Pianists who accompany singers prefer the term collaborative pianist to the old term accompanist. In truth, there are many cases in which the piano part is actually of more importance than that of the “soloist.” One thinks of the works that Beethoven (though not modern programs) called Sonata for Piano and Violin, or compositions like the Hindemith Sonata for Tuba and Piano, where the tuba almost plays a bit part.

But singers are in a position to overshadow their necessary collaborator, even when — as in lieder — the piano part may actually be at least an equal protagonist. There are great singers like Marilyn Horne and Frederica von Stade who never cease, however, to praise the man “in the crook of whose piano I’ve stood all these years.” The deserving artist in question, Martin Katz, gives a telling interview here.

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The Singing Composer

June 27, 2010

I once heard a famous composer express the conviction that all composers are frustrated singers. No friend to such blanket claims in general, I nevertheless began to form an interesting list in my mind; so I ventured: “It might support your suggestion to recall how many recent composers have been excellently sympathetic pianists in performance with singers: you, Britten, Poulenc, Barber, Bernstein, Hoiby, Bolcom, Musto.” Those were, I believe, the names that I suggested. For some reason, the composer sneered and said, “I don’t see your point.”

Well, I — and he — could have gone further. Samuel Barber, the centenary of whose birth we observe this year and who wrote magnificent songs, was not only a notable accompanist but was able to sing his own songs beautifully: