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Dear fellow piano-lovers,

I wanted to share with you my experience in playing historical instruments at Chris Maene in Ruiselede, Belgium. I had promised to do this already in my earlier post. This post is that follow-up & part of the same tour of pianos:

http://forum.pianoworld.com/ubbthre...-f278-bosendorfer-280vc-or-d.html#UNREAD

Chris Maene is a piano builder that has built up an incredible portfolio of historical instruments – both originals and rebuilds. He is an inspiring and very experienced builder. In his factory and store in Ruiselede, he offers a range of instruments from the earliest pianoforte to the earliest Steinway – all of them playable. Most are rebuilds, but he does have an original Longman which has a lovely sound. It is the kind of instrument museum I have always dreamt of – a place where you can touch and listen to history. It always pains me to be in other musea and not to be able to play :-). I think Ruiselede should be a compulsory stop on the journey for anyone that is truly serious about pianos.

The pianofortes from all those eras provided me a ton of insight into what past pianos sound like. I was shocked how much period pieces can change character, the instruments led invariably to whole new understanding of the character of these older pieces. I came partly unprepared for this and had to do this with the limited repertoire I had memorized. I will definitely try to visit another time and then bring a good stack of pieces from Bach to Mozart to Beethoven to Chopin to Debussy.

Even though I had known pianofortes sound different, I was truly surprised in many cases. For example, when you play the opening bars of Waldstein sonate of Beethoven on a modern instrument it is a momentous and bassy sound, even if played pianissimo as Beethoven indicated. And the sound always grows, even with quite light pedaling. On a historical pianoforte, like the Anton Walter pianoforte replica, the sound becomes light. The repetition of the notes makes a lot more sense, since the sostenuto is short. Also, you are able to make much more subtle crescendi and decrescendi since you can truly control the volume without the continuous increasing volume. All in all, the piece gains new life. That is not to say that it does not sound fantastic on a modern piano, but it just becomes a clearly different piece of music.

As another illustration, it is also wonderful to personally rediscover the difference between the older pianofortes and what I consider to be the first “modern” sounding instruments, like the first Steinways or the Pleyels. Suddenly, Chopin or Debussy’s music comes to life, and you understand better why composers started exploring new sounds in their compositions. At the same time, these instruments are more ethereal than modern instruments. They sing slightly different.

Anyway – it was a personal epiphany that I am sure so many have had before with historical instruments. It was extra powerful given the fantastic range of instruments that Chris Maene offers.

Unfortunately, the range of instruments was so rich that I did not have the time to make detailed notes on every individual instrument. Who knows – something for a next time perhaps and a next post.

Chris Maene also built a fantastic new instrument, under the Chris Maene brand. I played the Chris Maene 250 and CM284. It is a straightstrung grand, codeveloped with Daniel Barenboim. If you have played the pianoforte, you will understand the sound ideal that they are striving for. The bass is not wound with copper but with messing. The piano impresses me as somehow a more nasal sound. It is a wonderful color – I associate it with the Oboe da Caccia for some reason, a similar sound from the past compared to a modern oboe. The instrument is much less confusing in its harmonics than a Steinway or even a Bösendorfer. The instrument perhaps has some less power (and it not did growl), but I can completely understand the attraction. It is also very much still an instrument that is being developed, and it is especially wondrous to see the many decades of dedication that Chris Maene has put into pianos and the innovations he is still bringing. We will see more innovations from him in the future, and I am excited to hear those.

So go visit! And of course go listen and play all.


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Fascinating post. Wish I could hear some samples (e.g., Waldstein) as visiting Belgium is out of the question for the foreseeable future.

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It's only recently that I realized that piano strings in the highest register are really only a few inches! In my defense, this is sort of obscured by the huge frame, which is not so in the case of fortepiano's streamlined profile.


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What kind of prices are the new straight strung models getting?

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Originally Posted by Ppianissimo
I was shocked how much period pieces can change character, the instruments led invariably to whole new understanding of the character of these older pieces.
Thanks for piquing my interest. Had no idea what a difference there is. This Moonlight Sonata is downright eerie yet strangely alluring:


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Originally Posted by Maestro Lennie
What kind of prices are the new straight strung models getting?

Like with all great instruments, these are the results of a lot of good hand work by master craftsmen and -women. They are not cheap ;-)

Just to be clear - the straight strung models are not a strict analogy to Fortepianos, they are modern in their sound and volume. They just have a very different sound ideal.

Chris Maene has introduced another line of pianos, the Doutreligne. These instruments are more classical in their setup and have been produced to make them slightly more affordable.


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Thank you, Ppianissimo, for turning our attention to Chris Maene's fabulous work. He is a legend in my book, as he managed to turn an activity which was the realm of only a few isolated artisans into being a major provider of instruments to world class orchestras and solists.

In the YouTube provided by MrSh4nkly, the instrument is a copy of a circa 1800 Anton Walter from Vienna. This is the most often featured fortepiano, for the simple reason that Mozart owned one and performed the majority of his later work on it.

