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Originally Posted by pianoloverus
Del-I found it interesting that you mentioned the probably longer sustain(based on their design) of the Chopin era pianos. At least for the examples posted in the recent threads about older pianos, I felt(not sure if I'm correct here?) the pianos were lacking in sustain and wooden sounding. Of course, you also mentioned that these pianos might very well not sound much like Chopin's pianos sounded when new. So if in fact my description of those piano's tone is correct, this seems to imply that these pianos don't sound much like new pianos in Chopin's time sounded.

Am I making sense here?

Most of us base our impressions of the pianos of Chopin's era on hearing music being played on period instruments. Unfortunately those instruments are a century and a half old (or more). They no longer sound like the did when they were in their early years.

It is my belief that the only way we are going to hear anything like the sounds Chopin heard is to make new instruments that are as close to the originals as possible and perform on those. While we will never know for sure that the tone performance of the new instruments is exactly the same as those played by Chopin they will be closer than anything else we have available.

Whether this sound "correct" either to our modern ears or to the ear of someone who is enamored with the sound of the carefully preserved original instruments is a whole other question. I listened to the sample of the McNulty Pleyel and I have to say--understanding that I have heard this only only on the in-ear noise-suppressing ear buds that I travel with--it sounds pretty much like I would expect a new instrument of that design to sound. I look forward to getting and hearing more and better (non-YouTube) recordings of this instrument.

If I were attempting to reproduce an instrument of that era I'd be quite pleased with that result. On the other hand, if my own new version of the mid-19th century instruments sounds like that I won't be happy at all.

ddf


Delwin D Fandrich
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Chopin was very good and accomplished in his technique. Some say one of the best. So undoubtedly he'd need an instrument that was capable of his technique (i.e. quick playing, fast repetition, etc.). so the action had to be able to keep up with him. Liszt was even faster and considerably more "show-boat-ish" than Copin was. They were at the same place at the same time and were good friends, so they undoubtedly used some of the same instruments (at least on occasion). If they could handle Liszt they could handle Chopin.

However, due to many illnesses as a child he didn't have much stamina or endurance, could't play very loudly, and so preferred to play in small salons instead of large halls like Liszt and others did. I don't expect that he'd have much use for the ol' stage canons. And Steinway wasn't making any D's at the time.

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Chopin learned to play on a Bucholtz piano, made in Poland out of pine-wood in his early years.

when he played a concert on his Bucholtz, which was a piano fasioned after the English design (a la Broadwood etc.) his music teacher mentioned that the bass notes could not be heard in the crowd and the next concert a Viennese piano was borrowed which allowed the bass notes to be heard in the room.

Chopin mentions in his letter that he would have preferred to play his own piano.. this gives an indication of his tastes.

It appears, that the English-styled, Polish-built piano which Chopin used before moving to Paris was quite a soft-sounding instrument..

this coincides with a letter written to Erard by his nephew, who was setting-up a factory in London (Erard London) .. he mentions that the English pianos of the time had softer darker hammers than the French model.. he says that the "English pianos have a beautiful yet CONFUSED sonority"...

the round shape of the english hammer and it's construction gave the hammer a deeper, darker sound, as opposed to the pear-shaped hammers which began to come-out in the 1840's, which had a brighter, more focused sound..


The Pleyel hammer was covered with an extremely soft felt made of rabbit fur, alpaca, cachemire and other soft fibres

I have a Pleyel with original hammers and have found two other Pleyels with this exact same felt, one of which was Rossini's Pleyel and the other being built in 1845

I can safely say that there is NO WAY that the piano would sound brilliant or nasal unless the keys were struck very hard..


I had the opportunity to play Mc Nulty's Pleyel, and it is a great instrument, well built etc... great attention to detail.. the sound of the hammers is too hard though, because he is using a felt which typically is used in restorations but is historically inaccurate.


the great problem is achieving BOTH a mellow ppp and a relatively bright FF

A good-quality felt made today of the same density (about 250 grams weight)will give a mellow ppp but the fortissimo is dull..

the fibres of the original Pleyel felt are extremely fine and curly and when the hammer hits the string SOFTLY, the soft felt sets the string in motion without coupling to the firmer layers of leather underneath..

...when the hammer is played harder, the Pleyel felt has the ability to squash and 'bottom-out' almost completely, therefore coupling the harder leather layers to the string and producing a brighter sound..

this is perhaps why the way that the felts were manufactured was VERY different from today's felt

You can read the original PATENTS OF THE FELT MAKING PROCESS IN THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE...








Pleyel Hammer Article


Last edited by acortot; 10/08/12 10:15 AM.

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Originally Posted by Del



It is my belief that the only way we are going to hear anything like the sounds Chopin heard is to make new instruments that are as close to the originals as possible and perform on those. While we will never know for sure that the tone performance of the new instruments is exactly the same as those played by Chopin they will be closer than anything else we have available.

