Barenboim – A Life in Music

Barenboim – A Life in Music


I’ve just finished reading Daniel Barenboim’s autobiography entitled “A Life in Music” and thought I’d share some of his thoughts and comments on music for my readers. Despite being an exceptional pianist, the book is actually more about his life as a conductor.

BarenboimAt first I was a bit disappointed by this but I soon came to realise that everything he discusses in regard to conducting music: phrasing, orchestration, dynamics, etc., is equally applicable to any instrumental study.

Firstly, for those of you who aren’t so familiar with Barenboim’s piano-playing, here are a few clips you may like to check out:

At the piano:

Giving a masterclass to Lang Lang!

Here are some of the fascinating insights and quotes I picked up in the book and which I hope you find interesting:

On his life…
  • He played his first concert with an orchestra when he was 8, playing Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 23 in a Maj K488.
  • When he was 17 and in his last year of school, he was asked to play a series of recitals in Tel Aviv. He said that he’d like to play all the Beethoven sonatas, which of course he did: “I learned all the Beethoven sonatas and played them in eight consecutive concerts”. Wow!
  • A year later, he played a complete cycle of the Mozart sonatas too!
On performing…
  • “One of the dangers of playing in public is to be too conscious of the audience. In other words, you must not go on stage thinking you are going to impress them…the best communication between artist and audience occurs if the artist becomes unaware of the public as soon as he or she starts playing.”
  • Having a broad knowledge of a whole composer’s output is really important for interpretation and performance of his/her individual works.
  • “The relationship between life and death is the same as the relationship between sound and silence – the silence before the music starts and after it ends”.
  • “If you wish to learn how to live in a democratic society, you would do well to play in an orchestra. For when you do so, you know when to lead and when to follow. You leave space for others and at the same time you have no inhibitions about claiming a place for yourself. And despite this, or maybe precisely because of it, music is the best means of escape from the problems of human existence.”
On piano…
  • “I was never made to practise scales or arpeggios. What was needed to develop my abilities as a pianist was done exclusively through playing the pieces themselves”
  • “The independence of the fingers is all-important, and I can only recommend, with great emphasis, that pianists should constantly work at the fugues from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.
  • “I always practise the technically difficult passages first – separately and slowly – so that I learn to control and phrase them. One must resist the temptation to try out the right tempo until one has perfect control at the slower tempo.”
  • “I never play passages mechanically with the intention of adding phrasing later…to separate the technical from the expressive side in music is like separating the body from the soul.”
  • On how long to practice: “I never play a single note when my concentration is no longer at its height, for to do so would be to fall into the trap of playing mechanically.”
  • He is strongly against the school of teaching that advocates stiffness of the wrist: “…there were many piano teachers who taught their pupils to put a coin on the upper side of the hand, and no matter how fast the fingers moved, the coin was not allowed to fall off”. Rather, he revered Claudio Arrau’s softness and suppleness of touch.

These are just some of the gems in this book which I recommend to anyone interested in furthering their understanding of music, particularly through the eyes of a conductor-pianist so well-respected as Barenboim. Click on the image on the right to purchase from Amazon.

Tim Topham

Tim Topham is the founder and director of TopMusic. Tim hosts the popular Integrated Music Teaching Podcast, blogs regularly at and speaks at local and international conferences on topics such as integrated teaching, creativity, business, marketing and entrepreneurship. Tim has been featured in American Music Teacher, The Piano Teacher Magazine, California Music Teacher and EPTA Piano Professional. Tim holds an MBA in Educational Leadership, BMus, DipEd and AMusA.

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