You will notice that they are no pedals, but there is a mechanism to lift the dampers, controlled by rising the performers' knees. Watch Petra's knees.

I have personnally commissioned such an instrument from a young builder in Alsace and will tell all about it when I receive it, hopefully by Xmas. But I chickened out on the kneeboards, so I designed a lyre with two pedals.

Last edited by Vikendios; 10/25/21 04:22 AM.

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Originally Posted by Vikendios
You will notice that they are no pedals, but there is a mechanism to lift the dampers, controlled by rising the performers' knees. Watch Petra's knees.
I had read about the knee mechanism in fortepianos not long ago, noticed there are no pedals in the video, saw the dampers rising and falling, but didn't connect these in my mind. Thanks for pointing that out.

P.S. Humorous comment by my wife while watching the above video: "nice shoes...you go, girl." I need to let her know there may have been an ulterior motive for wearing those pumps.

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Originally Posted by MrSh4nkly
[quote=Vikendios]

P.S. Humorous comment by my wife while watching the above video: "nice shoes...you go, girl." I need to let her know there may have been an ulterior motive for wearing those pumps.
yes, She must have those pumps for goodly contact your knees with board

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Originally Posted by MrSh4nkly
Originally Posted by Ppianissimo
I was shocked how much period pieces can change character, the instruments led invariably to whole new understanding of the character of these older pieces.
Thanks for piquing my interest. Had no idea what a difference there is. This Moonlight Sonata is downright eerie yet strangely alluring:

If one is able to enter that space the music sounds amazing.The last movement Presto Agitato is just so rich in a timbre that we no longer want to hear, buzzes, rattles foreign harmonics. Yet the result is incredibly powerful and more violent than I ever remember hearing ion a modern instrument.It makes me wonder that our pianos have a greater damping ability, and perhaps we control too much...? This movement was enthralling...but left me confused.
I am not really crazy about the first movement.Perhaps I still have Arthur Rubinstein's performance in my mind also the legato we are capable of...on modern instruments.The second movement has been described as a "flower between two abyss"
Here it sounded more like a monstrous alien plant..still beautifully surreal though. But it is only supposed to be a minuet in D flat....or is it not just that ..?
I would have liked to have listened to the performance in real life.The performance seemed to include some stretching of the tempo of the last movement,(the chodal sections) to near hysteria, yet it was bewitching!

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A useful time to remember that Beethoven asked to have the pedal down (or sideways, or whatever) for the entire first movement.

Also, Czerny and Moscheles were pretty consistent in saying that the tempo was meant to go at 60 to the quarter note. Both these things often sound silly to a modern pianist who doesn't know what effect was possible on the old instrument.

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Originally Posted by MrSh4nkly
Fascinating post. Wish I could hear some samples (e.g., Waldstein) as visiting Belgium is out of the question for the foreseeable future.

Martin Helmchen and Frank Peter Zimmermann have recorded Beethoven violin sonatas for BIS, Helmchen playing Maene.

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Originally Posted by kre
Martin Helmchen and Frank Peter Zimmermann have recorded Beethoven violin sonatas for BIS, Helmchen playing Maene.
Thank you.

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[Linked Image]

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Originally Posted by Maestro Lennie
A useful time to remember that Beethoven asked to have the pedal down (or sideways, or whatever) for the entire first movement.

Also, Czerny and Moscheles were pretty consistent in saying that the tempo was meant to go at 60 to the quarter note. Both these things often sound silly to a modern pianist who doesn't know what effect was possible on the old instrument.

I think most professionals are quite educated with historical instruments and performance practice nowadays?

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Originally Posted by MrSh4nkly
[Linked Image]

This looks like a modernized version of the Erard "Extra Grand Modèle de Concert", including the G0 and the lid prop's angle. Interesting.

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Yes, but the great difference is in the string tension. The Erard's and Pleyel's and Broadwood's of the 1830-50 period did not feature foundry plates. The iron stiffening was achieved by of a grid of bars and rods bolted together. In french we call it a "locksmith's frame" (cadre sérrurier) because they resemble work on railings and gates. They did not allow the much greater tension of later Babcock-type foundry pieces, as Maene uses.

Last edited by Vikendios; 10/27/21 04:38 AM.

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Originally Posted by Vikendios
Yes, but the great difference is in the string tension. The Erard's and Pleyel's and Broadwood's of the 1830-50 period did not feature foundry plates. The iron stiffening was achieved by of a grid of bars and rods bolted together. In french we call it a "locksmith's frame" (cadre sérrurier) because they resemble work on railings and gates. They did not allow the much greater tension of later Babcock-type foundry pieces, as Maene uses.

Erard hasn't stopped building pianos in the 1850s, you know.


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Originally Posted by OE1FEU
Le Gibet from Gaspard de la Nuit
Thought I clicked on my Internet history by accident after listening to that no long ago (Lucas Debargue's live recording). Synchronicity.

It sounds surprisingly good on that 1903 Erard.

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BTW, how do Italians refer to 'pianoforte' ? Because apparently 'piano' in Italian is pianoforte (pianoforti for plural).


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