Piano for the left hand

Nicholas McCarthy

It’s interesting how I rarely hear about pianists who perform as soloists with the right hand only, but lefties pop up from time to time. I do think that mechanically, there are no advantages to being a lefthander when it comes to manipulating any musical device. The piano was built to put the more intrusive part of the music under most pianist’s stronger hand (the right-side one), allowing it to sing out over the accomp. I’ve said before that as a lefthander, I need to work hard to keep my left hand from swamping my right. The right has more nimbleness, but the left has far more power, and that power often gets in the way. I’ve even had some fun writing music where entire chunks of the piece are carried by the left hand alone.

However.

The left hand, to be blunt, is where everything interesting is happening on a piano. The right hand usually only carries the melody. If a pianist with only a right hand were playing, they would probably just be playing the melody, and a violin or flute would do as well or better. The left hand is where the theory, the structure, the timing and rhythm all reside, so a pianist with only a left hand can function a bit better as a pianist per se, either soloist or accompanist.

McCarthy though should think about composing and arranging. Aside from Ravel and Britten, there aren’t many pieces for left hand alone; it’s a completely unplowed field. He could own it entirely if he chose. And I don’t really respect the attitude that he “can’t” play the other things he loves, like Mozart and Mendelssohn. Arrange them for left hand, for chrissakes. It’s not like Mozart’s lawyers will come after him, and he could open up the standard rep for other single-handed pianists. That Vivaldi 443/2 I love wasn’t written for piano — it’s a Baroque dog whistle playing one note at a time while the strings all play whole note after whole note underneath. None of what I did with it is “right,” but I wanted it within my universe, so I brought it there. And Vivaldi hasn’t clawed himself out of his grave to come remonstrate with me.

This guy could do the same. Even in the staid “play the notes as written” world of classical piano, where there is a velvet rope between musician/audience and music, he could probably get away with it. All he needs to do, to be cynical, is play the pity card. He’s only got one hand, and he wants to bring the standard rep into his sphere of ability. What’s someone else going to do, tell the one-handed guy not to? Seriously. He should grab the standard pieces he likes and give it a go arranging them for a bang-up dense left hand and a note at a time in the right. If anyone doesn’t like it, let them deal with the social consequences of yelling at the “cripple” and see how far they get.

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