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Four-Handed MonstersFour-Hand Piano Playing and Nineteenth-Century Culture$
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Adrian Daub

Print publication date: 2014

Print ISBN-13: 9780199981779

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: June 2014

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199981779.001.0001

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The Semantics of the Hand

The Semantics of the Hand

(p.135) 5 The Semantics of the Hand
Four-Handed Monsters

Adrian Daub

Oxford University Press

This chapter deals with a much more covert aspect of four-hand playing and its role in nineteenth-century culture: the hand as an organ. Most visual and literary representations of four-hand playing leave out the hands themselves; however, the late nineteenth century witnessed a veritable cult of the hand—the belief that size, shape, and articulation of a hand could tell the well- schooled observer about the heredity, disposition, and character of a person. The physiognomic albums of Cesare Lombroso and Francis Galton (or the photo volumes of hands that were common in particular in fin-de-siècle Germany) proceeded mostly through montage and juxtaposition: two different sets of hands (or more often, “types” of hands) were opposed on the same page to enable or suggest comparisons. Since the piano technique of the time kept the hands on the keyboard much stiller than is the case today—highly mobile arms and shoulders were the province of iconoclasts, geniuses, and virtuosos—four-hand practice tended to fix two sets of hands in relatively limited enclosures side by side, allowing something comparable to Lombroso’s or Galton’s visual juxtapositions.

Keywords:   Cesare Lombroso, Francis Galton, chirognomy, typology, virtuoso, physiognomy

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