Episode #4

August 8, 1803: Beethoven Gets a New Piano

Parisian Piano Maker Sebastien Erard Gives One of His Sturdy New Creations to Beethoven

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

With a new instrument by Parisian piano maker Sebastien Erard, Beethoven was able to set aside his forte piano and write more expressive and emotional music, beginning with the Waldstein Sonata. New instruments and new technologies have inalterably changed music many times, but the pace of change quickened in the 20th century, with the record player, the computer and the Internet.

Comments [8]

Lloyd and Neil,

Unfortunately there is not more detailed playlist information for these programs: http://www.keepingscore.org/radio

Jun. 30 2011 03:14 PM
Michael Meltzer

In retrospect, it was a nice AND a provocative program, always needed and welcome. But, it may have missed the point.
It is the feeling of many in the piano industry that it was Beethoven who was the pioneer, not any of the manufacturers, and that the manufacturers spent the next 75 years after he died trying to catch up with him!
Beethoven brought to his keyboard writing an orchestral conception. Even his earliest sonatas make excellent subjects for orchestration class in a conservatory, they orchestrate well and hint of a spectrum of color possibilities in interpretation that far outstripped any piano technology in Beethoven's time.
Erard was a great inventor, and his real contribution began to unfold around 1809 with an action able to repeat notes before the keys had returned to their original positions, and at the same time showing unexpected additional sensitivity to performer nuance and control. Too late for Beethoven, who was just about stone deaf.
French instruments however, remained among the most salon-friendly and refined, when the concert-going public and the music of Beethoven demanded full, rich, colorful tone with power, and a booming bass. It was the Americans and German that preferred to answer that call, and by the end of the century they had eclipsed their French colleagues in the industry.
The French provided a beautiful elegant singing tone for the music of Chopin and Schubert, but the American and German instruments were no slackers here either.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a wonderful historic piano collection, I recommend it to everyone. Also, sign up for the Steinway piano factory tour, it's unforgettable.

Jun. 30 2011 01:15 AM
Neil Schnall

I must agree with Mr. Rotker. I would love to know what pianist was featured in the extended excerpt of the Waldstein played at the end of the program. It was not announced, nor is it to be found anywhere I have thought to look; and I've clicked on all the links presented.

It WAS interesting; but I thought the promos for the program could have more clearly indicated that the program was to be about the interrelationship of music and technology, using the Beethoven / Erard situation as a mere point of departure. I thought there was to have been a deeper exploration of Beethoven's development.

Jun. 29 2011 12:37 PM
Lloyd Rotker

How can I find out who the performers are in this series, particularly this segment? In general, WQXR could be more user-friendly with regard to such information for their WFMT programming.

Jun. 28 2011 11:46 PM
Neil Schnall

It will be most interesting to listen to this program. The previously aired ones from this series have been exceptionally well done. Michael Meltzer's comments provide an excellent frame of reference in which to listen.

I must take exception, however, with Mr. Meltzer's averment of being "not a scholar". He has proven himself many times over, on these pages, including this one, to be a most scrupulous one.

Jun. 28 2011 04:57 PM

An entire series on great moments in musical history that leaves out all of 19th century Italian opera
No Verdi? Rossini?
This should be entitled 13 German ways that change musical history

Jun. 28 2011 04:55 PM
Michael Meltzer

Note that the "Appassionata" Sonata, op.57, was written in 1804. Groves indicates that in 1806, Beethoven approached piano-maker Johann Andreas Streicher with design suggestions, "to aim at greatly increased resonance in his instruments, for the existing pianos were unable to furnish the emphasis and sustained tone demanded by Beethoven's new style of pianoforte music; at the time when Beethoven was thus interesting himself in pianoforte manufacture, the 'Appassionata' Sonata was in existence, and still awaited its full response of hammer and string."
Erard is not mentioned. We do know that Beethoven ended up with Broadwood, that the real major changes in piano design did not begin until over 20 years later when extrusion wire entered the picture, first making possible a high-tension instrument, and the manufacture of the coil-wound bass strings that had been invented earlier but could not be quality-produced with hand-drawn wire
It's interesting also that Brahm's favorite piano was his Streicher. Most of us have never heard or seen one.

Jun. 27 2011 02:56 PM
Michael Meltzer

This piece arouses my curiosity, as one who is not a scholar but did spend 22 years in the piano business, where certain things are taken as common knowledge.
In 1803 Erard was certainly still building what are known today as fortepianos, and in fact in that year he was still using English actions. His invention of the double-escapement repetition action did not appear in its earliest form until 6 or 7 years later.
In case construction, since wire was still hand-drawn and necessarily strung in pianos at low tension (extrusion wire manufacture appeared in England about 20 years later), the frames were still without the reinforcement of laminations or metal castings, soundboards were not yet crowned.
1802 was the year of the Heiligenstadt Testament, Beethoven was already becoming profoundly deaf. His composition of new works was becoming almost completely a cerebral undertaking. It is known that as time went on, his abuse of his pianos to produce a semblance of a sound he could detect resulted in their early destruction, with the exception of his English Broadwood pianos, which were the sturdiest known at the time. His final piano was a Broadwood, it is in London
in Broadwood's museum.
This is not to deny that Erard gave Beethoven a new piano, the question is, what was it about it that really constitutes a moment of history?

Jun. 07 2011 02:02 AM

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