Whether this sound "correct" either to our modern ears or to the ear of someone who is enamored with the sound of the carefully preserved original instruments is a whole other question. I listened to the sample of the McNulty Pleyel and I have to say--understanding that I have heard this only only on the in-ear noise-suppressing ear buds that I travel with--it sounds pretty much like I would expect a new instrument of that design to sound. I look forward to getting and hearing more and better (non-YouTube) recordings of this instrument.

If I were attempting to reproduce an instrument of that era I'd be quite pleased with that result. On the other hand, if my own new version of the mid-19th century instruments sounds like that I won't be happy at all.

ddf



Hi,

I mentioned above that I played the Mc Nulty Pleyel, and my opinions of the instrument (which are mostly good).

There is one major aspect to reproducing the old pianos which is usually not within the modern accepted 'sphere' of how a piano works..

the Pleyel piano was built with a very small soundboard area which was limited by a cutoff bar and was further made more rigid by a tone-bar..

the soundboard is relatively thin..

the design of the soundboard, with the lower tensions and smaller bridges, produced a sound which was bass-shy and had resonance in the midrange frequencies..

with the dark, soft hammers, the more resonant and lean-sounding soundboard balanced the sound, which otherwise would be too boomy and out-of-focus.

With harder and brighter hammers, the piano is louder but the balance is way off, making the piano sound thin, lacking a strong fundamental and emphasising the dirty harmonics of the small scale's strings..


there were a lot of designs for soundboards, with lattice or X-bracing, simple bracing, tuned braces, different grain-orientations but most Pleyels hat the grain of the wood at a 45° angle to the spine of the piano..

as far as sustain, it was not as much as today's pianos, and to an extent, it was actually engineered OUT of early pianos because it 'clouded the harmony'

pianists in the early 1800's did not use the pedal like modern pianists, partly because the dampers were small and tended to allow a degree of sympathetic vibration... partly because the pedal was not seen as a tool to be emplyed constantly until the pianos became so large and full of sustain that it became impossible NOT to use the pedal..


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Originally Posted by Chris Leslie
Del, is it possible to build an exact copy of a Chopin-prefered Pleyel given materials available today?

I don't know. You'd have to ask those instrument makers who specialize in building reproductions of early keyboard instruments.

It should certainly be possible to build instruments using a design philosophy and construction techniques and materials to come up with representative action and voice characteristics.

Again, this may not satisfy the purest but then I doubt that any two consecutive instruments built by the early keyboard makers were exactly the same either.

ddf


Delwin D Fandrich
Piano Research, Design & Manufacturing Consultant
ddfandrich@gmail.com
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Originally Posted by Del
Originally Posted by Chris Leslie
Del, is it possible to build an exact copy of a Chopin-prefered Pleyel given materials available today?

I don't know. You'd have to ask those instrument makers who specialize in building reproductions of early keyboard instruments.

It should certainly be possible to build instruments using a design philosophy and construction techniques and materials to come up with representative action and voice characteristics.

Again, this may not satisfy the purest but then I doubt that any two consecutive instruments built by the early keyboard makers were exactly the same either.

ddf


Darn! whistle


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Del,

Pleyel experimented with different soundboard designs as well as hammer shapes and sizes.

The pianos until 1839 had a volume which was too low for halls, it was a private, indoor instrument


In the 1840's the bridges became a little bigger, the scaling a little longer, hammer-mass increased

But the basic approach towards hammer-making and soundboard voicing was the Pleyel style (small surface area, midrange resonance as well as hammers with a soft outside and progressively harder core)

Pleyel also had unusually large hammers until just above middle C, making the left-hand-range sound darker than the right.

The question is what year is the Pleyel we are talking about?

From 1830 to 1849 Chopin Played only on Pleyels.


I've heard many restorers shrug-off responsibility for their actions by saying 'they were all different anyhow'

That is not a valid arument in my opinion.

So many pianos, after almost 200 years on the used piano market are in terrible shape with poor restorations and they are sold as being 'original'

This in not the case most of the time. Obviously.

Last edited by acortot; 10/09/12 07:30 AM.

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I would hesitate before stating that old instruments no longer sound as they did. Not a piano or fortepiano I admit, but I had a David Rubio copy, built in 1972, of the 1769 Taskin harpsichord. I had the pleasure of playing the original in St Cecilia's hall, Edinburgh. It was like playing my copy and my wife thought it sounded the same. Quite an uncanny experience. So I would not rule out the possibility of old instruments not having deteriorated so much that they no longer resemble the sounds they produced when new.

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Depends. The soundboards on these pianos resonate quite a bit and the wood used before 1890 or so was of a different region. I think Alfred Dolge mentions that in his book.

Good soundboard wood is hard to come by.

But 90% of the sound is in the hammers imo so if you get those right you would have something


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Originally Posted by Ed Foote
... I, as a technician, would like to hear from the pianists that play Chopin; which style of instrument do you think produces the most musical result when playing this music? The older delicate ones with their nuance and subtle charm, or the modern stage cannon that can really make a big show of it?


My favourite recordings of the Chopin piano concertos numbers one and two are those played by Emanuel Ax on an 1851 Erard. They seem just perfect.

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