Thursday, September 15, 2011:Adaptation


Scissors, coffee mugs, door handles. Knives, even pens and pencils. They’re all designed for the right-handed.

Fortunately, these days no leftie is getting left behind. The world is adapting. Humanitarian regulations require designers to adapt everyday objects to be user-friendly for everyone, including people with various disabilities – even being left-handed. (Never mind that we lefties are said to be generally slightly more intelligent and creative than righties.)

You may not know that composers have been thinking of left-handed pianists for centuries. Sometimes just out of curiosity, but often due to musicians’ injuries, composers have occasionally created works to be performed specifically for only the left hand.

A small exhibit currently running through Sept 26 at the Czech Museum of Music introduces the example of pianist Otakar Hollman. He lost his right hand in World War I, developed his left hand to virtuoso ability, and following the war performed successfully in concerts. He died only in 1967.

Thanks to his requests, composers such as Martinů, Janáček, and Josef Bohuslav Foerster composed or adapted works for the left hand, and Hollman created some original compositions, too. Janáček wrote the composition Defiance for Hollman, and a piece originally written by Martinů for both hands, but transcribed to a left-hand version by Hollman, was approved by Mr Martinů, for example.

Classics Adapted — Even on Television

If you’re a fan of the old television series “M*A*S*H” you may remember an episode with a similar story line – a brilliant young pianist loses his hand during the Korean War. The army surgeon character, Dr Winchester, obtains Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D for the young soldier. (In real life, Ravel was commissioned by concert pianist Paul Wittgenstein to write the piece after Wittgenstein suffered loss of use of his right hand.)

In the tv show, the surgeon convinces the young soldier that the music is not in his hand, but in his heart. Ironically, this top surgeon with sensitive, dextrous hands confesses, “Oh, I can play the notes, but I can’t make music.”

It’s a good example how not only a museum but even a television show can help inform folks – whether left- or right-handed – about the intelligence and creativity of classical music. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Big Foto

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