The work of piano left hand

Piano compositions for the left hand alone constitute an entire sub-category of classical music that generates many puzzles. Whether the pieces are for piano solo or with orchestra or chamber ensemble, they make me wonder –

Why do composers write for one hand when they can write for two, still playing the same instrument?

Is this particular approach making a unique artistic or ascetic claim?

If subtraction is “the affirmative part of negation” (Badiou), what is affirmed by subtracting the right hand?

How does the left hand piano condition my musical attention?

Why is there no pop/rock music composed for the left hand playing any instrument?

I became aware of the musical left hand when I met my left-handed “other self,” collaborative pianist Dr. Pantelis Polychronidis, and had the opportunity to observe closely his playing. Suddenly, I could hear the dialectic at the basis of the dialogue of the two hands! Since that time I have learned to listen to two hands contesting and collaborating rather than combining and consoling,

as in the opening of Schumann: Fantasie in C, op. 17 – I,

the conclusion of Liszt: Unstern! Sinistre, disastro,

or throughout Adams: China Gates.

But what happens to this dialectic when there is only one hand playing? And how does it work when the single hand is the left hand of a left-handed person? I leave these questions open and I list below a few of my favorite examples as I remain attuned to my friend’s presence.

Alkan: Fantasie in A flat op. 76 – I

Godowsky: Studies after Chopin for the left hand alone – Revolutionary Etude

Franz Schmidt: Quintet No. 1 – II. Intermezzo (for the left hand alone)

Richard Strauss: Panathenäenzug for piano left hand and orchestra, Op. 74 – Finale

Bartok: Study for the left hand

Britten: Diversions for piano left hand and orchestra

Hamelin plays Hamelin: Étude No.7 ‘Lullaby’ for the left hand after Tchaikovsky

12 May 2022


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