Saturday, March 06, 2010

Playing Beethoven on Original Instruments

For those of you performing works of Beethoven, it's well worth test-driving a fortepiano, whether an original instrument or copy. Jan Swafford's recent article in Slate talks about how the experience of playing Beethoven can be radically different depending on whether you play it on a modern vs. authentic instrument (be sure to listen to the audio clips in the Slate article). On the opening of the Moonlight Sonata:
The sound is startlingly different from a modern piano and takes a while to get used to. These instruments were mostly played in small to medium-size rooms. The sound is intimate; you hear wood and felt and leather. The voicing is varied through the registers rather than the homogenous sound of modern pianos. On the Katholnig, the effect of holding the pedal down in the "Moonlight" has a ghostly effect, most obvious in the longer-sustaining bass notes that can sound like a distant gong. All these elements of the pianos Beethoven knew shaped the music in the first place, including the way he picked out high and low notes around the murmuring figure in the middle of the keyboard.
Trevor Stephenson plays the first movement of the Moonlight Sonata on a modern copy of an 18th-century fortepiano:

More Moonlight Sonatas on the Collaborative Piano Blog:

YouTube Moonlight Sonata Comments...Dramatized
Beethoven Faceoff: Myleene Klass vs. Wilhelm Kempf

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