Anyone recognise these Chopin hands?

Anyone recognise these Chopin hands?


norman lebrecht

September 04, 2018

Here’s the only identification of this Youtube performance: Hello, I’m Rousseau, I make piano covers of classical and pop songs with a reactive visualizer.

Clearly, the pianist can play.

But who or what is Rousseau, and has the sound been legitimately recorded or lifted, Hatto-like, from a professional artist?

One of our readers comments: If this is genuine, then the performer is very fine indeed.  But that seems unlikely.  More likely is that the performance was recorded at slow tempo and then sped up (it’s a MIDI piano).  Note the ending, where the hands disappear in a flash.


  • steven holloway says:

    It’s rather obvious that the only wizardry here is technological, if wizardry it is. That’s what Rousseau is advertising.

  • Dewey Cheatum & Howe says:

    It is an optical illusion. The keys are not being depressed. The fingers are just moving over the surface. The forearms are not shown for good reason. No way the LH octaves can be sounded without active vertical forearm movement.

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      I played it back at half speed on a big screen. The keys are indeed being pressed (every note is absolutely correct), and are exactly in sync with the sound, following the pianist’s slight variations and instabilities of tempo. The pianistic technique and muscular movement negotiates all of Chopin’s figurations naturally and efficiently. This aspect is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to fake convincingly, at least in Hollywood studios.

      • Herbert Pauls says:

        …for a bit of additional confirmation, what I am seeing in some of the descending LH figurations a few bars before the end, the pianist plays only three notes instead of four (skipping the third note of each group of four). You can both hear it in the sound and see it in the visual movement if you look closely. He fakes the left hand a little. This is the type of fudging one would expect if one were to play up to speed. If he had been deliberately playing it, say, at half speed, I expect that he would have had no problem dutifully plunking every note out.

        • Furtive Wangler says:

          You are quite correct. I don’t know why we need to spend our time commenting on what Basil Fawlty referred to as “the bleeding obvious”, unless it’s the atmosphere of fake news that has corrupted the minds of a generation? (By the way, this is a fake comment that I mimed at my own keyboard)

      • Dewey, Cheatum & Howe says:

        You have been fooled. The illusion of pressed keys can be created by modulating the lighting.

        *ANY* illusion can be made to appear as reality using current state-of-art movie studio CGI technology. Including anything in mainstream media news broadcasts, please note.

        • Herbert Pauls says:

          Look again! Slow it way down and play back on a much larger screen. Not only can you see that the keys are being depressed. You can also see many random brushes of adjacent keys slightly moving as well. Sometimes, for example, the thumb will slightly depress a white note that is beside the correct note. The way the keys are brushed correspond exactly to what would happen if one were actually physically interacting with the keyboard. If someone were programing a midi performance, they would have to know all of this practical information intimately. All of the tiny slowing downs and rubatos also conform to how someone would actually play in real life. The sound absolutely matches the physical movement in every respect.No way it is a mimed performance, much less a programmed performance.

          Also, look really carefully at some of his other performances, both slow and fast.

          • Danley Wolfe says:

            Also watch it on 80 inch Sony or Samsung smart TV…The HANDS – FINGERS ARE CERTAINLY PLAYTHE KEYS.

        • ABCDE says:

          fuck off retard, do you think faking the hand movements of pressing the exact right notes is easier than actually pressing them?

        • Person says:

          First off, when playing a fast piece your hands are supposed to be relaxed and very light. The term “leggiero” refers to playing something lightly, so you aren’t supposed to press the keys down firmly and make it obvious you are pressing keys, that would just butcher the sound of the piece.

          Second, it’s just very hard to track specific keys being pressed down in fast pieces like Etudes. Take for an example, a trill, if you observe a pianist playing that, the fingers move so fast you think you are seeing an illusion, but you aren’t it’s just too fast to be visible.

          Third, even if it was an illusion, can you explain the musicality this pianist has? This is very hard to fake, as you will need to pay attention to dynamics, touches, articulation, musicianship, accents in order for the programmed robot to sound genuine.

    • Ur Mom says:

      I think it is not an optical illusion but he is actually playing. If you look closely you can clearly see he IS pressing the keys. So, what you have said is Wack bro and you need some milk!

