Clothes to play the piano in 1

the book:

The book against God by James Wood

published 2003   chapter 4

I thought that Jane was not very attractive as she came on to the stage; she was heavily involved in one of those large parachute-like concert dresses made of puffy blue raw silk, the kind that only female musicians wear. As she passed the piano she patted its black hood – which was raised as if to catch the sun – bowed, sat on the red, buttoned-leather seat, scratched her cheek and began a quiet piece which I didn’t know. Her neck and back were thin, her hair was gripped in a severe pony-tail. The short sleeves of her bunched and hilly dress throttled her thin upper arms, whose white skin caught the light as she lifted her hands – lifted them gently, in paddling movements, as if trying to calm the piano. Her face was lovely; I could see that, and I was beginning to find rather an erotic contrast between the angular arms and wrists, probably as thin as they had been when she was a teenager, and the more rounded, certainly adult deposit on which she sat…. By the end of the concert I wanted to meet her…

Roger proposed a drink somewhere. ‘Not in this…party dress’ Jane said firmly. ‘I feel ten years old in this thing, and as if the clown were about to turn up and keep us happy. Give me a moment.’ She disappeared to change…

I was astounded by the transformation. The ugly concert dress had compiled a superfluous commentary of silk around her, and obscured the truth. But in tight-fitting black jeans and a white blouse with oversize buttons she was closely revealed – slim, tall, elegant. She had exchanged her pony-tail for a brilliant crimson hairband that glowed as if painted there.

observations: James Wood is a leading literary critic, and this is his only novel to date. He is a brilliant critic, his essays are thoughtful and riveting and make you think you understand literature. He has a really wonderful essay on something he calls ‘hysterical realism’, a description of exactly what it is one might find annoying about a certain kind of novel – it’s available online here, as well as in his book The Irresponsible Self.

His own novel seems rather unexpected – I don’t think you’d guess it was him on a blind reading. A fairly unsatisfactory protagonist – a failing PhD student writing the eponymous book – describes in the first person his disintegrating marriage, his relationship with his father, and his struggles with concepts of God and belief. It’s a very enjoyable read in fact, smart and intelligent without being inaccessible. There is a lot about music too, and he is extremely good at explaining what might make the difference between good performances and bad – as well as a very funny riff on why it is a bad idea for a composer to live to exactly the age of 50 (it’s the anniversaries you see), and the views above on classical musicians’ dress. Look at tomorrow’s entry to see what Tommy (although not a man of sound judgement) thinks a pianist should wear.

Links up with: Piano-playing features in
this entry and this one. What you wear to work is an issue in this entry and this one.

picture is from the New York Public Library’s collection.