Kristian Bezuidenhout introduces Mozart's fortepiano
August 21, 2011 4:49 PM   Subscribe

Kristian Bezuidenhout introduces Mozart's fortepiano

In this delightful bit of YT, K. Bezuidenhout shows the rare gift of being able to convey a great deal of technical and emotional knowledge about both Mozart and the fortepiano in the space of a few bars of music.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (17 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I should probably also note there's a roughly 1:30 introduction (worth listening to) before he begins discussing the main subject.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 5:09 PM on August 21, 2011

I love Mozart...ok, it is a replica of Mozarts' fortepiano. COOL.
Here is what Mozarts' looks like, with some history.
posted by clavdivs at 5:14 PM on August 21, 2011

Some fortepiano's used to come with sound effects, as well:

Turkish march with percussion effects.
posted by empath at 5:51 PM on August 21, 2011

Strangely, my freshman pledge project in Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, a professional mens fraternity of music students was to assemble one of these from a kit that had been languishing for decades in the music department. The soundboard was intact, and the strings were unscathed, and it ended up sounding remarkably like this instrument when assembled. I do seem to remember 35 years later that the E above middle C never was quite right, and the same note in this demonstration seems to have exactly the same quality and timbre that ours did. Tuned, but not quite right. My life seems about the same. We did not receive the percussion effects app with our kit.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 6:46 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've enjoyed some recordings from the Academy of Ancient Music, because they try and use period instruments and the sound is perceptibly different. I really liked the insight into the hammer placement on the fortepiano. Cool stuff.
posted by georg_cantor at 7:44 PM on August 21, 2011

Thanks, OP. I quite liked the information, and the earnestness of presentation.
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:21 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've told this story before, but last year I went to a baroque festival in the area that uses all period instruments. Before the concert the music director came on and essentially warned us all that period instruments sound different and that we needed to factor that into our listening.

I was a bit bemused, because I like the period instrument sound. I had trouble imagining what prompted them to have a specific disclaimer before the event about the differences.

The English Concert is also a period instruments organization. I especially recommend their recordings of the Brandenburg Concertos. If you like Purcell their recording of Dido and Aeneas is fantastic.
posted by winna at 9:25 PM on August 21, 2011

I just love perdiod instruments. This pianoforte sounds particularly nice to my ears and even moreso because it is a copy of one of Mozart`s instruments.
posted by Meatafoecure at 9:34 PM on August 21, 2011

The accentuated color is nice, but some orchestral works do do well with the gravitas that modern instruments and forces provide. HIP can sound thin.
posted by Gyan at 9:58 PM on August 21, 2011

I'm wont to oppose "faithful recitals",
quite possibly for an admiration
of a glenngouldian interpretation.
What better than the New as requitals?

But this indeed
reminds me to heed,
not to throw out the the baby
altogether with the fortepiano.
posted by quoquo at 11:54 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

The faces homeboy makes when he plays. Man. I guess that's considered appropriate in his area of music, but I'm glad I haven't been exposed to it enough to know for sure.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 1:10 AM on August 22, 2011

This is one of the better intros to fortepiano lore I've seen. Nice. Should be noted that a copy of a 1795 Walter fortepiano is a little after Mozart's time - and indeed the sound of this particular instrument is in some aspects different from Mozart's own, which dates from 1782.

Never mind the faces. Kris is arguably the most promising of my younger colleagues at the moment; a magnificent pianist and great musician.
posted by Namlit at 3:26 AM on August 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

A shame they didn't use a better microphone, though

It's a constant struggle. Not necessarily a matter of quality of the mike, but of placement as well.

Just a few weeks ago I had to assemble a demo CD with fortepiano for a job I'm applying for, and going through my private archives, I stumbled across a 3-yr old radio recording of a concert with Mozart's sonata for two pianos. I play the second part on my own, relatively mellow-sounding Walter copy, and a colleague plays the first part on a slightly more belligerent fortepiano, not unlike the one we hear on that link here above. The playing is okay, but I couldn't use that recording anyway, it sounds like two nasty obnoxious toy pianos being hacked into submission.

That's what makes our lives as professional players of these beasts so difficult, the crappy standard with which they are frequently being recorded. Using an old fortepiano or a copy means that you have less sound than with a modern piano, so the subtleties absolutely must be recorded too - otherwise there's no point with using early instruments at all. But it's a rare recording that captures the sound of these instruments faithfully.
posted by Namlit at 9:54 AM on August 22, 2011 [3 favorites]

Indeed, mic placement for piano is a longstanding problem with no single well-regarded solution. Unlike almost any other instrument, the area from which the sound comes is several square feet, so there's no one obvious place to put a primary mic. If your mic(s) are closer to some strings than others, those strings will sound louder. If the directionality of your mics isn't closely controlled, you may get coloration in the sound of strings coming in from off-axis. You can back your mics off to balance out a lot of that, but then you end up capturing a lot of the reverberation of the room it's being played in (usually undesirable). You can use a whole bunch of mics up close, but that requires a lot of careful calibration and balancing, and it gets more and more complicated the more mics you use.
posted by echo target at 10:57 AM on August 22, 2011

It's striking how much the bottom end of this instrument is remiscent of that of a harpsichord.

Makes me wonder - this is the period when young (pre-deaf) Beethoven was most famous for his improvising skills - whether this was the instrument that built his reputation. (I'm sure he enjoyed that bottom too!)
posted by Twang at 8:35 PM on August 22, 2011

Twang, you're right about Beethoven (I wrote a book about it, so I should know).
Most of Beethoven's piano works up to the "Waldstein" sonata suit this type of piano, yes.
posted by Namlit at 2:05 AM on August 23, 2011

It's interesting how the range gradually increased. Wikipedia says that the fortepiano started with a four octave range, but increased to five by the time of Mozart, and you can see in the video that this model seems to have about five octaves. Beethoven was using six octaves towards the end of his career and today grand pianos have seven and a third octaves.

Also, you can clearly see in the video that each key hits two strings, instead of the modern grand where each key has three strings. The left (soft) pedal is even named una corda or "one string", as on the original model it shifted the hammers so that they only struck one of the two strings. On a modern grand when you use the "one string" pedal you're actually striking two strings instead of the normal three.
posted by Rhomboid at 2:35 AM on August 23, 2011

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