    • Noisy says:

      What bollocks, the guy is renowned pianist J Goodwin, and who would spend years learning all of those precise finger movements of incredibly complicated piano pieces without going the extra few millimeters and actually pressing the keys down?


    Yes, a palpable mimed fake. Without all the nuances every Chopin etude cries out for whatever the speed. These are impossible on any midi keyboard (which this is). The fingers are merely flicking across the keys, not depressing them, and there’s no vertical arm action.

    For the real thing, enjoy Sviatoslav Richter in a live encore at the Barbican Hall, London, in 1989:

    • Philip Moores says:

      29 March 1989. I was there! 3 Mozart Sonatas in first half, various Chopin Etudes in 2nd half. This was not in fact an encore but the 4th Etude he played. The page turner got lost in the opening Etude (Op.10/1). Richter was furious, left the hall after No.4. Returned, played the rest of the concert, turning the pages humself, left the stage and never returned, not even for 1 bow!

      • RODNEY GREENBERG says:

        Thanks for a great Richter story. Opus 10 No.4 seems a perfect vehicle for venting your rage at the page turner. I hope he kept out of Richter’s way backstage afterwards.

  • Furtive Wangler says:

    Eyewitness testimony is famously unreliable but apparently here nobody saw anything. What is this conspiracy?

  • william osborne says:

    Yes, it’s a sped up MIDI recording. Along with the unrealisitic speed of the hand movements, the extreme uniformity of touch reveals a MIDI piano. The artificial lack of corporeal nuance also tells of a sped up performance. The lack of clarity in the movement of the hands also hints at lost frames lost due to speeding up the video.

    I suspect a few small errors were also corrected since I didn’t see any cuts in the video. The MIDI track can be placed in hard disk recording software along with a video window. Wrong notes can be corrected and dynamics changed in the MIDI track. Even changes can be made to the timing if the video is slowed down or sped up by the same ratio — though that’s tricky.

    It’s very well done, and another example of how music has moved to what might be termed a post-virtuosic era, at least for percussive sorts of instruments like the piano whose individual tones can be effectively “sampled.” Eventually, “physical modeling” of wind and string instruments might reach similar levels of simulation, but that is a ways into the future. Almost all pop music these days is largely a simulation of performance — all those canned boom-chic tracks and singer’s voices so processed that can even be emulated in live performance.

    I think these developments will lead to new forms of performance which require a fuller presence of a performer on the stage that cannot be simulated. Live performance will gravitate more toward small forms of chamber music theater — genres that require a human presence on stage. But of course tradition forms will continue too with people scraping cat guts with horse hair and blowing raspberries through brass tubes and banging on taught goat skins and such.

    • boringfileclerk says:

      The speed is not unrealistic. Cziffra played it at this tempo, or slightly faster. Few can pull it off like this. Can’t say the Lisztian approach is my cup of tea, but it is possible.

      • william osborne says:

        At some moments the speed is unrealistic. Human speed can reach those tempos, but they don’t look like that. Too little muscular tension in the forearms, and the acceleration and deceleration of the movement is too gradual, not showing the somewhat jerked quality a human would have. OTH, it is the unnatural fluidity that makes the video engaging. The gray areas between the natural and unnatural are the most compelling aspect of post-virutosic music — the liminal areas between the human and post-human.

        • william osborne says:

          OTH, I see that my spell checker is still too stupid to remind me of the difference between taught and taut…

        • william osborne says:

          At numerous places, one can’t see the depression of the keys by the left hand thumb due to frames being dropped by speeding up the video. The hands thus look like they are skimming the keys at certain points. Very interesting. Not sure, but I’m also thinking the performer is a woman. A rich irony in the name Rousseau since he advocated the return to what he held to be a more natural world…

        • william osborne says:

          Also note that the downward moving light patterns are the MIDI “player-piano scroll” of the recording. Simulacrums of music have a hollowness until we embrace the simulcrum and manipulate it as part of our creative endeavors. In this sense, the old fashioned player-piano music of Colin Nancarrow is more stimulating due to his complex rhythmic studies. They ended up inspiring Ligeti’s remarkable piano etudes.

