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#625588 02/24/08 11:49 AM
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I've recently completed reading Perri Knize's book: Grand Obsession. While I certainly enjoyed the nearly epic proportion of her search for an instrument and the sound within that instrument, I have a rather different experience.

Some time ago, I watched/listened to the VHS documentary on Richter. I love Richter and can almost always identify him as the recording artist even if I didn't know it at first. But what struck me is that we hear him playing on all manner of different instruments made by all manner of different manufacturers in all manner of different styles, in all manner of different locations, etc. Maybe I don't have the savvy of a Perri Knize, but you know what? It always sounded like Richter. Which leads me to my question: Is it the pianist, or the piano?

I know the easy answer will be both; but I remain intrigued as to why even in a single note one pianist gets an entirely different sound out of an instrument than another pianist. And if it is the piano, sign me up with the technician who can make my sound indistinguishable from Richter's.

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I think it is the pianist first and the piano second. Some pianists use a great deal of physical strength in their playing and can bring out quite a different sound from the hammers and strings than someone else who uses a consistently delicate touch.

It may even be true that the first type of pianist gravitates towards Rachmaninoff, Brahms, and Schumann, versus the second type who might favor Schubert and Mozart. Composers like Chopin or Beethoven can suite both types of pianist.

Perhaps as an example I can site Argerich as the first type vs. Uchida as the second type.

The piano is by no means an insignificant factor; a bright instrument will sound bright no matter who is playing.

This leaves out a whole other question of style of playing. Your observation about Richter that you can tell him apart from others may have to do as much with his style of playing as with the tone he generates from the different instruments he used to record.

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Thanks for respondig. Some years ago I was studying the first ballade of Chopin which opens on an open octave. Every time I played that single note I was dissatisfied with the sound; every time my teacher played it (same piano; same room, etc.) I wanted my sound to be more like his. It never was.

It's hard to accept stylistic differences in a single note. I think a single note is more akin to sound; notes put together more akin to music where style certainly helps to form the signature of the pianist.

I put this question to my father who earned his living as a nuclear physicist: Where is the physics to account for a single note sounding different when one pianist plays it versus another given that both are playing on the same instrument? He didn't give me any answer. And as you might imagine, I experimented with everything I could do to get that one note to have the sound I heard my teacher make every time he played it and to no avail. So I remain curious as to what variables I might be overlooking in the train from pianist to piano to sound.

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Quote
Originally posted by andanada233:
So I remain curious as to what variables I might be overlooking in the train from pianist to piano to sound.
I think that could be another book...something unique about your ear and your location when the note was played?

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andanada233, Numerian, quest1013, do any of you have a technical question about pianos? That is what this Forum is for.


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Hey, I'm not a tech, and therefore have limited knowledge, but would like to share an experience on this subject.

I agree with those who say the sound of a piano is the piano itself, but an amazingly large part of it, in my experience, can be due to the pianist.

My husband and I attended a concert a few months ago. Three different pianists playing their own music. In the first half of the program each pianist played a set lasting about 15 minutes.

The first two pianists played. Then the third pianist came on. I was struck by how much richer the tone of the piano sounded. There really seemed to be a very big difference between how the piano sounded when the first two pianists played and when the third pianist played. I wondered if it was just me noticing this, but at intermission, my husband mentioned it to me before I had a chance to ask him about it!

Well, I thought, each pianist is playing his own music, no two pieces alike. Maybe that explains it. Maybe the third pianist's music is just different in a way that makes the piano sound more resonant?

Second half of the program. Each pianist played one piece at a time in rotation, the first played one piece, then the second immediately after, then the third, and then the first and so on. The difference in the sound of the piano was even more noticeable. The piano sounded pretty much the same when the first two pianists played, but markedly different each time the third pianist played. Thinking maybe the music accounted for this, I tried to determine whether the three pianists music was structured differently in a way that would explain the differences in the sound of the piano that my husband and I were hearing.

We came to the conclusion the pieces of music being played, while different, were somewhat similar and did not explain why the piano sounded like a DIFFERENT PIANO each time the third pianist played.

It was amazing to experience that first-hand.

Jeanne W


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Quote
Originally posted by andanada233:
Every time I played that single note I was dissatisfied with the sound; every time my teacher played it (same piano; same room, etc.) I wanted my sound to be more like his. It never was.

Where is the physics to account for a single note sounding different when one pianist plays it versus another given that both are playing on the same instrument?
Is there a technical answer to this question?

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andanada, did your teacher ever talk about breathing? Were you inhaling, or holding your breath, where your teacher may have been exhaling?


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andanada233,

There was once a long discussion on PIANO FORUM about this matter:

http://www.pianoworld.com/ubb/cgi-bin/ultimatebb.cgi?/topic/1/15905.html

If you are expecting more input I would suggest you to move your thread to the PIANO FORUM as indeed this is not really a 'technical' subject.

schwammerl.

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Thanks, Schwammerl, for the link.

It strikes me as understandable but nonetheless, regretable that there seems to be such a division between 'technical' matters and pianistic matters. My own career in academia bore witness to the same developments with respect to the modern computer. It, too, is an instrument, but quickly embraced an army of workers who seem to be content to work wholly within them. Many of these people strike me as geniuses as do some of the best piano technicians, but in the end, I'm afraid I still believe the rasion d'etre of the computer is its use, not the thing itself. And so it is for me at the piano. Yes, the piano and its intricate mechanisms--sound in general--can absorb a life of study and devotion, but in the end, it ought to be about its presence as an instrument, a device needed to shape the meaning of the human expereince.

I'm an amateur musician; I have only a mossy understanding of the technical aspects of the piano acquired by being around when my own instruments have needed the expertise of a good technician. I currently own a Hamburg Steinway C and a Yamaha CD7. Both are fine instruments, and, for the most part, I believe such disappointment as I have registered over the years is chiefly my own: namely that it is my playing, not the tweekings of the technician that account for my disappointment.

