1. Matinee One afternoon in 1920, a young pianist sat down in a shuttered room in the capital of defeated Germany and played a Bagatelle by Beethoven. At the return of the main theme, one of his fingers fractionally strayed, touching two keys instead of one. 'Donnerwetter!' (dammit!), cried Wilhelm Kempff. He looked around and saw crestfallen faces. 'That was very beautiful,' said the machine operator, 'but the recording is now ruined.' This lapse, recalled by Kemp years later, amounts to a defining moment in the annals of performance - the moment a musician realized that recording required a different discipline and temperament from public concerts. Kempff, had his finger slipped on stage, would have played on regardless, knowing that few would detect the fiaw, or remember it afterwards. On record, though, the imperfection was engraved for all time, growing larger and uglier with each replay. There was no hiding place, no camoufiage available on disc for inferior technique or inchoate interpretation. The artist stood exposed to eternal scrutiny, stripped of illusory diversion. Sound recording had begun in 1877 with the inventor Thomas Alva Edison shouting 'Mary had a little lamb' into a phonograph and acquired a mass market in 1902 with the first brass-horn arias of the Neapolitan tenor Enrico Caruso. But the birth of recording as a musical act, separate and distinct from live performance, came in 1920 with the undeletable exclamation of a German artist in the aftermath of the First World War. Kempff, a protege of Brahms' friend Joseph Joachim, was rooted in gaslight romanticism but suffciently aware of swirling currents to realize that recording presented more than just an opportunity to earn a fee. What it offered, once an artist had overcome the fear of error, was the chance to achieve a perfect score. For the first time in cultural history, accuracy and speed transcended inspiration as the object of performance, and there was no shortage of young men like Kempff who wanted, quite literally, to set a record with their playing. Wiser heads demurred. The professional pianist Artur Schnabel, a man of lofty mind and caustic wit, argued that recording went 'against the very nature of performance' by eliminating contact between player and listener, dehumanizing the art. Music, he said, was a one-time thing, once played never to sound the same again. Schnabel turned his back monumentally on mechanical impertinences. Kempff, meanwhile, faced fresh dilemmas, moral and aesthetic. Recording, he discovered, was innately competitive. Where, before the war, no one could have asserted empirically that Ferrucio Busoni was a better pianist than Ignacy Jan Paderewski, now it was possible to measure Kempff against Wilhelm Backhaus and, music in lap and stopwatch in hand, checking every note in the Moonlight Sonata and timing each movement against Beethoven's metronome mark, prove that Kempff was materially superior. Strife ensued. Artists became bitter enemies and listeners were confused. Soon, it was not enough to have one Moonlight in the living-room cabinet; two or three sets displayed intellectual breadth and civilized tolerance. Where emperors in Vienna once staged live contests between Mozart and Clementi, the suburban homeowner in Peck-ham or Pittsburgh now played Rachmaninov against Vladimir Horowitz for a satisfyingly close shave. An element of sporting competition entered the musical game. Kempff, who lived to the great age of ninety-five, was a studio master. His articulation was explicit, the notes separated as if bejewelled, his interpretations eschewing an excess of individuality. He recorded the popular classics twice, bought a castle near Bayreuth and was exclusive to Deutsche Grammophon from 1935 to his death in 1991. Yet, while his records entered thousands of homes, Kempff was never a household name. Lacking stage magnetism, he did not visit London or New York until 1951 and manyLebrecht, Norman is the author of 'Life And Death of Classical Music Featuring the 100 Best And 20 Worst Recordings Ever Made', published 2007 under ISBN 9781400096589 and ISBN 1400096588.