          One can follow this train of thought to the simulacrums of fake news — which means about all news. As Baudrillard noted years ago, our whole culture is essentially a simulacrum (especially notable in things like the build up to the second Iraq War, or the sock puppet artificialities of the CIA’s social media agitations that played a major roles in the so-called Arab Spring.)

          So it is pointless to think of the news as real. One can only look at its manifestations and appreciate (if possible) which simulacrum is the most clever and engaging. The problem is that the simulacrums too often lead to massive death and destruction.

          In the end, we realize that the human brain itself is a lie. The closest we can get to the truth is silence. Rather a problem for a musician. To keep on making sound, we must surrender to accepting the lies for what they are. After all, we are little but shadows and dust…

    • Pascale Wang says:

      Nope it’s not a MIDI piano. It doesn’t have the responsiveness for that kind of music. That’s a very expensive grand.
      It’s another virtuosic player. They come ten to the dozen.
      But since it looks very much like Stephen Limbaugh, we have here an unusual and very talented pianist all the same. Well done him.

  • boringfileclerk says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s this guy, one of the worlds greatest living pianists:

    • Herbert Pauls says:

      You may well be on to something. As I puzzled over our little mystery, I was thinking the same thing, but could not find another hand angle directly from the top on any other web photos to confirm. The hand angles, finger shape and length, and slightly protruding LH main thumb joint seem to be right, as does the way he attacks chords, which would create a slightly hard sound on an acoustic piano. In any case, Rousseau’s repertoire proclivities, ranging from Rachmaninoff and other popular classics to contemporary pop music and Einaudi, certainly match the taste of our possible candidate. If the match is correct, he certainly has the actual facility to play Op 10 No 4 like we hear in the above

    • william osborne says:

      Yes, playing a blue Baldwin with an electric guitar hanging on the wall behind him…

      • boringfileclerk says:

        He could have created another persona. These things happen all the time in literature. All of the hallmarks of Mr. Pants are there, solid yet idiosyncratic technique, somewhat brutish interpretations, and eclectic taste in music.

      • Billy Jr says:

        …and wearing a different pair of pajama pants every time he plays. He does all of this while he plays amazing things on the piano!

      • Billy Jr says:

        And wearing a different pair of exotic pajama pants all while playing melodious tunes….

    • Pascale Wang says:

      I agree with you. That’s the guy. The left thumb is the give away, as well as the lack of tension, and playing on the edge of the keyboard.

    • Lorrie says:

      What makes you think this is Rousseau?

  • Selpak says:

    I just want to leave this recording of Leschenko here..a lot of people talking about Richter’s recording, but no-one mentioning this recording

  • Pascale Wang says:

    I don’t know why people are almost willing for Rousseau to be a fake. There are many virtuosic pianists around with this kind of technical ability (and musicality, this is truly wonderful).
    This kind of pianists won’t appear on the “normal” classical music scene because they find it stifling. They are generally already overcooked by their demanding musical education and want a bit of freedom and fun.

    I agree with boringfileclerk and Herbert Pauls.
    It does look like Stephen Limbaugh. I think I can recognise his unusual left thumb. A little too straight. Should be much more rounded.

    Stephen Limbaugh also plays much too much on the edge of the keyboard. Which is unusual for a pianist of that standard. It’s more common to play deeper into the keyboard.

    I don’t think this could be a MIDI piano as some are suggesting. For this kind of playing you need an excellent piano, with a responsive mechanic. You can hear and see it in the trills and very fast repetitive patterns. Only a top grand allows this kind of playing.

    Stephen Limbaugh also has a very relaxed style. He plays fiendishly difficult music with no tension. I really think it’s him.

    Well done to him. He’s a remarkable pianist. And he plays from memory. What a guy.

  • scotto541 says:

    I hear quite a few minor fluctuations in tempo. If it were played at half tempo (and later sped up the video) I don’t think the tempo would vary that much.

