Three performances of the same piece in differing temperaments. This is Werckmeister tuning.
Wim Winters plays L.v. Beethoven’s sonata opus 22 in B flat (ca 1800) (scroll down for more)
“One thing I haven’t told you, is that after the recording of the Pathétique, I got an extensive email. The name of the sender was rather crypted and became only clear at the end, but the avatar was really beautiful. I cannot show it, since it seems to be impossible to copy and it’s beauty is impossible to describe…
I replied to this highly interesting mail, and can now share with you the content of this first one. Many topics to think about… here it is:”
My dear Wim,
Don’t look so surprised to get an email from me! Evolution here is slow but steady, so since a few months, we all have fast internet connections here, and man, man, man, is that something…! Actually, we are not allowed to make contact, but since it is that stupid French consul that is in charge of the main server, you know, the same little piece of sh… to which I refused to play for on request of that evenly stupid piece of Graf von…) O whatever, anyway, since he is as stupid as he looks, Wolfgang (who is so much better in this electrical issues, he really enjoys it), switched one Ethernet cable, and so here I am, a direct line to you down there, and not even a red one!
Boy, what is that a real pleasure to use: Internet! First thing I did, was looking up all my scores. That was a painful thing, since so many editions are worthless. What did they all add to them??! O, I can understand why, since even I am not able any more to read my own manuscript. And then I read some biography’s. Well, about that, … no let just say nothing. Or yes, just one thing: why in hell (O, pardon me) am I described as a stupid fool that always was angry and unfriendly with no manners at all? Have you seen the way I was painted in the 19th century?? That hair?? That anger??!!! O boy, it was the other way around. The world acted many times so cruel against me. I knew I was right in what I tried to do, and now I clearly see that I definitely was right. You all love my work, isn’t it? But back then… Yeah, I told Schindler that he had to write a decent necrology or a biography if he had some spare time left. I have to Google later if he did. I saw him yesterday, but he is always in a bad mood (which is strange, because you cannot imagine what a paradise it is here. We can fly, did you know that?)
So, but why did I write you actually? Oh yes, you’ve played my c-minor sonata. On a nice instrument I must say! that Potvlieghe reminds me of young Stein… O, BTW, lately, I was chatting with Wolfgang and Joseph -we are good friends, you see-, that it was stupid to let the clavichord go in the course of our careers. Actually, mine career. If you can call THAT a career… They’ve played the clavichord until their last day. The other days, Bach came along -could you only hear him once on his new Silbermann clavichord…- and we kept silent for a moment. He is always thinking on something, with his mind somewhere else, seeing nothing or anybody, and the three of us are for many decades looking in vain for the courage to ask him the privilege of taking some lessons. Wolfgang once was close to ask, but Bach instantly replied, that he had nothing to offer to a skilled and talented composer as he was. A compliment! From Bach!! There is a complete floor for him, only for his instruments that Silbermann constantly builds for him. Many clavichords BTW, and very very nice ones. We once could pay a visit.
O, we don’t have anything to complain about. Wolfgang has its own places, I can hardly say how big and how much, measures don’t count here, as doesn’t time. That makes it hard to write music, but we’ve found ways to overcome this problem. You should hear his latest sonata… but attachments are not possible to send…
So, your performance, that’s what I wanted to talk about, but there is no time left for the moment, so just one question: why are you smiling before you start to play this piece? I was wondering, since this is, as you point out actually, one of my most dramatic pieces. O, you see, I have much to learn about your modern times! Let’s stay in contact (if that stupid piece of… you know… doesn’t cut my wire. He certainly would if he knew, more than two centuries is not enough for Mister Nothing to forget about that one moment (and how much is that one fact spread out in my biography’s…) I meant what I said back then: that piece of nobility was born as he was, but I became Beethoven.
I have to go, dinner is served.
I just found out today the existence of this 18th century piano, which is kind of surprising considering my interest in historical keyboards. My friend had heard some Mozart keyboard music on the radio and said whatever was being played sounded like a cross between a harpsichord and a fortepiano. I know some of the very early fortepianos could be mistaken for a harpsichord in some ways, so after some investigation online we found out that the instrument on this radio recording was the Tangent Piano.
