Music Through Words
The Concert Pianist by Conrad Williams

Conrad Williams, author of The Concert Pianist

Conrad Williams

Philip Morahan is a British concert pianist. A once-great pianist, lauded by critics and adored by audiences, at 52 he can no longer play the piano. Marooned by performance anxiety, it seems that the sacrifices he has made in the name of his art have simply cost too much. Childless and single, he is exhausted from the effort of maintaining a professional career and all that it entails, and when a bad review calls into question his achievements as a pianist, he spirals into depression and self-doubt.

Rachmaninov: Etude-Tableau Op. 33/3
The Concert Pianist is a compelling and highly readable book by British author Conrad Williams, himself a keen amateur pianist. Williams’ understanding of and sympathy towards the difficulties of life as a professional musician is very clear throughout the narrative and he paints a devastating picture of an individual once at the top of his profession and now questioning everything about it. The exigencies of the career – the punishing concert schedule, the unsociable hours, traveling, critics, agents, venue managers, the flashy young upstarts and the crippling self-doubt – are portrayed in vivid detail and any romantic suggestion that the concert artist exists in a wonderful gilded cage is thoroughly refuted. The book has a rich cast of characters, from Morahan’s long-suffering agent, tricky ex-girlfriends, the city financier who wants to bankroll a new recording label to his petulant young protégé Vadim, and there is even a cameo of the late great Sviatoslav Richter in the form of ageing Russian pianist Konstantine Serebriakov.

Schubert: Impromptu in G flat, D899/3 (Radu Lupu)
Cover of The Concert PianistThrough the central character of Philip, the book examines the complex inner life of a great artist, the passion and the pain, the travails of practising and preparing for concerts, endlessly feeding the creative spirit, the conflict between life and art, and how music has the power to change us all. It also questions the purpose and value of concerts – are they merely to entertain or should they seek to transcend everyday life? – and the relationship of the professional musician with audiences and critics.

The book closes with a thrilling portrayal of Philip’s comeback concert, the author describing in detail the psychological and physical processes of live performance, and the performer’s responses, together with a breathlessly vivid and insightful description of Chopin’s ‘Funeral March’ Sonata which has the reader riding every note with Philip’s fleet fingers.

The Concert Pianist by Conrad Williams (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006)

Chopin: Sonata in B-flat minor, final movement (Grigory Sokolov)

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