[PIANO PLAYING] [APPLAUSE]
MALCOLM BILSON: A short march as fanfare, Schubert.
[MUSIC - SCHUBERT]
Is this on? Yeah. I don't usually like to read in a lecture like this, but I know we have only an hour, and I want to keep it-- so I've got a couple of paragraphs that I will read of things that I think are essential that I would just rattle too long on about. We're going to talk about pianos and piano music today. Excuse Me
If there's any place that could be called the early piano center of the world, or at least of the Western Hemisphere, it's probably right here at Cornell. It's not merely that we have a lot of instruments, but that this has been and continues to be a center for study. The general term that describes what we are about is performance practice.
If we look up the term in the 1964 Harvard Dictionary of Music edited by Willi Apel, we read, "the study of how early music from the Middle Ages to Bach was performed and the many problems connected with attempts to restore its original sound in modern performance." At the end of that article, we find a very interesting note that says, "in the period after Bach, the problems of performance practice largely disappear, owing to the more specific directions of composers for clearly indicating their intentions."
Now, since the 1960s, however, that attitude has changed drastically, so that the 1978 Harvard Dictionary of Music edited by Cornell professor Don Randel describes performance practice as "those aspects of performance that are not unambiguously specified in music notation. Its study seeks to make possible historically authentic performances, that is to say performances that might approximate those given in the period when the music was composed."
Now, this might seem to some of you as a kind of oddball study. When I was in high school, I won a contest to play Brahms with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. I practiced it hard. And I tried to play it with the best musical convictions I could muster.
But I certainly didn't ask such questions as one, did Brahms write this concerto for a Steinway like we have today or some other piano? Two, was the orchestra that premiered this work the same size as the LA Phil and were the other instruments at the time the same as those today? Three, are the expressive marks in the score I was using those that Brahms indicated, or was this an edited edition, an improved version by someone later?
Four, and perhaps the most interesting question of all, if all of the expressive markings are by Brahms, do I know how to read them correctly? Are they different from those that Mozart used? Are they different from those that Chopin or Bartók used? We're talking here, when I say expressive markings, everything that's not those little dots, not the notes. We're going to have a few examples.
Nowadays, performance practice is absolutely everywhere in classical music. The realization that music after Bach as well might have sounded quite different from our modern version started at first in the world of the orchestra. The seminal moment came, perhaps, in 1976. Once again, it was Cornell professor Neal Zaslaw in London on sabbatical writing a book on the 18th century orchestra.
He gave a talk to the Royal Musicological Society explaining how different virtually every instrument was from those today, how the number of players could vary from place to place, the meaning of Mozart's expressive markings largely misunderstood today, et cetera. Conductor Christopher Hogwood, wonderful man who unfortunately died of cancer last year-- he was the Andrew Dickson White Professor here and should have been here again this year-- together with the head of Decca Records were present and decided, more or less on the spot as I understand it, on a project to record all the Mozart symphonies with Zaslaw at their musicological adviser.
When these started appearing, these recordings sold literally like hotcakes. And all the important European companies-- Decca, Deutsche Grammophon, Philips-- decided to cash in on the new wave. This current has continued unabated to the present day. And its effect on modern instrument orchestras has been great in the last few decades. Both conductors in Ithaca, for example-- here at Cornell and at Ithaca College-- bring the knowledge gleaned from these early music groups to their performances of 18th and 19th century repertoire.
Now, I came here in 1968 from the University of Illinois, where we were for seven years. There was a wonderful piano faculty in it. We had an absolutely wonderful time. And I look back on those years with great fondness and nostalgia.
But the second year I was here, a man named Philip Belt wrote a letter that he had made a thing which he called a Mozart piano. It was something similar to this, late 18th century Viennese piano. And he wanted to demonstrate it in music schools and conservatories. And I wrote and said, sure, bring it.
I was then, and still now-- I always loved pianos. And I never understood how anybody, for instance, will play only a Steinway piano. I remember when I saw my first Bosendorfer, my first Bechstein, my first Mason & Hamlin. And I said, these are so interesting and subtly different and they affect the playing.
Franz Liszt played every piano he could get, would have no understanding-- I mean, the idea that we have today a thing called a Steinway artist is to me totally absurd. Can you imagine people who like to drive, but I only drive Mercedes, I never touch anything else. Anyway, I don't want to go into that.
But he brought this thing. I said, if he'd leave it here, I'd play a concert on it. And since it was a Mozart piano, of course, I played a Mozart concert. We had a piano quartet and some solos right here in Barnes Hall.
And two things happened during that week. First of all, I have big hands, hardly the thing to play such a thing. The action mechanism is very light. I was really an elephant in the China closet. But I had promised to play this concert.
And during the week, two things happened. One is that I started seeing-- and we're going to look at that-- that I could actually play what Mozart wrote, which I had heard in my ear, but you cannot play on those kinds of pianos. And I'll show that a little bit.
