Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Is This the First Mention of the Words "Collaborative Pianist"?

Although the term "collaborative pianist" is generally known to have been coined by Samuel Sanders in the early 80's, less is known about when the term was first used in the press. Fortunately, Google News is a very useful tool for this kind of search. The first usage of the words "collaborative pianist" in print was from a review of cellist Barbara Mallow in the New York Times of Monday, March 13, 1978 by Joseph Horowitz. The first pianist referred to in this manner was not Samuel Sanders but Albert Lotto:
Albert Lotto was the strong, richly collaborative pianist in the Beethoven and Brahms works, and Carol Stcin Amado was the capable violinist.
Looking closely at the sentence, the usage in this sentence isn't in relation to Albert Lotto as a "collaborative pianist", but as a pianist with "strong, richly collaborative" abilities. Could Samuel Sanders have read this specific Joseph Horowitz review, prompting him to coin a new term for the entire accompanying field?

While you're contemplating, here's a video of Albert Lotto playing the Liszt Sonetto del Petrarca #104 in 2009. As always, your comments and reminiscences on this issue are welcome.


  1. I understood from Margo Garrett in a lecture (at UNCSA Collaborative Piano Weekend) that the term was "invented" for the computer system at Julliard. "Accompanying" was already in use for the staff pianist, and they needed another word for the new track for students; thus the term "collaborative piano" was born.

  2. Anonymous2:15 AM

    I'd like to take this opportunity to reiterate my objection to the use of the unwieldy word "collaborative pianist." Collaborative Piano makes perfect sense as a field of study, since it encompasses pieces, sonatas, reductions, chamber music, and orchestral playing (and probably ought include piano concertos as well, if it claims to be collaborative); but is there some reason why we can't simply be "pianists?" Accompanist, by the way, is a perfectly apt term in many circumstances -- why the violent objection (in general, not on your blog - as far as I can tell)?

  3. Anonymous: The current thinking in the profession is that "accompanist" implies subservience. A new term needed to be devised that would imply partnership and collaboration. This is one of the reasons why Sam Sanders invented a new term for the field and why it has taken on so well several decades later. BTW I prefer to be referred to as a pianist as well.

    ASCM: Yes, I heard the same story from Margo. However, I think that there was at least some militancy on Sam's part given his vast experience in the NYC freelance world.

  4. Anonymous10:14 AM

    "The current thinking in the profession is that 'accompanist' implies subservience."

    Is there not a degree of subservience involved in accompanying? When I accompany a piece like Rachmaninov-Paganini variations, indeed I may be collaborating, but my first job is to make the soloist look good. I need to be hyperaware of his rubati, choices, and intentions, and to serve those; in such an instance, it is the soloist's intentions that must be brought out, and not the accompanist's.

    There are certain partnerships in music-making which are naturally unequal, and there is nothing wrong with this. We ought not take issue with the word accompanist -- a Romanian friend of mine was completely confused by "CP," on account of the ubiquity of the term accompanist in Europe. There is no stigma attached to it there, and there ought not be here. It is a very dignified profession, and if we are insecure in that, we ought not be in it.

    On a program: pianist. In conversation, chamber partner . . . pianist . . . accompanist . . . coach . . . according to the occasion. In a degree track, collaborative piano. Let's call it what it is, and not be so quick to take offense.

    That said, when we are treated unfairly, we cannot allow it. But let's make sure that we earn fair treatment by solid playing, and not artificially via an unnecessary and unwieldy appellation.

  5. Anonymous10:15 AM

    To add to my last comment, I would like to reiterate that as you said, we are all pianists.

    There are two types: those who play well with others, and those who don't.

  6. Cat Rogers11:08 PM

    Just for information sake, in Gerald Moore's 1945 book, "The Unashamed Accompanist," (p.16) he used the word 'collaborations' to describe the partnering within accompanying. He said: "Some tennis players and golfers prefer singles to the partnership game, but I like partnership. So let the solo have the thrill and the glory of playing a lone hand. I shall continue, I hope, to get my musical thrill from 'collaborations' and from the joy that comes from perfect team work."

    As well, the pianist, Ivor Newton wrote in his 1966 published autobiography, "At the Piano," ..."A soloist will usually be aware of whatever you do...and regard you as a 'collaborator' responsible for the ensemble and the balance of tone." (p. 295)

    As these two examples are not usage of the term 'collaborative pianist' that S. Sanders later later, it is an indication that others were thinking along the lines of 'collaboration' and equal-partnership. I personally find it often difficult to describe to people who are not acquainted with the performing arts as much what a collaborative pianist does, but when I mention accompanying, the light in their eyes illuminates.