  • Stagione says:

    I am a huge fan of Richter. Not his best work here, but still better than most, and he was getting old in 1989. See how much physicality he puts into his playing! One of my regrets was not hearing him live. Re Rousseau, I have been listening to Chopin, Rachmaninov and Liszt for almost 40 years. I doubt he faked his YouTube channel because his playing is warm, contains (unfixed) errors, and a few telling and very common tempo dips that you won’t hear in a pime Richter recording. Also should say that if you can play 99% of a piece perfectly, not many people will know the difference. For those who can tell, it shouldn’t become a conspiracy…

  • Clavierphile says:

    The keys are clearly being pressed. Looks like real piano playing to me, and I played the piano for many years.

  • drrake says:

    I don’t agree this is fake. It says the hands disappear in a flash, but throughout the video the hands move on and off screen, they’re fast movements, but they would be for this performance. The piece is too fast to move slowly.

    When motion is speeded up it begins to look wooden because it doesn’t follow the laws of momentum and inertia for the speed it’s moving. But this is fine. The inertia is exactly what you’d expect.

    The fingers are obviously in the right place and given how much it would cost and the time it would take to do this with CGI it’s far more feasible it’s just a real pianist.

    Remember: How do you think they get played the rest of the time? If you believe the regular performances, why think this is fake? All it takes is a pianist who can play the tunes.

  • I would like to see a performance without the distracting lights flashing at the top of the screen … obviously to enhance the visual effect of speed. I’d like to see it in normal lighting, not this deliberately darkened space. Too many obvious subterfuges. And it’s not that hard to simply speed up a recording … the hand positions would remain the same.

  • Jenna says:

    What’s really funny to me is that Stephen Limbaugh literally mocks you guys in his bio “I fake all of my videos…. I graphicalllly enhance my hands and CGI the music. I’m halfway to 7 foot tall.”. It’s clearly him.

  • Desmond says:

    How can you tell they can really play with their playing? I see slightly unnatural hand movements for what I’m hearing personally. If they were that good why is there not any information anywhere else about them? They’re obviously bold enough to make these videos. Are they not bold enough to perform live? It could be a really good player using Ivory and logic to come up with the piano performance and then assemble their video afterwards.

  • Keehan says:

    Definitely not Limbaugh!
    Limbaugh has clubbed nails, visible in a few videos. Rousseau doesn’t.

  • Dylan Conry says:

    This is a false accusation and here is why. Rousseau is a very humble person and does not stall his hands out in the open. He plays his song and is done. Lang Lang does the opposite, he hovers his hands over and takes about 10 seconds to finally take his bow. after his piece is done. Plus, in some of his harder videos he does not “tear” his hands away from the piano, but will do it at a normal pace. In Hungarian Rhapsody No2 and No6 he does this.

  • Marc says:

    The jealousy and insecurity displayed here is actually disgusting. Can you not accept that there are better pianists out there?

    • ekans says:

      Fully agreed. So many comments out there saying it’s sped up and faked. Why can’t people accept that there are better musicians than them? Side note: after slowing it down to half speed on many of his videos, I can say that they wouldn’t be extremely hard to play at half speed. Any sufficiently trained classical musician (say they finished their diploma) would certainly be capable of playing these pieces. If one were to say, actually practise (gosh what an idea), they very easily could play these pieces.

  • AS says:

    Note how every pianist inevitably moves his head above his hands during the performance. Rousseau does not- it is fake.

  • Person says:

    Looking from another perspective- not about the physical touching the keys perspective- but the piece has dynamics and delicate touches that are appropriate to what Chopin wanted. While a programmed performance can change in intensity of sound, it isn’t as gradual or as euphonious versus what a real pianist can play, and definitely it will have a hard time matching the delicate touches because it will just sound like a bunch of notes being banged.

  • Jacob says:

    If we are simply talking about how fast his hands moved off the screen and the end, then this argument is clearly invalid. If you consider the dexterity and coordination of elite pianists’ hands, quickly removing hands from a keyboard is not difficult at all.
    It is also unlikely that it was sped up, as the tempo throughout the piece appears very steady, something difficult to do when playing slowly.