And the other thing is that Barnes Hall was jammed full. People thought this was interesting. And I thought, hm, this is something worthwhile doing. There are so many pianists in the world, I want to do something interesting, something that makes some sort of contribution. So I ordered a piano.
Well, $4,300, my salary as an assistant professor was 12. My wife didn't work yet. She subsequently did work many years in space science. But how were we going-- we had two small children, how were we going to afford this.
So I wrote around to a lot of foundations. And nobody would give me any money. Nobody gives money to buy something.
So Jon Schu, who was the chairman at that time, said, you know, there's the Hull Fund. And the Hull Fund still exists, by the way. And I got $1,000 from the Hull Fund for research. And his wording was that you have to have this to do the research.
And it says in that paper that gave me the $1,000 that if I ever leave Cornell, I have to give it back. And so I never left, because I--
I couldn't afford it, you see. So I'm still here. Anyway, and so I sort of got started with that.
Now, there have been several highlights that I just want to mention very quickly. One, of course, was the most fantastic of all in the 1980s, I recorded all the Mozart piano concertos with John Eliot Gardiner the English baroque soloist. That was the first, and I think is probably still, the best, in a way, recording of those pieces, all the instruments being from the period, the balances being from that. And of course, John Eliot Gardiner is just fantastic. And those are still selling, and I'm very proud of them.
The second thing that I have to mention is that we had a trio here, because Jon Shu, who was the cellist, played on what they call transitional cello, cello from this period. And our violinist, Sonya Monosoff, played on the old violin. And we had quite a few concerts in the late '70s and early-- yeah, the late '70s and '80s. Amadé Trio, we called ourselves.
And all of us were teaching all over the place, giving master classes in California or Czech Republic or Holland or wherever. And we said, this is ridiculous. Why don't we do this here? So we established a DMA-- Doctor of Musical Arts. And that produced several very distinguished cellists and violinists, but mostly pianists, also because they were older and they retired before I did.
And that led to a very important thing that we did in the mid '90s. I had a series called On Original Instruments in Merkin Hall in New York. And at one point, the director said, we should put on all the Beethoven piano sonatas. We'll get all the usual suspects from around the world.
And one of our DMA students, Andrew Willis, had just played an unbelievably wonderful Hammerklavier sonata on a piano like this, Beethoven's biggest sonata. And I said, we can do this. And if we do it, Cornell will get behind it.
And so we played I think the first time in history that all the Beethoven sonata were played on period pianos in New York. We did it over a week. And every concert was more better attended than the last. And we got a lot of attention in the New York Times.
And Don Randel, who was then provost, came after one of these concerts and says, I have an anonymous donor who's giving you $100,000 to record these. And we recorded them. And that was 20 years ago. So let's now do some music.
I want to talk about pianos. And I think a good way to do it is to start with the Steinway piano, because this is the piano that we are all familiar with. The tension of the Steinway piano, you have a cast iron frame inside that has the tension.
And you have the bass strings crossed over the tenor strings, like this. All the earlier pianos like these are straight strung. The strings run parallel.
The grain of the wood runs from front treble to back rear. You have an Érard repetition action, the so-called double escapement. This is an all pianos-- Bosendorfer, Yamaha, what you want. And you have hammers that are large and covered with felt.
Now, what are the positive attributes of this? Well, it simulates an orchestra and has a fantastically wide dynamic range. The cross stringing favors bringing out of individual voices. Let me demonstrate quickly something you can do on a piano like this.
You really can't hear the notes I'm playing in the right hand, only their sort of flavor. It's slow developing tone is superior for simulating long legato lines, such as this. Sorry.
Obviously, this is imitating a vocal line. And the Steinway recipe seems to make the sound carry for a very long time. Where am I here?
Negative attributes-- the cross-strung bass is muddy, and it lacks clarity and focus. Now, here's the so-called "Pathétique Sonata."
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "PATHETIQUE SONATA"]
Turn off the-- turn off the amp for this. I think it distorts it.
There are seven notes in there. [PLAYING NOTES] This is just muddy. Nobody writes for a piano with a chord like that. The other thing about it, by the way, is you notice it says FP, fortepiano, Czerny, Beethoven's student said that he waited until the sound went away.
So basically, the gesture here is [SINGING PIANO NOTES]. And of course, if I try to wait here [PLAYING NOTES], you have to wait a long time.
Equal distribution of voices creates unpleasant, confusing, sound picture. And that-- here is a sonata by Mozart.
[MUSIC - WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART]
There are two voices there. You can have a violin and a cello or a flute and a bassoon. But clearly, the left hand is just as important and the right hand. And you wouldn't have the violinist doing this and the violinist doing that. If you do that on a piano like this, it sounds like this.
[MUSIC - WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART]
So nobody, of course, plays that way. So they play--
[MUSIC - WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART]
And you get this lovely, sort of baroque, angel kind of Mozart. But when I hear a thing like that, it just seems to me very, very strange. As I say, you have the violin playing like this and the cello sort of hovering behind the curtain.
