Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Fortepiano: Beginning the Journey

Our strong desire for knowledge and musical honesty
makes us go back to the fortepiano.
                                        Discoveries from the Fortepiano (Oxford University Press. 2015), 1.

As the sap returns to the tree for rest and renewal, the leaves announce the Fall with glorious hues of red, gold, and burnt orange. We know that Winter rapidly approaches as each day steals minutes of sunlight and turns them over to the night; all part of the necessary process for new birth in the Spring. Likewise, Winter provides musicians the opportunity to rest, reflect, and renew.  Where would we like to be musically by Spring? What unanswered questions can be wrestled with in the darkness of Winter? And what discoveries can be unearthed to bring new life to our playing?

The desire to know where we are headed can only come through the path of where we have been. Wrestling with the questions surrounding performing Beethoven, Haydn, and Mozart on the modern piano are best answered by looking back to the fortepiano. By better understanding the instrument and sound that inspired these masters we can come closer to a newly inspired sound. We can honor the past and create new art in the present.

Glancing back at the Classical Era Style we find an instrument distinctly different from today’s instrument. From the inside out everything is “different.” 

When comparing the over­all characteristics of the fortepiano [eighteenth century Viennese five-octave fortepiano] and the modern piano, we find that the differences are considerable. The fortepiano’s prevailing quality is its ability to be played with finesse. Everything on the fortepiano is literally and aesthetically lighter and more responsive than the modern piano.
                                                 Discoveries from the Fortepiano (Oxford University Press. 2015), 17.

Everything from string size and make-up, key dimensions, and responsiveness, to range, decay, and tone quality are distinctively different on the fortepiano.

Follow the link to view a comparison table between modern and fortepiano characteristics:

But the real take-away is the different sound aesthetic that is unleashed when one encounters the sound of the fortepiano.  The same score takes on an entirely new character when realized on the instrument for which it was intended.  Although this sound cannot be duplicated on the modern piano, awareness of the sound can influence our approach and aesthetic goal.

Follow the links to compare audio traits of fortepiano and influenced modern piano rendition of the opening bars of Moonlight Sonata

You are now invited into Winter to reflect and renew.  Dig into Discoveries from the Fortepiano to learn how looking back and unearthing these informational gems can open a musical path for you to welcome the new Spring of your own aesthetic.

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