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College deletes the word ‘accompanist’

July 20, 2018 by norman lebrecht

26 comments.


press release:

The Royal College of Music (RCM) has become the first London conservatoire to rename its Masters in Piano Accompaniment to highlight the central role of the pianist in collaborative music making and to give emphasis to the range of skills gained on the course. Students will apply for a ‘Masters in Collaborative Piano’ when applications open this month.

Oh, fff’s sake. And that’s going to make them better pianists and musicians?


Comments (26)

  1. Pianofortissimo says:

    ’Collaborative piano’ sounds more like four hands piano playing.

  2. Bruce says:

    IMHO “collaboration” is a much more comprehensive description of what a, shall we say, non-solo pianist does. Some of what they do is accompanying, but that’s not all they do (or should do).

    1. Michael Evans says:

      Try ‘partenered by’ or something equally simple….after all they are a ‘team’!

      1. Bruce says:

        [EDIT: now that I see how long this post has become: Michael, it might look like I’m disagreeing with you, but really I’m agreeing with you and then blathering on from there 😛 ]

        If you’re just printing a program, I agree.

        “ITZHAK PERLMAN

        *accompanied by*

        VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY”

        clearly makes less sense than

        “ITZHAK PERLMAN

        *with*

        VLADIMIR ASHKENAZY”.

        (You could also say “and,” or simply put the two names.)

        However, if you’re trying to describe a job title or a university major, it’s necessary to come up with a word that actually describes the job.

        “Collaborative” to me means an equal partner, or someone who is worthy of respect as an equal partner. If you’re a violinist playing Kreisler ditties, then your pianist is accompanying you, regardless of how famous he or she might be. That’s due to the nature of the piano part, not the nature of the musician playing it. If you’re a violinist playing a Brahms sonata, then your pianist is not “accompanying” you — they are an equal partner in the music, and need to be up to the task artistically as well as technically. Again, the nature of the collaboration is due to the writing; but the nature of the pianist’s job, independent of the particular piece they’re playing, is “collaborator” much more than “accompanist.”

        (Example: Gerald Moore was a famous accompanist; but is strumming out discreet “oomp-chuck” piano parts really all he did? Of course not.)

  3. Bill says:

    Manny Ax and Nick Canellakis touch on this issue with much hilarity on the Conversations with Nick series on youtube.

    Maybe if you’re just banging out concerto reductions the accompanist label fits a little better, but would you call Schnabel or Bartok Szigeti’s accompanist? Was Clara Haskell Grumiaux’s accompanist, or a full-fledged musical collaborator?

  4. Israel Gursky says:

    Dear Norman, I do believe that “collaborative pianist” is a much more apt and does more justice to the work of pianists in a musical collaboration. The term “accompanist” can – and sometimes, to some people – denote a lesser, secondary role in a musical partnership. A collaborative pianist indeed sometimes really “accompany” (in itself a highly intricate skill), but oftentimes has to lead and take charge, and, in order for any musical collaboration to be truly succesful, must be an equal musical partner along all stages of the collaboration. So often are the musical and pianistic challanges a collaboartive pianist faces – be it in a Faure or Brahms sonata, or in a Liederabend of Schubert or Wolf – no lesser than those of the most challanging piano pieces. Many of the leading US conservatories, such as Juilliard or Manhattan School of Music (where I did my studies) have adopted the term “collaborative piano” – rightly so, I would say. Naturally, a mere change of term or title does not a better artist make – for that one requires (as with any métier) much talent, skill, hard work and dedication, and yes – also excellent training that most be followed by a life-long pursuit of learning and acquiring knowledge, experience and inspiration..

    1. Miguel Esteban says:

      Dear Israel, Here, here! Jean Barr and the late Gwendolyn Koldowsky salute/would salute you! Every word you put forth is true. I am baffled that Norman would write such drivel. All the best, Miguel

    2. Alex Davies says:

      Yes, I just Googled collaborative piano and discover that in the USA and Canada the term is used in a lot of institutions already.

    3. Una says:

      As a singer myself, my accompanist – and many others I know – has no problem whatsoever in being called an accompanist. A collaborator is just another politically correct title for something in management speak. Just stupid and patronising! Everyone knows what an accompanist is, and everyone knows that if the accompanist gets sick, no way can the singer carry on and do an unaccompanied evening of unaccompanied Ravel, Handel, Schumann and Britten.

  5. Alex Davies says:

    Good for them. The only time I’d use the word “accompanist” would be to describe a staff accompanist retained to provide unobtrusive accompaniment for exams, competitions, auditions, student recitals, rehearsals, etc. But if we are talking about serious professional music making for the concert hall or recording studio then the pianist is an equal partner with the violinist, cellist, singer, etc. Indeed, we now understand, for example, that Beethoven thought of his violin sonatas not as violin sonatas with piano accompaniment but as piano sonatas with violin accompaniment, hence their sometimes being called “sonata for piano and violin”. It’s chamber music, not solo music with piano accompaniment.

