my saxophone teacher says that it is sometimes taught to young people.

Having said that, I am less bothered by it these days, and performers can do as they please.

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I think Fazil Say beats Gould.


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Originally Posted by NordWest
Certainly, I don’t believe it is necessary (cf. the pianist winner from a couple of years ago)

There was a study a few years back that showed that “that people shown silent videos of piano competitions could pick out the winners more often than those who could also hear the music.
It underlines the dominance of our sense of vision, say scientists.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23717228
https://www.pnas.org/content/110/36/14580

Of course everyone likes to believe that this isn’t true of their own judgements which are undoubtably free from all such biases but the reality is probably otherwise.

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I think Fazil Say beats Gould.


Oh wow, honestly hadn’t heard of that pianist. On top of ridiculous facial drama, he got those blue sleeves which are already an offense against sense. Let me offer you this, minute 23:30



When done watching, revert to minute 3 or so where Gould “plays” another character. To me, it’s painfully obvious that both performances are visually scripted and utterly rehearsed, made for TV.

Last edited by Windjammer; 03/15/21 07:43 AM.

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Originally Posted by beeboss
Originally Posted by NordWest
Certainly, I don’t believe it is necessary (cf. the pianist winner from a couple of years ago)

There was a study a few years back that showed that “that people shown silent videos of piano competitions could pick out the winners more often than those who could also hear the music.
It underlines the dominance of our sense of vision, say scientists.”

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23717228
https://www.pnas.org/content/110/36/14580

Of course everyone likes to believe that this isn’t true of their own judgements which are undoubtably free from all such biases but the reality is probably otherwise.
This article is very interesting but somewhat hard to believe. It's definitely true that the visual part of the performance and stage presence is important, but I don't think it's the most important. The article raised a lot of questions for me like who was doing the predicting about who won the competition? If the people in the study doing the rating were not almost exclusively trained musicians the whole study seems irrelevant. I think Lang Lang's appeal is greater for non professional listeners than professional musicians and part of that appeal is his over the top and charismatic stage presence. In addition, I think anyone just looking at a video of a performance with no sound would find the experience bizarre and disconcerting. I don't see how one could evaluate a performance that way.

Finally, it's not as though the winner of a competition is the correct answer. It's only the opinion of the judges at the competition.

Last edited by pianoloverus; 03/15/21 08:19 AM.
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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
This article is very interesting but somewhat hard to believe.

It is a scientific study.

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The article raised a lot of questions for me like who was doing the predicting about who won the competition? If the people in the study doing the rating were not almost exclusively trained musicians the whole study seems irrelevant.

All that data is there. The procedure was approved by the Harvard Institutional board blah blah, the competitions were actual competitions and there were 100s of professional musicians involved in the judging. Details towards the bottom of the study if you are interested to look. I posted the brief news article about the study as well because I thought nobody would actually read the study.

One of the results was that novices could predict the winners of the competitions by watching brief, silent video recordings almost as well as the people judging the competitions. Strangely when they heard the music as well they were less likely to predict the winners. “As surprising as these findings are, they may be due to novices’ lack of music training, which forces them to rely on visual cues.”

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
In addition, I think anyone just looking at a video of a performance with no sound would find the experience bizarre and disconcerting. I don't see how one could evaluate a performance that way.

I agree that the results of the study feel weird but an argument from personal incredulity is a reasoning error.

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Originally Posted by Windjammer
When done watching, revert to minute 3 or so where Gould “plays” another character. To me, it’s painfully obvious that both performances are visually scripted and utterly rehearsed, made for TV.
It's well-known that everything that Gould was involved in on TV & radio - including "interviews" by someone else - were all carefully scripted by him.

In other words, he provided the script ('questions') to his "interviewer" word for word, as well as his own 'answers' to the 'questions'.' All 'spontaneity' (e.g. when he appeared surprised by a question, or had to think before replying) was scripted by himself.