(Picture credit: “Tangentenflügel” by Zitterbart at the German language Wikipedia. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tangentenfl%C3%BCgel.JPG#/media/File:Tangentenfl%C3%BCgel.JPG)
The tangent piano is a very rare keyboard instrument that resembles a harpsichord and early pianos in design. It normally features five octaves of keys and the strings are acted upon by narrow wooden or metal slips when the keys are depressed.
In 1777, Mozart referred to the tangent piano as the “Spattisches Klavier,” after the maker of tangent pianos, Spath. Other names included the Italian cembalo angelico, and the French clavecin harmonieux et celeste. This is all evidence that the tangent piano spread throughout Europe. By the earliest decade of the 19th century, Spath tangent pianos were sent all over the globe and given a wide 6 octave range, which enabled it to compete with the piano. At the same time, the fortepiano began to eclipse the harpsichord and clavichord as the keyboard instrument of choice.
The creation of the tangent piano, and the fortepiano, was a result of an attempt to remedy the lack of dynamics in harpsichord sound. Both the tangent piano and fortepiano offered a variety of sound that was appealing to the changes in classical music, which featured more expressiveness and intensity than the harpsichord could offer. The tangent piano had a short life in popularity, and dropped off somewhere in the late 18th century or early 19th century. The fortepiano, however, buried the harpsichord in popularity by 1800. It then slowly evolved to the massive modern iron-framed giant of 88 keys. The tangent piano’s popularity lasted for such a short time that very little music was written for it.
Below is a video of sonatas by Johann Schobert played on the Tangent Piano. It has an interesting sound!
A Renaissance Piano?
Inventions rarely happen completely out of the blue. Experiences usually help inspire the creative mind. So what might have lead towards Cristofori’s invention of the piano? A few scanty references to Chekkers, Dolce-Melos and so on are tantalisingly thin on technical information. So I was intrigued by details given in Stewart Pollen’s book The Early Pianoforte of a spinettino which had been converted to a tangent-striking action possibly in 1632. This tiny spinet, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and inscribed Franciscus Bonafinis MDLXXV, is quite a conventional Italian instrument and certainly originally built with plucking jacks. (Jack rail supports are still in-situ). It is now to be found with two sets of wooden tangents in place of the harpsichord jacks. One full set seem to be the most recent and there are just a few surviving from an earlier set of slightly different design. (For a complete description it is well worth reading Pollen’s chapter in the above mentioned book). Was this an instrument that could have had a musical life? Could it be called an early piano? A working reconstruction might provide some answers.
The Tangent Piano Unlocked.
Lucie Skeaping talks to the leading early keyboard player Linda Nicholson about an instrument which is seldom heard today but which was once nearly as popular as the fortepiano. Linda Nicholson is heard in recital playing the only Tangentenflügel in the UK in music by Paradisi, Wagenseil, Mozart and Haydn. Hearing this rare surviving example, it is easy to understand why composers and players of the classical period seem to have been captivated by the tangent piano’s charms for nearly half a century.
The music was recorded at a concert held in the Art Workers’ Guild on a Tangent piano by Friedrich Schmahl of Regensburg in 1797 and a clavichord made by Johann Adolph Hass of Hamburg in 1767.
Wim plays this as a moving tribute to his late father.
While I was holding his hand in mine, talking to him, I couldn’t help hearing the first lines of Mozart’s adagio in B Minor, over and over again. I know it sounds a bit strange, as if I hadn’t had something else on my mind that evening, but it is as it is.
It is with that piece of music that I want to pay tribute to him. I’ll miss him badly, but at the same time am so grateful of 42 beautiful years together with him.
The six English suites of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750), of which you hear in this recording the third one, would have been written around 1715. The exact date is not known, but certainly not later than 1720. So rather ‘early’ works, and an interesting date in relationship to the first documented unfretted clavichords, which appear at the same time.
The mainstream literature connect the harpsichord as the original instrument of choice of preference for these pieces, as is the case for almost any music written before 1750. However, the position of the unfretted 5-octave clavichord was much more dominant than what ‘we’ today think, and certainly this period around 1715 is interesting. Just think about the reason WHY and by WHO this old renaissance instrument was or (was wished to be)transformed in to a by then modern keyboard of 5 octaves? Not so many research has been done to answer these questions (if any), but they are important ones.