  • Organist says:

    I am an organist and use a Hauptwerk practice instrument at home. The Hauptwerk software includes a midi recorder. While I practice a new piece and can play it for example, at 2/3 speed, I record myself and play back the midi at the designated full speed. This is very helpful to hear small irregularities that only become apparent at full speed. Having watched a few of Rousseau’s performances on youtube, I am pretty sure that he can play the pieces, but not at full speed. He is an excellent pianist but not virtuosic enough to play the fastest and most difficult pieces at full speed. He records the video and midi files and speeds them up. It’s really quite simple.
    I don’t know what kind of instrument he is playing, but even if he is playing a grand piano, it does not exclude the use of a midi recorder and the technique described above. I have a real piano equipped with a Yamaha silent function that can record midi.
    No virtuoso pianist plays Chopin and Liszt pieces like Rousseau. Watch life performances of professional concert pianists playing the very same pieces. They play them very differently, with much more drive and agitation. They move much more, lift hands and arms away form the keyboard all the time to accentuate the music and bring emotion to their performance. Rousseau never lifts his hands from the keyboard. It looks as if his hands are glued to the keyboard. This looks very strange. It is very clear to me that the hardest and fastest pieces are sped-up real performances. It is impossible to say what speed he is playing them in the real performance, but I estimate it is not more than half the speed. That does not make him a bad pianist. He deserves the success on youtube. But I am pretty sure he could never play these pieces in a real-life performance on stage.

    • Janet says:

      I can see he plays slower than kassia who plays faster.

      But I don’t think it sped up due to the fingerings.

  • Armand says:

    I am not a musician but I can see that the hands look like those of a very young woman; maybe a teenager. She even wears a fine chain bracelet in couple of pieces. She would be quite a prodigy, but with hands so small they are unlikely to reach all the keys portrayed in the video. It’s no wonder some viewers see her brushing over the outer notes. Still, I found the videos quite entertaining with the cascading notes.

  • Janet says:

    Keys are being pressed the angle of the camera is key hovering directly
    Over the keys and hands so you can’t see them moving as much but you can clearly see they are being pressed down.

    We are used to seeing pianos from the side not overhead so people must remember this. This electric thing looks like it is applied after he’s played the music I think its digitised in someway.

  • I must agree with some of the contributors here: his playing seems eerily strange, not showing the natural movements of hands. For example, he plays Rachmaninoff – Prelude in G Minor (Op. 23 No. 5) which is a very strenuous piece for the hands and arms. Given his rather fragile bone structure, I have a hard time understanding how he could play this peace so uniformly floating about the keyboard. Look at Yuja Wangs performance how she has to move fingers, hands and arms in order to get the sound across: this is strangely missing from Rousseaus playing. Imeain, it sounds great, no mistake, but it seems unreal.

  • The Piano says:

    Yo, what the heck are you thinking?! This pianist, Rosseau, is not faking it. I am a pianist myself, and after I looked carefully at his videos, the keys are indeed pressed down. Bro, you think you can fool us, we’re not stupid! I can see the keys pressed down, so dude stop it.

  • Jack says:

    Can you guys not just admit that he’s 10 times better than you in every way and move on.

  • Bruce says:

    Who cares! It gives you a better appreciation for the music, the composer and the person playing the piece! My son called it guitar hero on a piano. Stop dissecting it and just enjoy it. Brilliant!

  • guest says:

    I just want to add that his english is really really good, I would say he’s a native speaker. Hope this helps for the search.

  • Steve says:

    Okay folks, with CGI anything is possible, agreed (as exactly this is what I do for living) … but let me tell you one thing … the amount of time (and money) you would need to create a result like that, of such qualty ….. it would be a lot easier and way cheaper to just pay a top-pianist for a few minutes and invite her or him to do play it for you. That is for sure, believe me. 😀
    So, I’d say, simply accept it’s real, unique and brilliant – lean back – (for the sceptics: close your eyes) – and enjoy. 😉

  • Annoying Bee says:

    WOW. I’m amazed by the comments. I can smell the envy from here. If you can’t play it, doesn’t mean others can’t. Stop throwing sh… to Rousseau and go practice some piano.

  • Alvin Raul says:

    This is real BS. I flash my hands away like that too, just because it fits Chopin’s endings.
    All notes are being pressed, and nothing is sped up. People just don’t know about classical piano music to know that it is possible to press so many notes at the same time, and not make many mistakes.
    Why are there always conspiracy theories?