Fortepiano Solo Concert at the Baptist University of Hong Kong
“Elegant music. The fortepiano adjusts to fashion”
During the era of Enlightenment, education included calligraphy, rhetoric, poetry and music among other subjects. Many paintings from the 18th century prove the importance that playing an instrument had for the aristocrats, highlighting mostly the fortepiano and more specifically the square piano, considered as the new “objet de vertû” and luxury object. It was the time when the fortepiano became a “must-have”, an essential part of the living room, integrated as part of the furniture.
The piano builders had to provide the most exquisite and refined designs, not only for the exterior but also for the mechanism; composers demanded new features, subtle differences in timbre, effects, larger range…a continuous development linked to the evolution of musical taste.
-Sonata Op. 25 nº5 in F sharp minor (12’). Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
I. Più tosto allegro con espressione
II. Lento e patetico
-Sonata nº6, Kv. 284 in D Major (23’). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
II. Rondeau en Polonaise. Andante
III. Thema und 12 Variationen
-Capriccio Op. 17 in B flat Major (5’). Muzio Clementi (1752-1832)
-Sonata nº8 Op.13 in C minor (20’). Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827)
I. Grave; allegro di molto e con brio.
II. Adagio cantabile.
III. Rondo: allegro
The composers and their relationships : Clementi and Mozart were two great virtuoso concert pianists, both famous in life and both representatives of proportion, clarity, elegance and refined taste of the Viennese style. On the other hand, Beethoven’s stylistic innovations bridge the Classical and Romantic periods. The works of his early period brought the Classical form to its highest expressive level, expanding in formal, structural, and harmonic terms the musical idiom developed by predecessors. He enjoyed relationships with many of his musical contemporaries although he was famously difficult to get along with. It’s well-known that Beethoven regarded Handel, Bach and Mozart very highly as composers, but his favorite composer for piano was Muzio Clementi. In fact Beethoven wanted his nephew Karl to learn Clementi sonatas for his piano instruction. Beethoven was quoted as saying “They who thoroughly study Clementi, at the same time make themselves acquainted with Mozart and other composers”. Ironically Clementi was Mozart’s “arch-enemy” and apparently dueled Mozart to a draw on one occasion. Mozart, snidely remarked of Clementi’s playing, “His thirds are impressive, but like all Italians he’s a charlatan without a farthing’s worth of taste” The Classical Sonata: In any case, Mozart, Clementi and Beethoven are probably the greatest composers of the Classical Sonata form. The Clementi Sonatas, are still quite underrated despite of its wonderfully satisfying melodies and Scarlattiesque rhythmic energy, but Clementi was a pioneer of piano technique in the Lisztian sense, employing octaves and doble notes for passage playing. Double thirds were his specialty (he uses them with great effect in the third moment of the Sonata Op. 25 nº5). Clementi also expanded his expertise into piano development (The “Clementi Piano”) and music publishing and helped spread Beethoven’s music in England. The Mozart Sonata in D major is the last of the Six Sonatas K. 279–284 that Mozart had in his luggage when he set off for Paris in September 1777. He gave the work particularly rich dynamic markings and also found unusual solutions concerning their formal aspect, for instance having a slow Rondeau en Polonaise as the middle movement of the Sonata in D major, the most brilliant and the most technically demanding of these six early Sonatas. Understandably, Mozart retained a special affection for it and continued to perform it himself. It was this Sonata of which he said that it sounded incomparable on Stein’s new fortepianos. But Mozart bought a Walter piano (successor of Stein) in about 1782, and employed it in one of the most important phases of his career, the composition and highly successful premieres of his mature piano concertos. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C minor Op. 13, was written in 1798 when the composer was 27 years old. It has remained one of his most celebrated compositions. Although commonly thought to be one of the few works to be named by the composer himself, it was actually named “Grande sonate pathétique” (to Beethoven’s liking) by the publisher, who was impressed by the sonata’s tragic sonorities. Prominent musicologists debate whether or not the Pathétique may have been inspired by Mozart’s piano sonata K. 457, since both compositions are in C minor and have three very similar movements. The second movement, “Adagio cantabile”, especially, makes use of a theme remarkably similar to that of the spacious second movement of Mozart’s sonata. However, Beethoven’s sonata uses a unique motif line throughout, a major difference from Haydn or Mozart’s creation. During the fifty-seven years of his life, Beethoven played different kinds of keyboard instruments: in his youth, the clavichord, harpsichord, and organ; and as an adult, various fortepianos including those made by Stein, Walter, Böhm, Erard, Schantz, and Streicher (he was friendly with the Streicher Family). In his last decade, he had the good fortune of owning two exceptional instruments: pianos made by Broadwood of London, and by Graf of Vienna. It is very likely that he played the Sonata Op. 13 in a Walter due to the year of composition. The instruments: In the 18th century the instrument now known as the piano was a relatively recent invention. Not too many people were taking piano lessons. There were a number of people who experimented with the mechanism and who produced functioning instruments, but it was Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy, who built an important prototype and who is traditionally recognized as the inventor of the piano essentially as we know it today. He was the keeper of instruments at the court of Ferdinand de’ Medici in Florence. After him, two big construction schools continued improving and developing the instrument one in Viena (Stein, Walter, Streicher, Graf…) and the other in England (Clementi, Broadwood, Zumpe…). The fortepiano has leather-covered hammers and thin, harpsichord-like strings. It has a much lighter case construction than the modern piano and, except for later examples of the early nineteenth century (already evolving towards the modern piano), it has no metal frame or bracing. The action and hammers are lighter, giving rise to a much lighter touch, which in well-constructed fortepianos is also very responsive. The range of the fortepiano was about four octaves at the time of its invention and gradually increased. Mozart (1756–1791) wrote his piano music for instruments of about five octaves. The piano works of Beethoven (1770–1827) reflect a gradually expanding range; his last piano compositions are for an instrument of about six and a half octaves. (The range of most modern pianos, attained in the 19th century, is 7⅓ octaves.) Fortepianos from the start often had devices similar to the pedals of modern pianos, but these were not always pedals; sometimes hand stops or knee levers were used instead. Today, performances on period instruments raise some questions among scholars and historians (and others) about musical and sound authenticity. Because of the nature and elements of their construction, the sounds of the fortepianos are not the same as those we hear coming from today’s instruments. These subtle differences in timbre, discreet but distinct, may not be what our modern ears expect to hear; but in terms of their actual sound they are historically far closer to what composers from the 18th century would have heard. What is interesting to me is that, in hearing the sounds of these instruments, the listener can close his or her eyes and simply enter a figurative time-machine.