It might sound counterintuitive, but it’s true: no form of art is better positioned to benefit from the video revolution than classical music. Classical compositions are certainly exciting to hear, but they’re even more rewarding to watch: they require feats of astonishing dexterity and poise. Classical pieces are physically demanding to perform, and classical musicians often exhibit tremendous charisma while they’re playing. Raphaël Angelini isn’t exclusively a classical musician – he’s applied his formidable instrumental talent to all kinds of different compositions – but when he sits down at the piano to play a piece, he does so with the confidence of a virtuoso and the energy and presence of a rock star.
And it’s a pretty good bet that Franz Liszt, who was treated as a megastar in the nineteenth century, would approve of Angelini’s powerful performance of the “Revolutionary Étude.” The great Polish composer Frédéric Chopin, who wrote the piece for solo piano, dedicated the “Étude” to Liszt, who was probably one of the few musicians in Europe who possessed the skill required to play it. The “Revolutionary Étude” demands spectacular dexterity from the pianist’s left hand – tremendous strength and speed, and absolute independence. To do it right, the left hand must play a quick and tricky rhythm while the right hand must dance wildly to a different beat at the top of the keyboard. To watch it played properly is a physical delight as well as a musical one.
Angelini plays it right. His descending left-hand runs are pure thunder, and his right hand is like a tolling bell. Every note he strikes is precise and passionate: his command is total, and his understanding of the music is complete. The video of Angelini in action puts all of his magnetism and musicianship on display. This is no simple performance clip: Angelini is shot from several different angles, each of which is revealing. The camera on his fingers reveals his superb technique, his precise articulation, and his facility with passages that have humbled generations of pianists. The side camera shows Angelini’s face and his look of absolute concentration and sheer pleasure. Then there’s the camera fixed on the hammers and strings of the piano that Angelini plays – and not only does it reveal the majesty and beauty of the instrument, it also testifies to the force and sheer power of the pianist’s hands. Chopin, and Lizst, would certainly understand. We don’t have a video of those two rock stars in action. But if we did, we imagine it would look a lot like this.