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Fortepiano ideas.
#3030301 09/29/20 04:03 PM
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Having heard a lot of early classical period pieces performed on fortepianos, mostly Mozart of course, but also Haydn, Handel and even Beethoven, I am day-dreaming about adding one to my music room. How should I begin this quest ?


Vincent

"Life is a smorgasbord, and I want to taste every dish."
Steinway "O". Roland LX 706. Viscount Sonus 45 Hybrid with 165 real pipes. Harpsichord by Marc Fontaine.
Re: Fortepiano ideas.
Vikendios #3030305 09/29/20 04:20 PM
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Ask the fortepianists (Ronald Brautigam, Kristian Bezuidenhout etc) where they get their instruments from.

A name keeps cropping up: Paul McNulty. Whenever I hear someone playing a fortepiano on BBC Radio 3, the announcer would add that so-and-so "is playing a copy of a Walter fortepiano by Paul McNulty".

There you are whistle: https://www.fortepiano.eu


"I don't play accurately - anyone can play accurately - but I play with wonderful expression. As far as the piano is concerned, sentiment is my forte. I keep science for Life."
Re: Fortepiano ideas.
Vikendios #3030314 09/29/20 04:49 PM
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How I would begin such a quest:

Checking online to see what's available -- what's the range of possible fortepianos to get, and what are the prices.

And in fact, for curiosity, even though I'm not getting one, I'm interested to see, so I will.

I expect it would be hard to get a decent one without spending some significant dollars.

Re: Fortepiano ideas.
Vikendios #3030329 09/29/20 05:27 PM
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Thanks. I am familiar with McNulty (who is now established in the Czech Republic) and his partner V Sofronitsky, Chris Maene in Belgium and J C Neupert in Germany. However I am still at the stage of thinking what kind of instrument I should investigate, for what kind of music, if there was a second hand market, teachers, etc.. And I was wondering if any members owned, or played, such instruments and what advice and caveats they could offer. Thank you...


Vincent

"Life is a smorgasbord, and I want to taste every dish."
Steinway "O". Roland LX 706. Viscount Sonus 45 Hybrid with 165 real pipes. Harpsichord by Marc Fontaine.
Re: Fortepiano ideas.
Vikendios #3030342 09/29/20 06:06 PM
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There is not much written here about fortepianos. The thread below may give you some contacts
PW: forte piano

Re: Fortepiano ideas.
Vikendios #3030363 09/29/20 07:01 PM
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An admirable plan! The perfect thing to daydream about. I have been tempted down this road myself, and it has been a wonderful experience.

I would suggest that like me, you could start your journey by acquiring an early square piano - perhaps a Broadwood like mine, or another English brand of circa 1800; or being in Paris, you might find an early Erard. One great advantage of an early square piano is that they are really rather cheap. An unrestored instrument might cost a few hundred pounds; a playable instrument which might benefit from some attention might cost £1500 or so; and for perhaps £5000 - £6000 you might get an excellently restored instrument.

I wrote the following about my Broadwood in a thread a few years ago. I am copying this here because this sums up my thoughts on the attractions of the square piano.

The first thing to say is that the square piano has been an absolute delight. It lives at the far end of the drawing room, in the opposite corner to the Bluthner, and looks both elegant and inviting. The door to the room is glass, so I can see it as I pass; and it is very hard to pass the door without going in to play a little. Or more than a little!

I shall try to describe the tone of the instrument. It has 5½ octaves, from F 3 octaves below middle C, to C 3 octaves above middle C (i.e. FF-c4). The bottom half-octave sounds rather deep and bass; the next octave, which is the principally-used bass, has a richness of tone rather akin to the richness of a harpsichord, though less brilliant - it is, after all, a piano. The top octave has a bell-like tone of ethereal beauty. Through the middle, there is a varying blend of these two extremes. As one moves up through the registers, the harpsichord-like richness lessens, and the bell-like ingredient increases. I find the tone very pleasant, and indeed beautiful. The tonal differentiation between the registers is most important as it helps one to hear the different lines in the music.

