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Colin Pykett

Bach (etc) played on the piano

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17 hours ago, David Pinnegar said:

With regard to Bach on Harpsichord, even the Harpsichord can sing in ways in which modern pianists don't understand and in addition complex harpsichords which are able to bring more variation to the music are expensive to maintain and as a result I suspect rather out of fashion in much modern performance. Alexandra Kremakova is a performer I like a lot - 

and 

 is a piece where the tuning gives us landmarks to add interest to the sound. Modern tuning may well be why the music has become boring for so many.

Here she is playing Dowland on piano https://youtu.be/xW0NLciHGNU?t=309

Here's Scarlatti on both harpsichord and piano for comparison, although not the rather better harpsichord in the recording above, and the piano not best in tune on account of blazing heat and temperature change - 

Best wishes

David P

An interesting topic, but am I alone in thinking it is posted on the wrong forum. or is it being suggested that when playing Bach the organ should be tuned in a similar way to that suggested by David?  The piano in the church where I play can be tuned in about an hour, whereas the organ takes almost 2 days!

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You’re not alone! This has been covered elsewhere on this forum. Interesting as it may be it does nothing for me at all and remains a curiosity at best.

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By sheer coincidence today this was awarded - 

‘In 2020, the City of Leipzig Bach Medal will for the first time be awarded to a woman: the Canadian pianist globally acclaimed for her interpretations of Bach and for her Bach tours, Angela Hewitt.’

Might this be ‘that Canadian woman’ referred to in an earlier post? It seems that Leipzig holds Bach played in a modern concert grand, tuned to Equal Temperament in very high regard.......

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Angela Hewitt is a very distinguished pianist, and this latest award adds to her honours: OBE, and Companion of the Order of Canada (the highest rank of that Order).  She has received many other international awards.  Whilst her Bach piano recordings are famous, the extensive range of her repertoire includes Couperin and Messiaen.  

She is the daughter of a Yorkshire-born Canadian cathedral musician!

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By being tuned as an organ, I mean by the system of tuning. My "High Definition" tuning uses Kellner (or some instruments can take Kirnberger III quite happily) providing 7 perfect fifths in the scale and for the most part is tuned by relationships of fundamental frequencies rather than harmonics, and then achieves resonance of bass notes with scale notes.

In contrast most piano tuners get out of tune inharmonic harmonics to coincide and stretch the octave as a result. The result I'm sorry to say is that music skates around on the surface of an inharmonic instrument more like a gamelan  and what music reaches us is more despite the service of the instrument rather than as a result of it. But tuning the instrument differently can reverse that.

On the subject of Angela H*witt she is highly commercially promoted and has achieved a name thereby. It doesn't mean that I admire her playing. I've heard her play Mendelssohn as if it were Prokofiev as well as the Haydn Variations in F Minor. As soon as I hear a pianist play those variations on an equally tempered modern piano I conclude that they don't know much about the music. Likewise pianists who are willing to play the 48 on an equally tempered modern instrument.

At a lecture last year I demonstrated that the problem with much playing isn't the instrument nor the temperament but the sensitivity. An insensitive musician will bash out whatever the notes say, and complain of the music or the tuning or the instrument. But really, and I expect significant gasps from the organ community for saying so, but in testing Percy Schole's question of wondering how Bach's 48 could have been played on Dr Burney's piano in Meantone . . . . I demonstrated how even all 48 can be played on an organ in Meantone. 

Meantone temperament was responsible for conveying much emotion and, although worthy of a specific thread on the subject rather than this one, https://www.academia.edu/37951978/THE_COLOUR_OF_MUSIC_IN_MOZARTS_TIME_A_journey_from_Couperin_to_Chopin_Examination_of_reconstruction_of_Mozart_Fantasias_K594_and_K608_for_Mechanical_Clock answers the Bach question.

The ability to play the 48 in meantone depends on the choice of registration - and the Bourdon or Stopped Diapason does the trick  - 

The proof that Bach's 48 REQUIRES an unequal temperament and the proof is the 2nd Book D Major prelude which introduces itself with a victorious fanfare - just exactly as Schubart the respected harpsichordist described the key.

Of course the lecture was demonstrated with an electronic module which I use as a sound laboratory and a means of testing, doing the experiment.

