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"Aussitot comme je recevrai votre Excellent Instrument,
je vous enverrai d'en abord les Fruits de l'inspiration
des premiers moments… [As soon as I receive your Excellent
Instrument, I will send to you the results of the Fruits of
inspiration of the finest moments]"

— Beethoven, Letter to Thomas Broadwood, 1818.

I was link jumping the other day and accidentally ran into the web site
for Foundation Musick, a group devoted to performing the music of the
past on original instruments and wearing period costumes.

Their web site is a large one, and worthy of exploration. I would suggest
that you start with Paula Bar-Giese's videos of the songs of Queen Hortense
of Holland.

The Broadwood piano used by Bar-Giese in her videos is very similar to
the one given to Beethoven — with Beethoven's being an 1817 model and
Giese's an 1822 model. This is the piano that gave the Piano Sonata in
B-flat Op. 106 the epithet "Hammerklavier" Sonata, which was being composed
at the time Beethoven received the gift of the Broadwood. The piano had
a very voluminous sound for its day. But it is nothing compared to the
heavy sound of today's concert pianos.

Which always made me curious: How much did composers of the past write
for the instruments of their own day, and how much for an abstract sound
that existed only in their own imagination? Did Beethoven write for the
Broadwood — or more for something like a modern Bosendorfer?

And as for us, today, the question is more the opposite. As interesting
as Foundation Musick's various projects are, and as enjoyable as they
are, I think that we are deceiving ourselves if we think we can truly
deconstruct the past. We experience, we listen, with the ears of the
current world and culture — not those of centuries gone by.

The purpose is not to transport us into the past, because that cannot
really be done. It is to make the music live again in our own time.


Valentina Lisitsa at her Bosendorfer.