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To speak or to sing: Mozart and Beethoven on the fortepiano
a paper by Bart van Oort
from the book:
Mozart and the Netherlands (p. 77)
This paper with other four in this book (presented here by The Keyboard Bugler) is a paper dedicated to the technique of the keyboard playing and/or to the keyboard repertoire by Mozart.

The importance of historical pianos and their peculiar technique
This technical paper leads us to the comprehension of the structural/physical dynamics behind two substantially different types of keyboards: the fortepiano (as used by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven) and the modern piano (developed also thanks to innovations suggested by Beethoven himself).
     As van Oort points out, the technical differences of the two types of instruments inevitably imply that the kind of music and music treatment Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven had in mind was rather different from the sound world suggested by the various levels of power of a modern piano.
     In a world (that of the 18th century/beginning of 19th century) where a pianist did not usually played the fortepiano in a colossal concert hall with more than 2000 people attending the event and where the composers considered music writing also as a matter of rhetorical transposition in music (that's to say literary and speech rules and forms must have a strict correspondence in the language of music), the idea of an extra-powerful piano which sings full voice in any occasion is certainly not the best way of approaching the fortepiano production by Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven.
     The modern pianist who wants to work on this type of repertoire should acquire a certain knowledge on the differences in performance between 18th century fortepiano and modern piano: while modern piano tends to sing always, the fortepiano has a technical structure that helps create effects which are not only linked to the act of singing, but to that of speaking and with its many various subtle nuances, i.e. a sort of acting in music.

The technical elements of fortepiano and fortepiano performance
van Oort presents so a long detailed account of the various elements of technique that distinguish the fortepiano playing from the modern playing on a modern piano.
     First of all (and probably this is one of the most important parts of this paper by van Oort, because it is linked also to the music performance in general) in fortepiano playing certain aspects of performance (which are not notated on score) have a great importance in the interpretation: timing, rhythm (as opposed to meter), tone colour, tempo rubato, accentuation. And the use of a fortepiano (with its natural interpretative talents) helps the interpreter in reaching a more profound comprehension of such aspects of keyboard playing and music interpretation.
     The technique of fortepiano was linked to people who were also great masters of musical improvisation at the keyboard and rhythmic flexibility (occasionally turning into true rubato) was a fundamental element in performance. Moreover, the comprehension of the difference between rhythmical playing & playing metrically is a key point for a correct performance of this repertoire, while we must avoid the typical practice of that musicus mechanicus, so much abhorred by Mozart.
     It is to be said that certain infamous national music schools of the second part of the 20th century (which reduced the whole process of music teaching and music concert performance to a mere mechanical exercise) may find, in this paper, many points of re-thinking.

A guide to a more accurate practice in performance
van Oort completes his technical discourse on fortepiano, by presenting an extremely interesting analysis of the various interpretative elements which characterize the fortepiano performance and that, in many cases, work on a fortepiano marvellously and that can't simply be reproduced on a modern piano:
     1. decay;
     2. articulation;
     3. sforzando;
     4. rhythm, drive and drama;
     5. pedaling;
     6. tempo.
In particular, van Oort reminds us that sforzando, the Basso di Alberti and the very pedaling sound on a fortepiano more correctly and more naturally than what a pianist may usually obtain on a modern piano, due to the technical limitations of the modern piano.
     In conclusion, the intentions of the composers and the real wanted interpretative effects behind such works like the Moonlight Sonata, the second movement of K467, the Waldstein, the Wanderer and the Patetica (just for example) may appear in a rather new and different light, when considering the two fundamental registers of the fortepiano: the singing and the typical multifarious rhetorical tones of elocution of what may be a magnificent 1st rate stage actor.

Mozart: Piano Sonatas 1-18 (on fortepiano)

Bart van Oort
Mozart: Piano Sonatas 1-18 (on fortepiano)
S. & L.M. Jennarelli