Leon Fleisher

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As I've said for a long time, the level of mediocrity is constantly rising.

Leon Fleisher (July 23, 1928-August 2, 2020) was an American pianist and conductor.


  • French music is really very sensory, and appeals to sense of smell, taste, touch. It can be languorous, and almost erotic. Russian music is very subjective, sometimes whiny, breast-beating 'Look how I suffer, look how I suffer!'. German music is, to use your word, metaphysical. It really asks those existential questions of 'How do I relate to the Universe?', 'Is there a heaven?', 'How am I like a brook, or a leaf on a tree?'. I know this was the music that most challenged Schnabel. He said Mozart was the most inaccessible of the great masters, because with the fewest number of notes, he accesses the deepest levels of human awareness and experience.
  • There are certain devices that one uses in Romantic music that are appropriate only for Romantic or subsequent music. If you take those devices and apply them to earlier music, then it’s totally inappropriate, and it makes the Classical music sound silly. However, if you were to use what you might call ‘Classical devices’ on Romantic music, historically, that would be correct! It very often benefits Romantic music, which is sometimes rather disjunctive, rather shapeless in comparison with Classical symphonic or sonata form. Romantic music very often benefits from that tighter organization that you get from Classical music.
  • Speaking involves inflection, it involves an understanding of the language. Too many young people today play their instruments most wonderfully – they have such command of their instrument – but it’s as though they’re speaking a foreign language, phonetically. They pronounce all the words, but they have no idea of what they’re saying. And I think that’s one of the big differences between the great artists of the time and this level of expertise that is constantly expanding and rising. As I’ve said for a long time, the level of mediocrity is constantly rising.
  • First of all, when you enter a conservatory, it’s already too late. The kind of connection that has to be made with an instrument, be it a piano, strings, a wind instrument, it really has to start much younger – five, six, seven - eight years-old is already getting late. The instrument must really become an extension of yourself. That neuromuscular connection between intention and realization is something that really has to be started very young. And the years between nine or ten and twenty, that’s when one should learn the whole repertoire.

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