The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Listen to wrong notes played by great pianists. | October 12, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Yesterday, The Ear offered a blog post about stage fright and performance anxiety.

stage fright

It was written by someone who knows: Concert pianist and polymath Renaissance Man Stephen Hough (below), who is also a writer, painter, composer, photographer, culture critic and more.


But even the greatest musicians can -– and do — mess up.

So today is a follow-up.

Here is a link to a YouTube video with some pretty messed up notes and whole passages by some of history’s greatest pianists, virtuosos and technical wizards.

They include Sviatoslav Richter, Vladimir Horowitz (below) and Artur Schnabel – along with the actual scores to show you what is being muffed.

Vladimir Horowitz

There was no recording technology back then, but it makes one wonder what Frederic Chopin or Franz Liszt might have sounded like off the page when they played. Or even such famed keyboard virtuosos as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven.

After all, in the same video the great Arthur Rubinstein (below) even explains how he faked an entire difficult Chopin etude and dumped a whole batch of deliberately played wrong notes into it during a public concert — and still won rave reviews from the critics!

artur rubinstein in moscow 1964

It also puts a frame around the picture, and suggests that maybe we should simply worry more about the music and less about the notes. Performers just have to learn to accept failure! Perfection is beyond any of us.

Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

If you know of other examples, or have personal experiences to share, let us know.

The Ear wants to hear.



  1. Thanks Jacob. The link to You Tube video goes to Wikipedia and not to the mentioned videos. Paul

    Comment by Paul Tropp — October 13, 2014 @ 9:25 am

    • Hi Paul
      It is the link AT THE BOTTOM that goes to YouTube. I just checked and it seemed to work for me and for others. But thank you for your help. Can you check again. If i am wrong, please let me know.

      Comment by welltemperedear — October 13, 2014 @ 9:31 am

  2. I have a VHS tape of the Concert for Israel that Artur Rubenstein played the Apassionata Sonata on. The final F minor arpeggios are a cascade of errors, as if to say, Get Me OUTTA here…! I was listening to Vlado Perlmutter play Ravel’s Ondine from Gaspard, from a 1965 VoxBox CD set, and heard a clear smashed note on that passage where the right hand is moving two octaves every 1/2 measure, up and down, crossing the over AND under left, which is playing a simple little tune. The clear error is in that little tune. I agree with the decision to keep it as it was, since that playing is genuine. His Nimbus recordings of Ravel complete are another notch up in all respects. Wrong notes are part of everyone’s legacy, except Michaelangeli.

    Comment by 88melter — October 12, 2014 @ 3:03 am

  3. Dear Ear,
    I love this post. Laughed until I almost cried. May we all accept our vulnerabilities.

    Comment by Ronnie Hess — October 12, 2014 @ 1:32 am

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