Show-and-tell on how Chopin's compositions took advantage of rapid advances in piano technology
I thought I'd provide some samples of music to go with today's article in the Star on the allure of Chopin's music to pianists.
In our conversations, all four musicians talked about how Chopin was exploring the possibilities of a new instrument.
The Pleyel and Erard companies in Paris were two of the great innovators, along with Broadwood in London. The piano was becoming a household instrument and, like any consumer product, it needed celebrity endorsement to give it cachet. These three piano makers gave instruments to the great artists of the day to help promote their brand and, because this was new technology, would make continual changes to how they built their pianofortes.
The celebrity endorsement of pianos continues to this day. The two biggest names in promotion are Steinway and Yamaha, who supply their preferred artists with pianos wherever they go.
Back in mid-19th-century France, Erard made the biggest improvement to the "action" -- the complex mechanism that links the ivory-topped key to the blow of a hammer on a string. Pleyel, meanwhile, began using metal reinforcements in the structure, so that the strings could sustain higher tension and, consequently, make a bigger sound. Also, this helped stabilize the tuning.
The pianoforte of 1820, when Chopin was 10, was much different from the instrument of 1849, when he died. The concert grand as we know it today dates approximately from 10 years after that.
To give you an idea how much the sound of pianos bloomed during the 19th century, I'll start with an oddity, an 1822 Broadwood square piano being played by Rachel Bär-Giese, who also sings "Casta diva" from Bellini's Norma (one thing I like about this clip is that it makes Bellini sound a lot like Schubert, which makes a lot of sense).
The second clip is of two Chopin Nocturnes being performed by Michèle Boegner on an 1836 Pleyel. The third is of an 1879 Chickering (be patient with the sales pitch at the beginning of the video). The fourth is Tzvi Erez playing the Fantaisie-Impromptu on an 1812 Bösendorfer grand: