Archive for the ‘fortepiano’ Category

strings from waterloo

October 7, 2013

© Tilman Skowroneck 2013

I have mentioned this before. I am not convinced that a given harpsichord can be substantially improved by putting up some new strings.

In fact I am rather convinced of the opposite, which is that random changes to a given design (and the stringing of a harpsichord belongs, or should belong, to its maker’s design choices) not normally result in a major shift toward a better tone. The expectation that a harpsichord can be optimized by applying a number of relatively simple tricks, or by experimenting with some new string material, is usually rewarded by some kind of disappointment. In my experience, a truly noticeable shift in a harpsichord’s quality often goes in the other direction: it happens when the instrument is being neglected. Improvement is a much more hard-won thing, especially when the instrument is assembled and ready to be used.

So what I will discuss here below should be seen as an exception, as I am about to introduce an exceptionally well-suited string material which actually does, within reasonable limits, improve the tone and tuning properties of a harpsichord:

Over the past decade or so, Stephen Birkett  of the University of Waterloo, Canada, has researched the properties of historical iron strings, and has come up with a formula to produce iron wire with very similar properties. This so-called P-wire is now becoming available (here is some more information about it), and I have had the chance to test it in three quite different harpsichords with a Flemish-French mixed scaling (brass in the bass, and iron from the tenor upward). (more…)

beethoven the pianist, neefe, and a clarification

March 13, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

Early Music has, to my knowledge, been first with an encouraging and generous review of Beethoven the Pianist, for which I am very grateful. For subscribers of EM, the full text is available here.

Reviews inevitably reveal some points of lacking clarity. In this case, reviewer Siân Derry alerts me to a missed chance of an explanation during my presentation of one of my side plots, which addresses the extent of Christian Gottlob Neefe’s influence on the young Beethoven (I am arguing that that influence may not have been quite as great as the usual Beethoven biographies are claiming).

Here is the passage of the review that explains the problem:

[Skowroneck's] assertion that Neefe “does not mention giving Beethoven keyboard instruction at all” and that “by 1783, any keyboard tuition by Neefe (if it ever took place) belonged to the past” (pp.43-3) is compromised by his omission from consideration of Neefe’s letter of 19 January 1785. Yet on an earlier page (p.41) Skowroneck includes parts of this letter–which states that Neefe was forced to teach six hours each day and that “Beethoven will be most happy of all, but I doubt nevertheless that he will truly profit from this” — but fails to pursue its implications for his argument.

What Neefe actually addressed here is explained by his own position in early 1785. After the death of the old Elector Maximilian Friedrich on April 15, 1784, some influential people at the Bonn court acted to diminish Neefe’s influence there, partly because he had been frequently absent, replaced by Beethoven. The situation quickly turned ugly; (more…)

artistic-creative research and beethoven trills

February 19, 2011

© Tilman Skowroneck 2011

After a recent musicological seminar, a co-listener took me aside and said,

“There should be a sign at the beginning of some of these lectures, like on those bags of sweets that may contain traces of nuts: ‘may contain sociology’.”

I have neither problems with nuts, nor sociology. But I have, indeed, come across a few  too many perfunctory footnotes in music studies, especially about cultural capital and the likes, so I think I understood what he meant. Something to be allergic for, in music or otherwise, is the buzzword.

Look at artistic-creative research, for example. Hearing that I had participated in the artistic-creative research program at Gothenburg University, someone once asked me about the methodologies we had applied in that program. It was uncannily difficult to answer that question. This is in part to be explained by the fact that everyone in artistic-creative research does a little what pleases them best, and in part it is a consequence of the discipline being relatively new.  In part, however, it is a consequence of nobody really knowing what artistic-creative research is about, while it is so nice to say the words anyway. Artistic. Creative. Research. Sounds like funding right there.


faithful amz

May 26, 2010

One of my years-old ideas about Beethoven’s piano playing is that it developed from, roughly said, “impetuous-youthful-but-rough” via “virtuosic-professional” to “stepwise declining”. First signs of that “decline” can be seen in documents from around 1800. Clear indications date from 1805 and onward.