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
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Originally Posted by beeboss
Originally Posted by pianoloverus
This article is very interesting but somewhat hard to believe.

It is a scientific study.

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
The article raised a lot of questions for me like who was doing the predicting about who won the competition? If the people in the study doing the rating were not almost exclusively trained musicians the whole study seems irrelevant.

All that data is there. The procedure was approved by the Harvard Institutional board blah blah, the competitions were actual competitions and there were 100s of professional musicians involved in the judging. Details towards the bottom of the study if you are interested to look. I posted the brief news article about the study as well because I thought nobody would actually read the study.

One of the results was that novices could predict the winners of the competitions by watching brief, silent video recordings almost as well as the people judging the competitions. Strangely when they heard the music as well they were less likely to predict the winners. “As surprising as these findings are, they may be due to novices’ lack of music training, which forces them to rely on visual cues.”

Originally Posted by pianoloverus
In addition, I think anyone just looking at a video of a performance with no sound would find the experience bizarre and disconcerting. I don't see how one could evaluate a performance that way.

I agree that the results of the study feel weird but an argument from personal incredulity is a reasoning error.
I would have to know a lot more to be convinced the study is a good one. For example, which competitions/years were used? If the winners in those competitions happened to be particularly emotive in their facial and body movements, that might have meant that a very large percentage of the non professional subjects selected those pianists. Or maybe the winners in the competitions used for the study were particularly physically attractive so that skewed the voting when there was no audio.

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I don't have much to add, but I saw a clip recently where Horowitz briefly talks about facial expressions:


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I agree with Horowitz - it's a bit like tennis players shouting every time they hit the ball.


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Thanks Alexii
I enjoyed the Horowitz Clip— to me, it looks like a Lang Lang imitation


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Notice Horowitz says something like it wouldn't be natural for him to make faces, that the emotion is inside him. But for some pianists that's not the natural thing to do, and I think most pianists who make faces aren't faking it. When it's not faked I don't mind it with perhaps a few exceptions.

It's important to remember that in the majority of cases the facial expressions are not seen by most of the audience. It's mostly with the numerous close ups directly facing the pianist on YouTube that one becomes aware of facial expressions. For example, I don't think Kissin is considered much of a face maker, but videos of his performances after say the age of 30 show a lot of face making because it's as if one is only a few feet away and facing him head on. I heard him many times at Carnegie Hall and was never aware of any facial expressions. Even in the tenth row, where I usually moved to during the intermission, I was was much further away than what videos show and saw him more in profile.

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Originally Posted by Windjammer
Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I think Fazil Say beats Gould.


Oh wow, honestly hadn’t heard of that pianist. On top of ridiculous facial drama, he got those blue sleeves which are already an offense against sense.

There is a particular moment exactly at 3:33 that just kills me. 🤣

And yes, a decision to play Gershwin in some Turkish national costume is also quite remarkable. 🤣

That said, I must add I like many pieces performed by Fazil Say. I don't care much about his facial expressions. He is undoubtedly very talented, probably close to top 10 pianists now.


Originally Posted by Windjammer
Let me offer you this, minute 23:30



When done watching, revert to minute 3 or so where Gould “plays” another character. To me, it’s painfully obvious that both performances are visually scripted and utterly rehearsed, made for TV.

Thanks for this video, I never watched it before, very interesting.
You know, when Gould plays a role of British pedagogue, I can still see some Gould's traits when he plays piano, and he sings as he usually does. There is no point in unnatural singing, it just spoils the sound recording, so I think it's natural.

In Russia there is a famous jazz pianist who quacks while playing. laugh If you are close to him it's very audible and it sounds really disgusting, but he just can't do anything about it, it's natural.

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Originally Posted by Iaroslav Vasiliev
I think Fazil Say beats Gould.

I really liked this one


1970s' Petrof 125
youtube:https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCrY5TdJHAB6HAYYgdgQliww
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