In Andrzej Wasowski’s recording of the Chopin Nocturnes, an innocent, introductory, almost naive tempo lets the struggle of first acquaintance and the ganglions of first love grow, because, after all, an audience is composed not of composers, but occasional listeners who, even though they might know the melodies, may often have never actually discovered the music note by note the way a pianist does, and in fact cannot absorb information at the blistering rate of lackadaisical virtuosity.

The beat of the heart is the tempo of absorption; stress test pulses usually have little fibrillating time for love or listening. In our natural tendency to be seduced by speed, we have reduced emotion to a race. Certainly speed is an easy way to differentiate performances, although its mere presence allows no time for the deeper subtleties which are less easy to quantify, thus making it harder to discriminate between performers, a questionable hobby in any case.

Wasowski plays a passage at the tempo it needs to become beautiful. He doesn’t figure it out mathematically so each part is in perfect ratio with every other part, as if it were an algebraic equation. So you would think the piece would then sound disproportionate, when in fact it sounds human. A friend of mine, to give the other side its due, says that he gets anxiety attacks just waiting for Wasowski to finally play a note.

Perhaps the influence of the mathematically-based serialists, who have reduced sound to equations, has given the metronome undue influence in conservatory training, turning out generations of technicians who have had no exposure to older music-making. The new mathematicians have created a new form of lethargy: the laziness of precision. Breathing, conversational rhythms, instinct have been left to popular music, which has consequently flourished, once classical artists abandoned the patently human ingredients of music.

The intelligence which writes notes and gives a general idea of their movement also knows that notes are just Platonic icons symbolizing the more genuine essences hiding in the shadows, which depend on the fire of the moment to succeed.

Getting carried away by the notes means missing the music. It is as if I pointed at something and my friend looked at my fingertip, not in the direction it was indicating. I went with a friend once to see a neighbor’s outdoor Christmas tree, but, before they turned on its lights, my friend mistook the reflection in the window of the brightly lit indoor tree for the outside one and praised it effusively. Focusing too much on the tyranny of notes is myopic: scores are just outlines for the imagination.