The first two decades of the nineteenth century were a time of great changes in pianos. The "harpsichord-like" richness of tone of the earlier instruments gradually morphed into a piano tone more familiar to modern ears. My Broadwood would appear to be located early-on in this time-line.

One significant limitation of the instrument is that it has limited dynamic range. Quiet is quiet, but loud is really not very loud. I have heard it said that in a drawing room of the period, there would have been no difficulty in holding a conversation while someone was playing a square piano. Such a piano would certainly be an ideal instrument if one was worried about disturbing neighbours!

The touch is extremely light - very much lighter than any modern piano. It is also extremely precise and sensitive. I find it effortless to undertake rapid ornaments. I play Mozart and Haydn on it; Haydn was still alive when the piano was made. Pianos of this period were not expected to "sing" as modern instruments do; the fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout, whose playing I particularly like, has remarked that they "speak". Because of this, the details of articulation and phrasing are particularly important. And the astonishing thing that I have found about the Broadwood is the way in which the pianist's attention becomes naturally focussed upon these details. The most subtle nuances of phrasing become crystal clear, and are minutely controllable. I notice details in the score which I had not noticed before, because they stand out a mile when you play them. This is also true of staccato markings. It becomes crucial to observe precisely which notes are marked staccato and which are not, because the difference is enormous. If a note in the right hand is staccato while a simultaneous note in the left is not, this is obvious when you listen. And in fact I find that there are degrees of staccato, and I constantly have to choose how much I want. On the Bluthner such details were much less obvious, and so I thought about them less.

Playing Mozart is of course never easy. One of the things that I have always enjoyed in playing his music is the continuing challenge of making the music sound "right", long after one's fingers have learned their way around the notes. On the Broadwood the challenge is greater, because greater subtleties can be expressed, and alternatives explored; and so the reward is greater. And it is a further challenge to cope with the limited dynamic range. The quiet must be very quiet, so that the loud is not too loud. I cannot say that I have altogether surmounted these challenges. But the constant need to try is part of the enjoyment.

I have said that the piano does not sing as modern ones do. And yet, the tone does not sound "clipped" as with some antique pianos. There is considerable sustain, particularly in the lower half of the instrument. Bass notes held over a bar or two can be heard with perfect clarity below a treble melody. But the bass and treble do not blend. They are heard separately even though simultaneously.

There is a small flap in the lid, at the front-right of the instrument. I mainly play with this raised. With the flap closed, the tone is quieter, the sound delicate but rather muffled. This is not unattractive, but I prefer the richer tone when the flap is raised. One can also play the Broadwood with the whole lid raised, this makes the tone still richer and louder. Generally however, I prefer to have the lid closed but the flap raised.


On the excellent "Friends of Square Pianos" web site, you will find a substantial list of instruments for sale - click here. Of course, the development of the square piano was rapid, and you therefore need to choose your instrument with care. For Haydn, Handel and Mozart, I would suggest something dating from between 1795 and 1805, or thereabouts. For Beethoven, you might look for a piano dating from about 1815. These early square pianos are supremely elegant, and the furniture style changed as rapidly as the musical style. This might be another aspect that you might want to consider. When Haydn visited London in the early 1790s he lived just down the road from Broadwoods, and he was a frequent visitor there. Owning a Broadwood from this period therefore does seem very right for playing Haydn.

Note that if you were to buy a square piano from the UK, if you do so before the end of the year you will not have to cope with the more complex CITES regulations which will come into force upon Brexit.

I would certainly encourage you to embark on such a journey; I am confident that you will find it as rewarding as I have done. As I said, I think an early square piano would be an excellent place for you to start. And after experiencing the delights of such an instrument, you might then feel inclined (as I have done!) to acquire an early grand. Or of course, a modern reproduction.


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