Piano Street Magazine

Can We Play Like Mozart Did?

September 15th, 2015 in Top Video Picks by | 4 comments

Pianos during the 18th century were much different than their counterparts in the centuries from the 19th to the 21st. First of all, they were much smaller, normally comprising only five octaves instead of 7 1/3. Secondly, they were lightweight contraptions built using barely more materials than a harpsichord. Late 19th-century pianos were much sturdier and could withstand later compositional techniques. Liszt, for example, left a trail of destroyed pianos in his wake because the materials weren’t up-to-snuff.

The fortepiano that Mozart played almost daily during his last nine years.

The fortepiano that Mozart played almost daily during his last nine years.

It was different 100 years before when Mozart was making a world tour as a youngster. Instead of being hunched over the piano crashing one’s weight down upon it, performers were required to sit ramrod straight and keep their arms and elbows at their sides. Most playing was finger-driven with supple wrists that were raised and lowered with great delicacy. Tchaikovsky’s racing octaves, Rachmaninoff‘s gigantic block chords and Liszt’s monumental tonal constructions were notably absent from pieces composed at that time.

Christina Kobb, who is heading up a project to promote 18th-century playing, such as might have been practiced by Mozart, notes that it is easier to play running 16th notes faster. It’s also simpler to play chords more accurately and smoothly. She maintains that pianists should, at the very least, familiarize themselves with the techniques to get better in touch with the thoughts and aspirations of the composers of the time.

Learn 18th century piano techique with Christina Kobb:

Read more at nytimes.com

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  • Karin says:

    Found your article really interesting …
    shared it on You Tube ~ and G+1 ;o)

  • Elene says:

    She has some interesting ideas but it must be remembered that the Mozart-era fortepiano is a VERY different instrument from the modern piano, and it makes no sense to try to take technique directly from one to the other.

  • Sedaray says:

    First, I work on a bar piano – there is NO NEED TO POUND. It’s VELOCITY, not power that’s required. A combo technique works best for the occasional power. My hero James P. Johnson was in demand because he could play quietly at house parties. Dynamics!

    The other issue is piano keys are not equidistant. Try playing Mozart’s Turkish March in a different key. Or try this example I’ve put up on our website: http://mozartbestpiano.com/MozartBestPiano_blog.html.

    Just look at the white space between the pair of black keys versus between each of the trio. Obviously wider. I’d like to know when and why this started.

  • About Liszt’s broken pianos: Liszt was a “rock star” during the high Romantic period! Do you really think that while practicing many hours a day, he broke strings on his OWN piano? He broke pianos in concerts for the same reason rock musicians set their guitars on fire or smash them to bits onstage! It was part of his shtick. In 1847, tired of this wild career, he gave up his paid concert performances, playing only for charity fundraisers and giving only free lessons for the rest of his life. He did not break up pianos after his stage career was over. And people writing about his playing marveled at its delicacy – how he could play a dozen shades of pianissimo. Look at pictures of Liszt at the piano; he sat far back from the keyboard with his arms sloping down almost straight from his shoulders. This is not the posture for banging.

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