    1. SVM says:

      I would argue that, in much of the duo repertoire, either player could be described as the “accompanist” of the other. The usefulness of the term being used to refer specifically to the pianist derives from the asymmetry in the repertoire: for most classical instruments, the repertoire is dominated by duos for said instrument plus pianoforte (with unaccompanied solos the exception rather than the rule), whilst the repertoire for pianoforte contains an enormous wealth of works for solo pianoforte.

      Personally, speaking as a pianist, I do not have a problem with being described as an “accompanist”, even when working in a genuine partnership. The term is admirably concise and specific, whilst “collaborative pianist” could encompass a wider range of activity, such as répétituring (where, unlike with accompanying, the priority is *not* to cover-up mistakes committed by collaborators, but to follow the conductor at all costs, since the répétitur is a *rehearsal* pianist who should imitate the behaviour of an orchestra, whilst an accompanist is a *concert* pianist who should contribute to making the overall performance convincing above all) and chamber music with more than two players (where the dynamic is rather different).

  6. Robert Hairgrove says:

    I couldn’t resist posting this link to an older thread on SD about my former piano teacher who was Emanuel Feuermann’s regular accompanist for may years up till he passed away:

    http://slippedisc.com/2015/07/the-forgotten-accompanist-100-today/

  7. Ruben Greenberg says:

    Alfred Cortot was a collaborator. I suggest: “differently-paid musical associate”.

    1. Bill says:

      The word has multiple meanings.

      1.
      a person who works jointly on an activity or project; an associate.
      “his collaborator on the book”
      synonyms: coworker, partner, associate, colleague, confederate
      2.
      a person who cooperates traitorously with an enemy; a defector.
      “he was a collaborator during the occupation”

      #1 is right on the money.

    2. Bruce says:

      I would suggest that a word does not always need to carry all of its connotations with it into all possible contexts. With World War II now 73 years in the past, it might be possible that one artist could work together with another without being a Nazi sympathizer.

      I may be wrong though.

      /eyeroll

  8. Leo says:

    Enjoy consequences of the political correctness. What is wrong? (the answer – everything, but sotto voce)

  9. Sam Burstin says:

    Perhaps it should be pointed out to young musicians wishing to become better musicians that collaborating with other musicians is the best way to do so! Of course private technical practice and learning the notes in a room on your own is important and necessary. But it is when we listen and respond to each other that real musical development happens. It almost seems a shame that a separate course of ‘collaboration’ is deemed necessary – surely all music students, even pianists with soloistic aspirations, should be encouraged to collaborate with other and other instrumentalists as a natural part of their study?

  10. Glenn Amer says:

    As an accompanist I detest the weasel word phrase “collaborative pianist”. I much prefer to be simply credited as “….with Glenn Amer at the piano”

  11. Britcellist says:

    Why not so and so – violin/trumpet etc, so and so – pianist?

    1. Una says:

      Yes, that is what we do in England and have done for donkeys years on posters and flyers and in programmes. So and so – soprano, so and so – piano! Simple! And yes, it is a duo or whatever – a partnership. But I think we have enough partners and partnerships at the moment in life without creating anymore. Why people want to reinvent the English language, I don’t know.

      1. Bill says:

        You call yourself what you want, and let others do the same. Simple.

  12. Tamino says:

    First you say that accompanying is inferior to solo.
    Then you try to rename it to make it sound less inferior.
    The solution is not to rename it.
    The solution is to stop applying simplistic ‘winner takes it all’ stone age attitudes to anything and anyone.
    Mankind was already much further at some point in their enlightenment. But some people apparently think stone age ‘natural law’ is something that needs to be enforced, instead of enlightened humanity.

  13. Una says:

    Oh, and by the way, since when was the RCM a conservatoire? What’s wrong with music college? It’s even in their name Royal College of Music. Why are we using French? Snobbery!

  14. PJA says:

    I wonder if they will soon run a masters course for Collaboative Manuscript Management for those who want to brush up their page turning skills.

  15. Ricardo says:

    Any serious music school should teach to play alone or together with others at the same level. The problem exists since someone sayd that ‘He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches’ or become “accompanists”…
    Splitting the cursus in performance, pedagogy and accompaniyng is problaby the worst mistake done by the academy.

  16. Walter says:

    PJA that is totally hysterical. Look, we are PIANISTS who specialize in chamber music, be it vocal or instrumental, titles are not needed, except today everything needs to be labelled. The great pioneer Gerald Moore’s recordings always stated…..”at the piano” or on the German labels….”am Flügel”. His artistry brought great respectability to the field. But the lecture-recitals he gave back in the 40’s – 60’s were entitled “The Accompanist Speaks”. When you’re great at what you do, it doesn’t matter what your title is, as long as the check clears! As Rachmaninov used to say “check good, acoustic good”.


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