For the Love of the Fortepiano: Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata

>> Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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 good 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 octaves. (The range of most modern pianos, attained in the 19th century, is 7⅓ octaves.)
Fortepianos from the start had devices similar to the pedals of modern pianos, but these were not always pedals; sometimes hand stops or knee levers were used instead.

Like the modern piano, the fortepiano can vary the sound volume of each note, depending on the player's touch. The tone of the fortepiano is quite different from that of the modern piano however, being softer with less sustain. Sforzando accents tend to stand out more than on the modern piano, as they differ from softer notes in timbre as well as volume, and decay rapidly.

Fortepianos also tend to have quite different tone quality in their different registers — noble and slightly buzzing in the bass, "tinkling" in the high treble, and more rounded (closest to the modern piano) in the mid range. In comparison, modern pianos are rather more uniform in sound through their range.

Information: Wikipedia

Trevor Stephenson plays Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata on a traditional 18th-century replica fortepiano made by Norman Sheppard.  


Kathy Handyside March 10, 2010 at 1:06 PM  

That was wonderful! Thanks, Nettl. I still say that OSU needs to hire you as both a vocal professor AND a music history professor!! You'd be great and the students would love you.

Lynette March 10, 2010 at 7:13 PM  

Thanks Kathy, but if you got your graduate degree from there, they won't hire you. Nepotism.

Kathy Handyside March 10, 2010 at 11:27 PM  

Well, it's their loss - but our gain!

Kathy Handyside March 10, 2010 at 11:29 PM  

Wayne State University was like that, too. It made me think that WSU didn't belive in the quality of their education. For supposedly being the field of education, academia can be so stupid!

Kathy Handyside March 10, 2010 at 11:30 PM  

Still, it seems a shame that you put so much work into these postings on your blog, your research is impeccable and it's interesting - it just seems you should get some kind of recognition for it.


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