Friday, March 19, 2010

The Piano, Prepared

Surprisingly, piano technicians are generally okay with pianists preparing instruments in the manner prescribed by John Cage in his Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. If you've never done it before, it takes about two hours to get everything set up inside the piano.Once you play Cage's Sonatas with the preparations for the first time, the sound that comes out is completely different from what you had practiced without the preparations.

Boris Berman plays Sonata II:

Bobby Mitchell plays Sonata V:


  1. In my experience, open-minded piano technicians are okay with in-the-spirit-of-Cage piano preparation, even willing and interested in helping. This is not surprising :)

    Then there are those technicians who view the prepared piano as the "work of Satan", and "defend" the instruments they are in charge of with vehemence.

    I've been working on prepared pianos for the past twelve years, and some of the nicest memories I have are from collaborating with technicians. At the same time, I have been physically and verbally attacked, as well as threatened in writing, by representatives of the "other" kind of technicians.

    My suggestion to anyone who is contemplating preparing a piano they do not own is: please make sure that you have a WRITTEN permission to work on the instrument, issued by the institution who owns it.

    Happy preparing!
    Dr. Tzenka Dianova

  2. If piano technicians are worried about dealing with the work of Satan, they may wish to consider overzealous pianists playing the Liszt B minor Sonata and popping top strings.

  3. I sure hope the technician at my school is open-minded. I played a piece that only involves plucking the string and the piano technician I dealt with called me a "trouble maker", and said the school should only permit students playing Mozart!

  4. Yes, Chris, I have presented the argument several times. I have never broken or damaged a string in 12 years of playing prepared and string piano, while "impassioned" pianists are popping string after string with Liszt, Rachmaninoff etc. There is a written memoir by Liszt, in which he remembers "crippling" two grands during a recital, and having to bring in a third one. Cheers!

  5. Chenbee, as soon as you play any piece from the avant-garde twentieth century repertoire, you are labelled a "trouble-maker". Piano performance is the only area of art, where knowing more is a disadvantage, and ignoring a whole century (the most recent!) is acceptable!

    Just don't give up!