Today I was visited by a delegation who organise an international piano competition as a result of my piano tuning for the Nice competition, and demonstrated to them the modern and historic pianos tuned in the Kellner and Kirnberger temperaments I use, and the 1802 Stodart piano in meantone. The emotion of Mozart's music isn't discovered until we use Meantone. Arguably 6th comma might be more appropriate but I like hard-core 1/4 comma and with which Mozart's piano sonatas come out with new depths.

I used to think Meantone on the piano was unthinkable, but Nigel Taylor who tuned bells at the former Whitechapel Bell Foundry has been tuning pianos in Meantone for years and encouraged me. 

As a final demonstration to the piano competition organisers, Hammerwood Park has been donated the late Peter Sheehan's Hauptwerk four manual instrument with some 20 instruments installed, and as a tuning laboratory little else compares. I demonstrated the opening of Couperin's 2nd Mass for Parishes and Convents on a plein jeu of St Maximin instrument, the piece demonstrating sweetness and sourness and then put it into equal temperament in which the piece wholly loses bite and loses its meaning.

Playing much music in equal temperament is like sending a police officer to Hong Kong to take witness statements. He might hear the words but unless he understands the Chinese language, won't understand them.

Playing Bach or Haydn on a modern tuned piano is likewise. Unless the tuning is right the meaning that should be conveyed is not conveyed by the vibrations heard.

Song was so much more familiar to all in former times. People went around singing. Since the prevalence of recorded music and portable devices at that, we are a civilisation that receives sound rather than makes it, and less and less understanding of the beauty of sound. Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Mendelssohn  - all these should sing. Friends refer to a change to "vertical playing" where the notes on the page are converted into sounds in time rather than the playing of the line, the phrase, the song.

The anodyne equal temperament of the piano gives neither clue to the musician nor reward for listening - and it's for this reason that I much support Mander's use of Kellner universally for new organs.

Best wishes

David P

 

 

 

 

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‘On the subject of Angela H*witt she is highly commercially promoted and has achieved a name thereby. It doesn't mean that I admire her playing. I've heard her play Mendelssohn as if it were Prokofiev as well as the Haydn Variations in F Minor. As soon as I hear a pianist play those variations on an equally tempered modern piano I conclude that they don't know much about the music. Likewise pianists who are willing to play the 48 on an equally tempered modern instrument.’

I’d maybe suggest that yours is a minority view regarding her abilities. Leipzig (and do look up the signatories to that award) think otherwise. This is the eternal problem with HIPP and related movements  - it polarises opinion,entrenches views and ultimately achieves not much at all in musical terms. Mission creep on a grand scale.

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It's not about HIP. It's that if someone plays Mendelssohn as if playing Prokofiev the player doesn't understand music. 

One has to remember that it's often said that Bach can sound good on anything.

But it's a matter of singing. Singing is where so much music came from. On the piano musicians have to understand how to sing and how to make that sound. Unfortunately many musicians don't. I used to think that every note on a Steinway was an interruption to the music, and suspect that perhaps half the objection to piano performance with which we find sympathy here is on account of just this. But then I discovered that it's not the Steinway interrupting the music but the players, and in ignorance of proper piano technique many players have won many acclaims.

On the subject of the Canadian lady, I have been pleasantly surprised to hear a performance and find that it's been her. But that doesn't raise my respect for her as a musician in reliable comprehension of the music. Likewise I heard a Classic FM broadcast of John Ogdan playing Sinding's Rustle of Spring. It wasn't a rustle at all but a full blown gale driving a forest fire. Friends tell me not to be harsh in my opinion of Ogdan, but for a musician to earn my respect their understanding and their interpretation has got to be reliable. I don't want to hear a performer - I want to hear the music. And its meaning. That's what music is all about. Not mere entertainment for which budgets can be cut, but meaning of essential profundity, of the nature of the literature of Moliere or of Shakespeare. An imperative to teach and promote.

To fete musicians who are mere entertainers rather than communicators of the composer is to employ a translator, or a politician, who tells us what they think we want to hear rather than one upon whom we can rely upon their communication of the real message being translated or the matrix of circumstances of the real world through which we must navigate.

A very stupid but possibly very intelligent but crass politician knows this very well and capitalises on the masses saying "I tell it like it is", and is feted by many. But I don't have confidence in his interpretation of the matrix of circumstances that he perceives.

Best wishes

David P

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On 28/11/2019 at 08:57, Phoneuma said:

I’d maybe suggest that yours is a minority view regarding her abilities. Leipzig (and do look up the signatories to that award) think otherwise.

