Wednesday, October 10, 2007

ill tempered klavier

Reading this interesting post* makes me think of the piano I grew up with, my mother's Blüthner baby grand, which she inherited from her father, and which, as she liked to remind us, travelled extensively through the North West Frontier Province before the War on the back of a donkey.

Blüthners have a very different tone to the Steinway sound you're almost certain to hear in a concert hall - it's a dark, rich, velvety sound. It feels different to play, too - the action on the keyboard is very heavy, and even now, whenever I play any other piano the action seems strangely insubstantial.

It's an interesting question, whether the near-ubiquity of the Steinway sound is inhibiting composers in their writing for piano - maybe the prepared piano is in part a subconscious rebellion against this homogeneity of sound. I also think of such things as Thomas Ades' Asyla, which features in its scoring grand, upright and honky-tonk pianos. Another piano-related memory of mine is when my university bought a fortepiano. I was fascinated by the sound, and the feel of playing it - it felt like a revelation to hear something that was a piano, yet radically different to the archetype in my mind.

There's always a danger that homogeneity will stifle creativity - but there's always the hope thatimagination will subvert conformity.


* I am particularly excited by the fact that Pleyel use fossilised mammoth tusks for the ivory on their keys!

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