The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Award-winning pianist Stephen Hough is an accomplished polymath or Renaissance man who also blogs and paints. His personal history is fascinating. So are the sharp stylistic differences he demonstrates in different art forms. | August 4, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

Longtime readers of this blog know my admiration for the British pianist Stephen Hough (below).


Hough, who won the prestigious Naumberg Competition while at the Juilliard School, plays the piano superbly well and has a large shelf full of international awards for his recordings on the Hyperion label. He especially likes to explore less well-known repertoire.

He is a terrific teacher and coach, as I have witnessed firsthand in a masterful master class (below) in Madison.

But in addition to his career as a concert pianist, the supremely talented Hough — who is an astonishingly accomplished polymath or Renaissance man — also writes a regular and highly informative and entertaining blog for the Telegraph newspaper in the United Kingdom. He touches on everything from, of course, the piano (especially historic pianists and performances) to theology (an openly gay man he converted to Roman Catholicism at 19) and fashion (especially his fondness for hats). One of his best entries for me was about the role of hitting wrong notes:

Here is a link to his website:

Here is a link to his marvelous blog:

What most people – and I include myself – – most admire about Hough’s playing is its clarity, its sense of measure and proportion.

As he himself says, he is not much given to “hairy-chested” interpretations of big, intense Russian music like Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. His recent award-winning recording of the complete Chopin waltzes shows his ability to find new and convincing things to say about familiar works and he says them clearly as well as gracefully and elegantly. (Just listen to the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Stephen Hough Chopin waltzes CD cover

He discusses his approach in a fine interview and profile that appeared in The New York Times just before a Carnegie Hall recital this past spring in which is also played his latest big work, his own Sonata “Notturno luminoso.”

And here is a review in the Times of that recital:


But the real surprise for me came when I about and saw his style of painting. He paints in oils, and he exhibits and sells his art.

But unlike his music-making, his painting of this MacArthur “genius award” winner seems almost violently Abstract Expressionist.

Here are a couple of examples:

Stephen Hough painting Impromptu

Stephen Hough painting Bunte Blatter IIBut of course ultimately it is piano playing that keeps Hough – who resides in the UK, New York and Australia – in the public eye. Listen to this Chopin waltz and you can understand why.


  1. I have seen the Steinway piano making footage, it is cool.
    As for the judgement of modern music and its potential for making it into the Pantheon of Cherished Rep, No ONE, repeat, no one, has anything like the taste, experience, background, and that final essential element, the Crystal Ball of Future Tastes, to make any such judgment, as the reviewer does to Mr. Hough’s piece. ( I might not have liked it, but I’d listen for sure!)
    My personal thought is that the Pantheon is closed until further notice, and as to whom could give notice that it is open for new offerings I certainly could not say.
    Remember, Beethoven’s sonatas were not played much for 50 years after his passing, until Liszt and Clara Schumann revived them. Bach came and went three times, until it became an academic standard, but not one that really gets much stage time.
    So, Carter, Messiaen, Boulez, Ligeti, Hovaness, Cage, even Schoenberg’s piano music are all waiting for that notice from the GateKeeper that admissions to the Pantheon are being considered once more.
    Classical music is as confused about its modern identity as Hough’s paintings are about their focus. I am all for anyone who is famous for something other than art to paint away! But, I have yet to see anyone, Joni Mitchell, Tony Bennett, Noel Coward, Miles Davis, Herb Alpert, and Stephen Hough, do anything really up to Fine Art par.
    I listen to his piano playing and music a lot, and love his rep and sound, and his really sweeping gestures and tone. Mompou or Chopin, I am listening…

    Comment by Michael BB — August 7, 2013 @ 9:23 pm

  2. Jacob, Your readers might be interested in the video documentary, Note By Note (I think I have that right),about the making of a Steinway Piano, over the course of a year. It is excellent, and includes interviews with pianists, several of whom come to the Steinway company to try their pianos.

    Comment by Harry Peterson — August 4, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

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