Referring to Angela Hewitt, I do not know whether the view expressed by David Pinnegar is a minority one though I nevertheless suspect it is.  But for what it's worth, and like Phoneuma, I don't hold it myself.  However there's nothing intrinsically wrong in expressing a reasonable opinion, and this forum like all others provides a channel for it.  A downside of just sticking with one's opinions, though, is that it is then easy to write endlessly about anything under the sun merely on that basis, and the subject of tuning and temperament is one which is without doubt the worse for it.  So, again just for what it's worth, most of the time I try to stick more closely to the facts rather than to confuse them with anecdote, speculation and subjective views.  There is an excellent and closely argued essay entitled 'Does 'Well-Tempered' Mean 'Equal-Tempered' by Rudolf Rasch in the collection of 'Bach, Handel, Scarlatti - Tercentenary Essays' edited by the late Peter Williams which I find particularly compelling, and would commend it to anyone who feels they might learn something from his pen.

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Thanks for the mention of Rasch - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/329726980_Does_'Well-Tempered'_Mean_'Equal-Tempered' .

I can understand your frustration in what appears to be endless "writing on anything under the sun", but it's all linked. Academic discipline requires isolation of factors to identify causes and effects. It's in that spirit that I believe much can be pinned upon the tuning and especially the piano, and thereby the lack of satisfaction found in performances of Bach on the modern piano.

The lack of reward given to the performer in the sound of equal tempered performance has led to a loss of anchorage, with ideas of performance sliding around upon the glistening barrier produced by what is in the modern piano the deliberate conflict of the 5th and 9th harmonics with the scale notes. Performance and music has suffered as a result. Unmusical performance of Bach on the piano starts with the tuning of the instrument. The sound does not come from the performer, nor from the instrument, nor from the strings. It comes from the vibrations of the strings and the music, the harmony or otherwise, comes from whether the vibrations are together or unrelated. Rather as the contrast of coherent light from a laser or the mush of all frequencies of an incandescent light bulb.

The harmony of the music takes its cue and is gives its clues from those vibrations. 

Chopin is recorded in his letters as having practised on a Pantalon. This was an instrument with light wooden hammers and no dampers. I had the good fortune to meet one in the form of a Clavecin Royale at a viewing of the sale of the Colt Collection. It sounded rather like a clavichord with the power of the harpsichord. But for it to operate without dampers it's necessary for an instrument to have reduced modes of vibration. Equal temperament spreads harmonics among the notes of the scale like a cluster-bomb and as a result an instrument has no focus, no power. As soon as one puts harmonics on scale notes as do the tunings with many perfect 3rds or perfect 5ths the instrument becomes focused and powerful through resonance. The Pantalon used by Chopin would have required such a tuning so as to allow harmonious notes to sustain and for the inharmonious notes to die away without resonant amplification. This is in the spirit of Romans 12:21 with which many here will be familiar. The better accordances of vibration overcome the bad.

It's for this reason that not until we restore the tuning of the piano can we restore better performance of Bach on the instrument. The experimental performance of David Martinescu in Nice might have been an extreme but it demonstrated exactly how Bach can be performed on the piano and in accordance with our experience of Bach upon the organ.

I've analysed various temperaments mathematically against equal temperaments in a measure of conflict and accordance of harmonics with scale notes. When notes are one cycle per second close to harmonics, resonance happens nicely. When between 2 and 5 Hz difference one starts to get resonance decreasing with distance but producing beating, shimmering, and this is where the frequency spectrum noise of the piano is critical. Once we shift harmonics 5Hz and more away from scale notes their interactions cease to be relevant. So the temperaments which have quite strong differences between pure and wide thirds start to move many harmonics away from the mush threshold and many harmonics into the comfort sweet zone.

I'm willing to share the spreadsheets with anyone interested on email - antespam@gmail.com gets to me.

This is why the Tierce stop on a Meantone or Well Tuned instrument can sound with such beauty. It is also why buildings with long acoustics benefit from an organ in unequal temperament and why Martin Renshaw at the tuning seminar at Hammerwood in May http://hammerwood.mistral.co.uk/programmetuningseminar.pdf said that tuning was a process and that the organ had to be tuned to the building. I didn't quite understand what he was saying at the time but am beginning to understand more his wisdom.

Best wishes

David P

 

 

 

 

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