A friend of mine sent me a note and a link—a YouTube link. His note said, “Brothers do a great job playing this piano duet, which I would add to my list of notable COVID-era performances. Seamless playing between the two makes it look easy, with good recorded quality of the piano sound.”
My friend was absolutely right. Incidentally, he is a pianist himself, with three musical sons. They did a lot of playing at home—together and singly—before they went off to college. That house was filled with music (and not just music coming from electronic devices).
The brothers in the video are Lucas and Arthur Jussen, of Holland. Lucas was born in 1993, Arthur three years later. According to a bio, they “lived and studied with Maria João Pires,” the superb Portuguese pianist.
Siblings have formed piano duos before, of course: think of the Labèque sisters, Katia and Marielle (born in the early 1950s). A generation or two before, there was Gold and Fizdale: Arthur Gold and Robert Fizdale, who were not siblings, but rather partners on and off the stage.
Duet-playing used to be very common, in homes throughout the world. You did not get music from your phone. (You did not even have a phone—certainly not a smartphone.) You played it yourself. For instance, you may have sat down at the piano with your mom or cousin to play Schubert’s Marche Militaire (one of the three). Or “En bateau,” which begins Debussy’s Petite Suite.
I think of something that Thea Musgrave said. I interviewed this Scottish composer in 2018, on the occasion of her ninetieth birthday. Let me paste an excerpt:
We talk a little about the future of classical music—always a worried discussion—and about its present state. There is a whole lot to listen to, Musgrave agrees: through YouTube and numerous other avenues. But are people, especially young people, playing music? With their own hands, on real instruments? Are they participating or just listening, passively?
A big question.
Felix Mendelssohn played piano duets, with his big sister, Fanny. He also wrote them. In 1841, he wrote Andante and Allegro brillant, Op. 92, for Clara Schumann. Indeed, he premiered the piece with this distinguished pianist, at a gala fundraiser in Leipzig.
It is a splendid piece, thoroughly Mendelssohnian. The Andante is a beautiful A-major song. The Allegro brillant is absolutely true to its name, or marking: a shiny, happy, rapid thing.
On the above-linked video, the Jussen brothers play the piece splendidly. They have impeccable technique and the taste to go with it. There is nary a wayward accent or a clumsy phrase. They are lapidary. They are interlocking, playing as one. I don’t know how they get along “irl”—in real life—but they get along perfectly well at the piano.
A friend of mine—a pianist (another pianist friend, I should specify)—says, “I always thought it would be neat to be the parents of the McDermott sisters”: Anne-Marie (piano), Kerry (violin), and Maureen (cello). I was thinking while listening to the Jussens’ video: their parents must be proud and pleased.
Let me end with a little memory, concerning piano duets—piano four hands, in particular (as distinguished from a duet on two different pianos). Emanuel Ax made possibly the most charming remark I have ever heard from a concert stage. It was in September 2006 (Google tells me), the season-opening concert of the New York Philharmonic. Ax and Yefim Bronfman played Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat. After, they played an encore. I’m afraid I can’t remember what it was.
But Ax explained to the audience that it should really be played on one piano. He and Bronfman were feeling uncomfortable at one piano, however, so they would stick to their two separate ones. “We’re both on diets,” he smiled.