“When one asks children what they want to be when they grow up, they never say ‘a critic,’ which proves that it’s a job for losers.” It’s impossible not to laugh with François Truffaut, who was a critic himself early on, at this statement that he put into the mouth of one of his characters.
Shall I give you an example? Who are these lines about? “Never before have we been so complacent in the face of the hideous. Is it lucidity? No, sadism. The author wallows in the stench of it. The heart tightens. The skin crawls. And one is rigid with embarrassment, the embarrassment of being there. Yes, I lowered my head, I didn’t look at the stage anymore. I had the feeling that I was taking part in obscene vision.” This author who “wallows in the stench of it” – according to the sage judgment of this oracle who today is completely forgotten – is none other than Samuel Beckett, and the play, perhaps his most beautiful, was Happy Days. A nice job, criticism, which too often consists of finding the worst in the best, and vice versa, for lack of personal or objective point of view.
All joking aside, no one can deny the discerning heights that criticism can attain when it is the work of musicians like Debussy and Boulez, authors like Borges and Blanchot or, simply, beings who are still capable of being moved. In such cases, criticism is a parallel art, an homage paid by artists to their peers, attempting to transpose an emotion using other means, that of reason and of the mind. Baudelaire wrote about Wagner: “All great poets become naturally, inevitably, critics.”
Unfortunately, the reverse is rarely true. And I’m sorry, but these individuals lack the critical experience of stage fright, the face-to-face encounter with the hall in which every person is different from every other, where every listener (among them the critic) expects from you a distinct emotion, a specific response to his or her point of view about the work. They are missing the one-on-one encounter with themselves, seated at the piano whose keys suddenly resemble gleaming, formidable fangs. Face to face with doubt, despite hours of research and practice.
One of these critics, some time ago, called me a little goat with no taste, good only for jumping about onstage. A few years later, he wrote that, contrary to his expectations, I hadn’t changed a bit: I was still a pianist who deserved to be whipped. Still later, he admitted in the pages of the same paper that he had been moved by one of my concerts that he attended; he was thrilled to have the chance once again to publicly change his opinion about me. That was the last one.
Today, I take the decrees of the press in stride. The public doesn’t need someone to prescribe whom they should like or not – they are adults, passionate and demanding, and they know what they like.
I admit that, in the beginning, these criticisms tormented me, until the day I took a good, hard look at them and discovered that, basically, there were more good reviews than bad. What struck me to the heart was how excessively cruel the bad ones were, their desire to go in for the kill. I considered them to be worthless, completely sterile.
An artist’s primary critic is herself: her goal is not illusory perfection, which would be stillborn – no one can speak exactly for the composers, or for their desires. What all real artists aim for is to use their lives to animate the life of the work they are playing, to give their entire being to it, in that perfect abandon – which is love.
The great painters never tried to reproduce the reality of faces line for line; they started from a model in order to draw from it the deepest part of existence. And then, what is there to reproduce in music? There is no model of the ideal interpretation, drawn up like the blueprint of a perfect temple, like a living human being. There is and can only be an encounter with the existence of music that is played. “Somewhere in the unfinished.”