Why should we play 19th century music, music of Chopin and his near contemporaries, on a period piano? Why should we be attending a concert where such music is being played on a piano from the 1850’s?
According to renowned musicologist Beniamin Vogel, if we want to recreate, or have a better idea, of the original sound of the music of Chopin, we “must return to that instrument and the state of its development, in terms of both technology and sound.”
Pianos built during Chopin’s times were much more delicate than today’s mighty concert grand pianos. Their light hammers, with leather covered heads (felts were introduced in the late 1830’s), struck thinner and shorter strings at a lesser tension than we do today. Their considerably lighter action and key dip “enabled the player to obtain a sound immediately for minimum effort.” Vogel adds that virtuosi of the day did not need to be in excellent health in order to create a sound from the piano, certainly a consideration for a pianist of Chopin’s delicate constitution.
The sound of period pianos is also different because of the variety of materials used to make strings. Therefore, rather than the homogenized sound one gets from modern pianos, the different registers of a period piano has a different, timbrally rich tone. Individual bass notes could be differentiated even in the mightiest chords, and treble notes resembled plucked instruments and resounded for longer than today’s instruments.
In an article written about the 1st International Chopin Competition for period instruments, held in September of 2018, Jakub Puchalski writes, “(T)he competition allowed for the emergence of new ways of interpreting piano music, and they are necessary and natural if we are turning to a new medium – including a historical medium.” In addition, the competition encouraged young performers to explore the use of period instruments, in order to discover “the conditions and the possibilities which they afford…”. In that way, studying 19th century piano repertoire on period pianos would lead us to look at even very familiar music in new ways.
We are very fortunate to have available to us, for our concerts, a beautifully restored 1852 Broadwood piano. Although Chopin was known for playing Pleyel and Érard pianos, he was very familiar with the pianos of John Broadwood. In 1827, he heard and admired the Warsaw performances of Maria Szymanowska, who played on a Broadwood piano brought directly from London.
On February 22nd and 23rd, 2019, at 7:30 p.m., period piano specialist Tobias Koch will give two performances in Vancouver’s Christ Church Cathedral. For his first recital, Koch will recreate the programme Chopin played at his last public recital (1848) in Edinburgh. On the second evening, the artist will present a programme of “The Polish Romantics”, music by early 19th century Polish composers who influenced the young Chopin, as well as music by Polish composers who were influenced by Chopin. The aforementioned Maria Szymanowska will be one of the composers represented in this concert.
Other than enjoying an evening of beautiful music, this concert will give us much insight into the source of Chopin’s style, and a look at the evolution of 19th century Polish music besides Chopin.
At the aforementioned Chopin Competition for period instruments, audience members were astounded and moved by the music of Chopin played on period pianos. The real revelation to everyone was how different even the same instruments sound when played by different pianists. Join us on February 22nd and 23rd, and together we will explore the magical sound world of a period piano. Come and hear what Chopin’s music may have sounded like when he composed them.
It is unlikely that these two highly unique and original programmes would ever be presented in Vancouver again.
For all music lovers, teachers and students of music and the piano, and for people interested in the arts and aesthetics of the 19th century, these are concerts that you would not want to miss.
For the purposes of the Chopin Competition the jury of the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments selected five instruments among the collection of nineteen. Two of these five: a Pleyel from 1842 and an Erard from 1837 belonging to the collection of Edwin Beunk, a famous piano restorer.
You are all invited to the viewing of a fascinating documentary ‘Lost Sound’ about this famous piano restorer, please come on Friday at 5:30 pm to the Parish Hall (downstairs) at Christ Church Cathedral. In this movie a Swiss collector acquires the valuable piano and asks Edwin Beunk to restore it. You will see all steps that are being taken in the restoration process.
For detailed programming information, and to purchase tickets, please visit our website.