Solon famously recommended calling no man happy until he was dead. It’s just as advisable, I think, not to call him great. There are some compliments that should only be paid after the object of admiration is safely deceased. Otherwise it gets embarrassing.
Consider the biographical note written by Cécile Buffet for Alain Planes’ Harmonia Mundi CD, Haydn Piano Sonatas, Vol. 2. Planes is a gifted pianist and (to judge by his photograph) he’s been on this planet much longer than I have, so it’s only right that his accomplishments are noted. Buffet’s fawning idolatry, however, is too much:
A great lover and connoisseur of painting, no less learned in his passion for poetry, Alain Planes enjoys a career in his own image: right from the start he has followed the path of life rather than the siren songs of a glory that demands too many compromises.
From a mother with an artistic temperament…he has inherited and retained fervent humility and disinterestedness of gesture. In the end it is this that creates style – rigor is of little use without grace.
The man is still alive, for God’s sake. Let’s not jinx him by smothering any perfectly adequate virtues he may posses with so much saccharine flattery. If Plaines is as humble and disinterested as Buffet claims, he can only blush at this. But then, did he have no say at all in the liner notes for his own CD? No one should take himself this seriously.
Perhaps it’s just Gallic effusiveness. I ought to be happy, I suppose, for the opportunity to be mildly scandalized, and for the laughs:
There is in him something of a curious blend of Proust and Wilde. With the first he shares his relationship with time, profound, expanded, Schubertian. With the second, a certain intellectual dandyism, a form of refined cynicism that nonetheless does not sacrifice tenderness.
Thankfully it’s the Expanded Schubertian and not the Intellectual Dandy that comes through in Planes’ music. But if there is a bit of Wilde about him, it might serve as inoculation against his admirers’ excesses. “Praise makes me humble,” Wilde once wrote, “but when I am abused I know I have touched the stars.”