A package of new scores lay on my piano, unopened […]. With no small joy, we went about our little preparations; one of us opened the package, the other the piano. It was self-understood that we would begin with a piece for four hands. That, after all, is the most intimate, the most agreeable, and, within its limitations, the fullest way to make music in the home.
The only way to listen to the latest symphony or opera in the nineteenth century was to either seek out a live performance or perform it at home with a piano partner, à quatre mains. Thus, an enormous amount of four-hand literature abounds from the 1820s to the 1930s. Works in transcription largely dominate this repertoire: operas, symphonies, and chamber works were adapted en masse for four hands by skilled and not so skilled musicians alike. But there were also works freshly composed in the medium, and four-handed playing could be heard in the home (its natural environment) but also on the relatively new environment of the concert stage. The ubiquity and popularity of the four- handed format meant that it crossed national, social, and economic boundaries. As such, the piano duet was a powerful cultural site in which anxieties about gender, nationality, labour, and pleasure were writ large. Adrian Daub in Four- Handed Monsters: Four-Hand Piano Playing and Nineteenth-Century Culture has brilliantly surveyed nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century novels for traces of how the piano duet interacted with those who played and listened to them. Daub argues on the strength of a rich and provocative bed of primary literature that four-hand piano playing theatricalised nineteenth-century issues of subjectivity, community, eroticism, nationalism, and consumerism. One of the most compelling arguments in Four-Handed Monsters is Daub’s exploration of how four-hands music had a particular and especial relationship to consumption and commodification. Certainly, as the “proto-CD of nineteenth- century domestic culture,” four-hand music was mass-produced and consumed eagerly. The nineteen-year-old Friedrich Nietzsche’s Christmas wish- list in 1863, for instance, reads “(1) The Grand Duo by F. Schubert, arranged for four hands; (2) Düntzer’s edition of Goethe’s lyric poems.” Four-handed music and its performance was undoubtedly one of the important and influential components of nineteenth-century transnational musical culture. One would argue that it could be considered the most pervasive and important, by dint of its widespread agency.