The Singer Is Always Right


Performer and accompanist may practice hard to develop a common approach to a piece of music. But when the night of the performance arrives, the best intentions may go out the window if nervousness throws the performer into old habits. In his memoir Am I Too Loud? the great accompanist Gerald Moore says that when the performer goes astray, it’s the accompanist’s duty to play along.

Moore mentions a couple of instances in which he had to move quickly and with imagination to salvage a performance. In one case a popular tenor was singing “The Cloths of Heaven” by Thomas Dunhill. The song moves through a succession of keys, and during an unaccompanied passage the tenor sang a tone too low. Moore jumped in and transposed the rest of the song, so that what had begun in E flat ended in D flat.

On another occasion Moore was hired by a Fine Arts Society to accompany a cellist in a program of contemporary music. The president of the society requested that they perform Frank Bridge’s “Melodie,” and they learned it just for the occasion. During the concert they were halfway down the first page when Moore realized that he and the cellist had parted ways. The cellist was playing a low C fortissimo, which comes on the last page of the work. Moore flipped through several pages and joined the cellist, who was still hanging onto the C for dear life. After the concert, audience members told Moore that “Melodie” was “the gem of the evening.”

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Moore’s favorite “life-saving” story concerns a pianist and a singer who were performing Hugo Wolf’s “Song of the Wind.” The soprano forgot a huge part of the middle of the song, the pianist improvised, and the two performers managed to finish at the same time. The audience liked the piece so much that they demanded a repeat performance and seemed none the wiser when the second rendition turned out to be a good deal longer than the first.

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