Music: Rippling Steel

Rudolf Serkin, 51, is a tall, loose-jointed man with heavily calloused hands. Driving his tractor at his farm outside Brattleboro, he could pass for a Vermont farmer. But on the concert stage, he ranks as one of the best pianists in the world. Last week Rudolf Serkin was onstage in Carnegie Hall, playing Beethoven's "Emperor" Concerto, and showing a capacity audience the top of his form.

Camouflaging his stubborn shyness with a businesslike air, he sat and examined the keyboard closely whenever the New York Philharmonic-Symphony played without him. As his entrances approached,...

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