Who killed the page turner?

Who killed the page turner?


norman lebrecht

April 26, 2016

The iPad, apparently.

‘To me, the practice of using a page-turner is a charming relic of an amateur age, when chamber music was largely played by amateurs for amateurs in an amateur setting,’ says pianist Ignat Solzhenitsyn, who will use an iPad in a PCMS May concert with the Aizuri Quartet. ‘Today, page-turning – and it is a role I have performed countless times myself! – is an unwelcome anachronism, putting the pianist constantly on the defensive against potential catastrophe, so that his mind is bent more toward the person to his left than the people to his right.’

Read Peter Dobrin’s fascinating article here. 




  • Ravi Narasimhan says:

    One anachronism recognizing another?

  • Mikey says:

    That’s all very nice, but the largest iPad is still smaller than standard page size for most printed music.
    The music is printed on paper that size to make it readable. If the device can’t render that size then you’re straining your eyes.

    Using an iPad also requires the use of a pedal to turn pages. I’m not sure many pianists could free up an extra foot to turn pages while already pedalling.

    • John says:

      A couple of the pianists at the Denver Friends of Chamber Music have used their iPads at concerts. I suspect their knowledge of the music is such that having the score in front of them just provides a bit more security.

  • Cyril Blair says:

    And what happens if the iPad goes buggy?

  • thad says:

    A pianist can play either of the Brahms concertos with no score, but he needs the notes for the Piano Quintet? A soprano can sing Isolde for five freaking hours, in full costume, while hitting all her dramatic marks, but she needs the score for the solo in Beethoven’s 9th?

    • Cyril Blair says:

      Well for that matter, why don’t the other instrumentalists in the Brahms piano quintet play without the score? Why don’t all orchestral musicians play without scores? Why don’t all conductors conduct without scores? There is something about the soloist’s part that is qualitatively different, it is more “whole” and less “part” and thus easier to memorize.

    • Emil Archambault says:

      If the soloist gets lost, it’s the conductor’s job to get everyone on track (and, as you notice, conductors always have a score for concertos). If a member of a quintet gets lost, it is everyone’s job to get back on track. Similarly, conductors may conduct symphonies – even Mahler – from memory, but never operas (except the one who did Andrea Chenier with Alagna in New York a few years ago and who, predictably, got lost).

      • Mathieu says:

        Toscanini (who, granted, got lost a few times in his old days) conducted operas without the score. So does Barenboim. Whether they were/are right to do so is another matter, though.

        Re the topic du jour: I was a proud page turner in my youth. I would hate to learn that my successors have been replaced by IPads.

        • Michael Wilkinson says:

          Klemperer, in his ‘Minor Recollections’, alleged that Toscanini did not use a score in public as he was short-sighted but too vain to be seen to wear spectacles.

  • Adam Stern says:

    I will never use anything other than a hard copy of a score or part in concert, just as I will never read a work of literature via a Kindle or some such contraption. Deride, laugh, point fingers if you will, but, to quote Dickens’ Fezziwig yet again, “I’ll have to be loyal to the old ways and die out with them if needs must.”

  • Michael Wilkinson says:

    At a Brighton Phiharmonic concert earlier this year, Howard Shelley played and conducted Shostakovitch Concerto No 2, using an iPad short score operated by some sort of bluetooth connection. The performance did not suffer in any noticeable way – it was very fine. Presumably it took him a little while to practice the technology, but he seemed to be enjoying himself.

  • Tobi says:

    Oh, so is the page turner dead now? I see… Then it must have been something else I saw next to the pianist on two occasions last week. Russians and their big words!

    Is it really less distracting to move your foot to push the page turner “pedal” (or what you call it) than to have somebody else do it for you? Can’t imagine. What if you suddenly feel for a sip of una corda and you have no foot free to turn?

    Probably some superfancy, very (loyal to all that is) modern people will use this. The rest will stick to pageturners.

  • Kai Adomeit says:

    Sure, most pianists could play the Brahms Quntet without score – given the appropriate time to practice which means you have to get paid well enough for being able to concentrate on a small repertoire. Most can’t, because they are no amateurs and need to pay their bills. Playing from the iPad is a nice game, but you have to relearn page-turning which sounds so simple – try to avoid a life-long routine, it’s really something! Page-turners will still be needed when Pads will be a distant remembrance.
    PS. Do you know the sheer size of most contemporary scores? Don’t even dream about playing, as an example Jörg Widmanns Quintet with winds from a screen…

  • GeoffR says:

    Last week I saw and heard Yuja Wang play Bartok’s concertos #1 and #3 using the scores and a page-turner. Now she is still under 30 years old and very with it, but she said that she is still learning the Bartoks. Will she be using an iPad in a couple of years? Maybe only the conductor will have the score. And Bartok ain’t easy.

  • esfir ross says:

    The photo’s from somber French movie “Page turner”, a very good movie. After watching it you’ll want to use iPad.

  • William Safford says:

    I have now attended several concerts in which chamber music players used iPads (or equivalent) in lieu of printed music.

    I also recently attended a performance of a Brahms piano quintet in which the page turner made an error in a page turn.

    I also once performed in a chamber music concert in which one of the players left the sheet music at home, but had the music on the iPhone as a backup, and read off of it!

    There will probably always be a role for page turners, for one reason or another. Considering the extensive paper libraries, there will be a role for page turners for years to come.

    Finally, here is a fun example: the rarely-performed Donald Erb sonata for bassoon, piano, and page turner. The page turner does more than merely turn pages; he or she is an active participant in the performance.