Save this one reservation: that in the video on Richter I mentioned, Artur Rubinstein was interviewed. There he said words to the effect that when he heard Richter, he couldn't imagine the piano could make so beautiful a sound. He did not say he agreed with Richter's musical instincts, he said, and I repeat as forcefully as I can, that he could not imagine how the piano could make so beautiful a sound. Rubinstein. If we're talking about SOUND (not music) I think the only legitimate place to turn is to the technicians, in the hope that they can point us to the variables in the mystical train of mechanism that leads from a key's surface to the sound created. And where in that train those of us who are practioners of the instrument might be able to have an influence, a way of shaping our own respective sounds in the music we seek to embrace and share.

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andanada, in my opinion, as a technician for 33 years and musician for 45, is that the mystical part is within the player, the listener and the connection between the two. There's no mystery in the component parts of a piano. There may be in how a technician pulls them all together to operate as a whole, but that's not the source of a musician's musicality. It's not the "mystical train" you're looking for.
I don't think I agree completely with your distinction between sound and music. As you say, two people can get a different sound out of the same piano, how should a piano technician know what they are doing differently? It's more in how the musician addresses the piano (and the world).
If you read between the lines in this forum you can learn a lot about how piano technicians approach their work and the world. The mystery is more about the approach than the details.
This probably isn't the best forum for the romance of piano playing.


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I think this is an absolutely legitimate topic for the technicians forum.

What are technicians for if not to work their magic to coax forth each individual piano's best "tone" or "voice"?

My piano tuner tunes at the Kennedy Center for many of the great pianists who perform there.

He will tune a piano very specifically (after consultation with the artist) to produce a tone that the artist requests. In short, a tuner can, in fact, make a piano sound "darker" if the artist so requests. I dare say, when I read a critical review in the newspaper after a piano concert -- I often smile to myself and wonder how much of the final tonal result (for which the pianist is always credited) is actually due to the tuner.

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My opinion as a performer and technician is that the magic is for the audience. On and behind the stage we are working to create the conditions for the audience to have that experience.
You'll notice that the technicians on this forum have not shown their usual enthusiasm to address this subject. When taken to an art, our craft is subtle and nuanced and we do everything we can to be objective in a field that is awash in variables and is aimed at meeting subjective musical results. In other words, it's difficult enough without getting mired in mumbo jumbo.
Making a piano brighter warmer or darker is not magic. RonTuner has made youtube videos available that you can find on the forum and you will see just how pedestrian voicing can be.
If you do a search of this technicians forum you'll find that the word "magic" has been used 39 times in 30,972 posts; probably over a million words. Twenty two of those occurrences the word in front of magic was "not".
This isn't to say that performers, or tuners, don't have mystical experiences, but in my opinion that is personal and can happen with or without an audience.
Musical instruments are tools and we do what we can to make them work as well as possible, the rest is up to the musician.
My original response to andanada was to "watch your breath". Masters of many, if not all, disciplines will refer to breathing at some point. When examining how different people can get different tones out of a mechanical device such as a piano, one naturally looks to the energy being introduced into the system. Every muscle in our body is involved in playing a note and our muscles behave differently when inhaling, holding our breath, or exhaling. This is going to effect the energy administered into the key. Experienced musicians can hear the difference (in breathing) with their eyes closed. Many string musicians and pianists will make breath marks in the music just as wind players do and craftsmen watch their breath when using tools, be it saws, hammers, or tuning levers.
Most consider it technique, not magic.


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artisan,

I think you make a good and useful point that MY playing (sound) would be improved using your suggestions, and no doubt the numerous suggestions the teachers I've employed over the years have made. But I guess what I'm trying to get at here is not the sound I make at the paino but that an artist of Rubinstein's stature (who arguably had mastered the relationships and importance of breathing) still can admit that another pianist can make the piano sound more beauiful than he could. And I myself would not be comfortable to suggest to Rubinstein what he might try to get from the sound he makes to the sound he admired; I am assuming he pretty much tried it all and was a genius to boot. No, what I'm trying to get at is that the SAME piano played by different artists sounds different, and some of those differences are ones I wish I
I could understand in terms of the variables in the mechanical train that leads from key to sound. It's there somewhere in the piano and apparently I can't get it out, which could be dismissed as I am an amateur and not a very good one at that. But neither, apparently, could Rubinstein, and it is at that point that I turn to the technicians and ask them to speculate where these differences might be so that those of us who are struggling to achieve a better sound might employ something a little more focused than hit or miss.

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Originally posted by andanada233:
... what I'm trying to get at is that the SAME piano played by different artists sounds different ...
andanada233, if I just said “You'll have to ask the artists.”, that would sound rude. So I'll say more than that.

I can't give an answer to your question. It would be like giving court testimony and being asked "Why did so-and-so like the looks of the one identical twin and not the other?"

Someone I know is learning to play the piano and gets frustrated. I tell them that it's like learning to read. First you learn the letters, then the words, and then the sentences. It is the same sort of thing with piano, as I’m sure you know. I can’t remember the name of the movie, but there was a line that went something like “If you are playing the notes, you are missing the point.” (That piano had a sticky key!) A pianist gets to the point where they are not just playing notes, they are making music. If they concentrate on the notes they can’t concentrate on the music.

I don’t think you can get the sound you want by concentrating on the technical aspects of the piano. I think you need to imagine the sound that you want and let your fingers make it. How the piano does it (and maybe how your fingers do it) would just confuse the issue. Like the line from another movie, this one I remember the name, Caddyshack. "Be the ball, Danny. Be the ball." I think that's how the artists do it.


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