This view is not so much based on my innate perseverance in the making of claims, but rather on the circumstance that I spent my time returning to the canonic documents about Beethoven’s playing, re-reading, re-organizing and re-interpreting their meaning (at that moment and over time). Unbelievable that a perfectly accessible passage in a very well known body of source material (the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung from Leipzig) has escaped my (and – it seems – most Beethoven scholars’) attention. It beautifully summarizes what I have tried to establish:

AMZ Zehnter Jahrgang, No. 19, 3 February 1808 p. 303. In a review of the trio Op. 2 by Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven’s former student, we find the following passage:

“Mr. R. is the last, and in fact perhaps the only pupil mr. v. Beethoven consented to take on, and whom he kept here in Vienna for some time also for the following reason; that he played his (Beethoven’s) piano concertos and other important works in public, which the composer himself no longer liked to do, [who has] in fact really neglected himself regarding his playing for several years.” (more…)

beethoven the pianist update

May 24, 2010

My new book Beethoven the Pianist (Cambridge University Press) is now definitely published and available at booksellers all around. There is a small pile of them on my little table at home, so I can’t be wrong about this. Previews are available on Googlebooks and at various Amazon sites.

I am announcing this only for the sake of completeness (since I mentioned the upcoming event in an earlier post) and in the hope that the community of piano and Beethoven aficionados will have patience with my style and a good time reading it.

With even more enthusiasm, I would like to direct interested harpsichordists to the tab “Skowroneck harpsichords” in the sidebar of this blog to check out a new second hand offer of a Franco-Flemish 5-octave Skowroneck harpsichord in Spain, that has reached me yesterday. This instrument is especially dear to me since I played my first series of public recitals on it in the early 80s. Judging from the pictures that I have seen, it is in very good shape.

performance versus research

March 9, 2010

The nice thing about a funded research project at a new university is the possibility of an exchange of experience with a whole new set of colleagues. So I am, for instance, learning that it is not everyone’s cup of tea to write blog posts about one’s research. I see the point, up to a certain level. There is surely no need to publish snippets of one’s first efforts, and only little need to communicate one’s mid-project struggles in any detailed way. At the moment, still in the middle of a mixed collecting and text-accumulating phase (and side-tracked, I admit, by some specialties of modern British life, such as recurring incorrect energy bills), I feel that it is not helpful for anyone if I publicize what I haven’t yet properly thought out. Otherwise, I find it totally excusable, even commendable, to blog about snippets, gems, side-thoughts or meta-musings that would otherwise find no real place in one’s work.

Whether to admit that good research takes time (as I did above) is something that should be withheld from the critical eyes of potential search committees (and hence not be blogged about), as people try telling me, is another matter. I am writing blog posts in order to demonstrate how my particular branch of the trade works for me. This can only be a good thing for the community. I would have liked to have access to similar resources when I was studying. One all-too-often thinks that the problems one encounters are exclusively one’s own. They’re not. (more…)

news from the shrieking shack

March 8, 2010

The reference to Harry Potter’s shrieking shack is, of course, not serious or deep. What I hear from my downstairs neighbors may occasionally be called shrieking, but my temporary flat is otherwise no shack. It actually has a lovely view over Southampton, and in the weekends, I sometimes can see historic steam trains puffing along the river Itchen.

News, then. The most important one – about time I learn honking my own horn – is the looming publication of the book Beethoven the Pianist at Cambridge University Press. Various websites announce its release for 31 May 2010. The official description is here.

Beethoven the Pianist is a completely re-worked and updated version of my PhD thesis about Beethoven’s playing, our views (as well as his own) about his instruments, and finally, about legato notation and trill interpretation. Although I am writing from the perspective of an early-piano-person, this is no work in defense of one or another type of instrument. I’m trying to be neutral and informative; I concentrate on the biography and the sources, on Beethoven’s works (including the very early ones) and sketches, and a selection of previous discussions about the chosen topics.

Compared to the original text, all the lengthy German citations in the footnotes are gone, while the translations got another critical makeover. I took away a lot of side thoughts that upset the flow of argument. I also eliminated a number of typos, and was shown by my amazing proofreader that there was another ton of them. The end product is leaner and, I believe, more readable than my first effort.

For me, it was a Must-Read, needless to say.


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