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Survival for pianists may also be a spiritual matter: France’s Jacques Drillon enjoys a unique status as a linguist, grammarian and cruciverbalist who also conveys professional insight into keyboard performance. A onetime piano teacher, he has published books on Schubert, Gustav Leonhardt and Glenn Gould.

He was artistic director for a Mozart sonata cycle recorded by Georges Pludermacher; Musorgsky’s keyboard works interpreted by Brigitte Engerer; a complete Debussy with Alain Planès; and Liszt’s transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies played by Pludermacher, Planès, Michel Dalberto, Paul Badura-Skoda, Jean- Louis Haguenauer and Jean-Claude Pennetier.

He has created a keyboard transcription of Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin; Beethoven’s Quartet No 7 in F major, Haydn symphonies and quartets, and Mozart’s Sinfonia concertante, all for two pianos; and Ravel’s Boléro for four pianos. The last-named arrangement was premiered in 1992 by Brigitte Engerer, Alain Planès, Jean-François Heisser and Michel Béroff. Most are accessible online at imslp.org

In Cadence, Drillon casts a retrospective glance at an unsatisfactory provincial childhood in the mountainous Vosges department of eastern France. The piano represented an escape from the limitations of hearth and home. A friend of his teenage years conceded: ‘Drillon is a silly ass, but plays the piano well.’

Unlike his contemporaries, Drillon loathed rock music, with an exception made for the English progressive rock band Renaissance whose keyboard player John Hawken ‘knew how to play the piano’. Indeed, Hawken studied classical piano up to the age of 18.

From his own high school years, Drillon mostly recalls piano lessons with an alluring instructor: ‘Her way of putting her hands on those of her student, to show the correct finger or wrist position, was delectable. We emerged from her class rather titillated, and quite motivated to practice scales.’

Still practising today at home in north-central France, Drillon, aged 65, circulates among Yamaha G and Steinway B model pianos and a modern copy of a Christian Zell harpsichord commissioned from a local manufacturer.

Constant contact with the keyboard gives him intense empathy with pianists: ‘[Glenn] Gould speaks of his body as if it were a machine separate from himself,’ he writes, likening the Canadian pianist’s literary style to Franz Kafka’s.

BENJAMIN IVRY Read the full review on Agora Classica


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