Musicians, particularly classical musicians are or can be a strange bunch of people. Some are outwardly garrulous and extroverted, others completely introverted and neurotic, bordering on the extreme. I should know – I was one for a little while and got to see some of these variegated personalities first hand. The slightest details which are often trivial to many will assume the greatest significance to these weird and wonderful people.
This is something brought to the fore in this very well-shot and fascinating documentary. “Pianomania” follows the various trials and tribulations of Steinway & Sons’ Chief Piano Technician in Vienna Stefan Knuepfer as he goes about his job poking, prodding and preparing these fine instruments for some of the world’s greatest concert artists. We see flashes of Lang Lang’s flamboyence both in rehearsal and in recital, the understated and careful approach taken (in all things) by Alfred Brendel, the wild antics of Igudesman & Joo (very creative use of a violin, by the way) but for the most part we get to see the painstaking preparation and recording sessions of Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Bach’s “The Art of Fugue“. It’s painful and painstaking in every way as both artist and technician try to express in their own way perfection of sound and interpretation and how imperfect it can very often be. Such subtleties might be lost to a person unfamiliar with the music and the participants.
It’s not without its amusements and scenic moments – the filmakers take great pleasure in reminding us between vignettes of how beautiful Vienna as a city is. And in Aimard’s case, perhaps the documentary could have been called ‘The Art of Frage‘ for his tendency to say that he is happy (or almost happy) with something and then ask Knuepfer a question. Knuepfer himself is virtually unflappable throughout and his calm and industrious ‘nothing is a problem’ manner must be a calming presence for these great artists.
Possibly the only down side is that we don’t see enough of the dialogue (if in fact there was any) between Knuepfer and Brendel which would have been fascinating (Brendel, amongst other things is a published and highly respected poet). But this is a minor detail – it is fascinating to watch a true professional at work in a profession unknown, possibly bewildering to many and to get an idea, albeit limited, of how different, yet human we all can be.