A LONG RECITAL, Tranchell, The Cambridge Review, 18th April 1953

In an age of breathless haste, where the hurrying herd seeks to be regaled by a kaleidoscopic continuum of momentary divertissements, unable to concentrate for more than two minutes at a time, it is refreshing to find someone breaking with fashion. Substantial concerts are, alas, so few nowadays.

The piano recital of which I write was billed to last one hundred and thirty two hours; a nonstop improvisation on an infinite number of themes. I visited it twice. The pianist continued all night, but the public were only admitted between 9 a.m. and 11 p.m. Ars est celare artem.

Outside the noble edifice (or shack) were photographs of the recitalist drinking tea or shaving during past recitals. But what becomes of tea and buns? To have nature debarred from dawn till dusk is a privation seldom suffered save by royalty.

I entered, and, except for two old ladies, was alone in the presence. His wrists were bandaged for greater resilience, his legs crossed for balance, and he sat at a tinny grand piano on a stage, with a cigarette drooping from his mouth, as he tinkled out an unceasing medley of melody.

Unceasing? Well . . ., Mr Strickland played what I took to be “Come back to Sorrento” (the tune in the right hand) and a fox-trot which escaped my recognition. In between these bursts of ambidextrosity, he rested one hand at a time, with the other playing odd triads and scraps of five-finger exercise. Any note seemed to please the great man,—he meandered over the keys like one groping in a drawer for a handful of mothballs.

A notice said: “Please keep moving. This is a marathon, not an entertainment.” Similar notices might well be displayed at Promenade Concerts.

Mr Strickland’s right hand sustained the melody, and his left sustained the rhythm. It moved to and fro like the piston of “The Comet” on the gradient into Darlington, laborious but regular. Its choice of landing-ground, however, had the nonchalance of an umpire’s hoverplane which can descend in military manoeuvres where it likes—and does. But then, the mythical monkeys on hypothetical typewriters were Swans of Avon in their own way. So let us not complain.

Two days later I heard “Sobre las Olas” and a very garbled “Because.” The right hand was beginning to gain its emancipation now. I came away nauseated by some seventy sullen gentlemen gaping at a man who was by then in the last throes of physical exhaustion. A large person came on stage, patted the recitalist, and said “keep going, kid!” How one would like to say that to Sir T. or Sir M. during their more magnificent pauses! It seems that a pianist in the arena has a retinue of trainers, masseurs, doctors and typists comparable to a boxer. But sleep must be an ugly sparring-partner.

Suddenly the pianist leant a very weary head in one hand. The other hand continued precariously. For a moment everyone thought that the man, evidently in deep anguish, might collapse. Those about to leave stayed just in case. The moment passed.

One must pay a tribute to the courage of such an artist in the cause of Art. O Pioneers! Soon, perhaps, the day (or week) will dawn when pianists laugh at mere hundreds of hours, and grapple with thousands and tens of thousands. For this I am inventing a special piano complete with outboard-engine, snack-bar, radio-television, massage-table, main-drainage, mirrors, view of Sussex Downs, wash-basin in every key, with hot and cold running water, monkey on every type-writer.

Peter Tranchell