This is rather interesting. Anton Rubinstein was a famous composer and pianist in the 19th century. And in 1892, he wrote a book where he interviews himself-- you know, the interviewer says things. And the interviewer says, don't you think that our modern pianos-- by now, most people had pianos like this-- that our modern piano is superior for all your music.
And he says, "I think instruments from every period have effects and colors that cannot be reproduced on today's pianos, that compositions were always conceived with the instruments of their time in mind, and only on those can they achieve their full effect. Played on today's instruments, they sound at a disadvantage, [NON-ENGLISH].
Now, Arthur Rubinstein, the great pianist of the 20th century, would never have said this. Because Arthur Rubinstein grew up only with this. Whereas, Anton Rubinstein grew up with this and this and everything else.
Now, I'm going to stop talking and play for you. But this is an example-- for those of you who cannot read music, don't worry, because we're not going to look at the notes. We're going to look at these marks. These are called articulation slurs. And what they are is they tell you how to articulate the music, because music is like speech and must be articulated properly.
(SPEAKING SLOWLY) There are no languages in the word that are spoken like this. And these are things that tell us not to play [SINGING INSTRUMENTAL PIECE], but rather [SINGING INSTRUMENTAL PIECE], because everything under a slur is connected. And the end of the slur is always weak.
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "SONATA IN F, K"]
Now, I think that's what this music is about. It's about [SINGING INSTRUMENTAL PIECE]. You will not find any recording by anybody in the 20th century playing a piano like this, because it sounds like this if I do that.
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "SONATA IN F, K"]
No musical person would do that. Now, why does it sound like this? Because the modern piano, that's why the Chopin nocturne is so successful.
The modern piano [PLAYING NOTE], the sound actually increases. So you have [SINGING INSTRUMENTAL MUSIC], so it's like going [CHOKING] [CHOKING]. So you're cutting something off just as it's developing. And so nobody does it. So again--
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "SONATA IN F, K"]
And I think it's at least worth asking the question, is that still Mozart's music? And maybe it is. Anyway, I'll now play you this. You turn off the mic? I'll play you this movement.
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "SONATA IN F, K"]
ROGER MOSELEY: Thank you, Malcolm. And thanks to all of you for being here. As a boy growing up in Newcastle, England, I owned some of Malcolm's recordings of the Mozart piano concertos. And I vividly remember listening to them in absolute wonder at the sounds that Malcolm was making and the music he was creating.
I feel incredibly fortunate that our paths have crossed both personally and professionally. Malcolm is not only an artist of international fame and one of the true pioneers of the historically informed performance movement, but he's taught generations of Cornell students how to read music anew by inspiring and enabling them to hear and imagine it differently. And his knowledge and love of all these kinds of pianos has been essential to this educational mission and to the musical identities of generations of keyboard artists and scholars who have studied with him.
Cornell's historical instruments offer unique opportunities to explore the possibilities of historically informed interpretation. Each instrument is a kind of laboratory that encourages students to experiment, to test out ideas, to find out what makes one piano different from another, and also to learn how to look after them and how they work, which is a very important part of this enterprise.
And I also think this is very much in the spirit at once practical and high-minded with which Cornell was founded. These pianos are also useful in the classroom, both in music history classes and also in the study of music theory. When we want to understand why and how music of the past was written in a particular style and idiom, having the sound and touch of an 18th or 19th century piano at one's fingertips is revelatory.
In my own teaching, I'm particularly interested in using improvisation as a technique to make the musical past present to today's students. This entails finding points of contact with what they know often from improvisatory genres with which they're familiar from contemporary music. But it also involves showing them about how different and exciting the musical past can be and, in particular, how classical music wasn't necessarily as boring and dutiful as they often tend to suppose.
It's telling that during their lifetimes, the reputations of both Mozart and Beethoven were founded on their amazing abilities as improvisers as much as their achievements as composers. So by bringing us closer to those sound worlds, these pianos enable us to experiment with their modes of off-the-cuff music-making.
One good way to approach this intersection of composition and improvisation is to examine sets of themes and variations, which were very popular in the 18th and 19th centuries. While many were published, they were often improvised first. In many cases, the published variations can be thought of as a kind of edited version of the most successful improvisations, a kind of highlight real.
Musicians would use pretty much any melody as a theme-- popular arias from contemporary operas, folk songs, national anthems-- and then show off their skills by coming up with as many different takes on the melody as they could imagine. So from studying these variations, we get a sense of how composers viewed the essential building blocks of music, as well as the processes by which they connected and embellished them. So as an example, here's a theme on which Mozart wrote a set of variations.
[MUSIC - ROGER MOSELEY, "TWINKLE, TWINKLE, LITTLE STAR"]
And here are a few of the tactics that he deploys in terms of how he's going to transform this into an entertaining experience for the listener. So this is just-- I'm skipping through, but one approach is to use arpeggios.
So we have [PLAYING NOTES] as an idea just to expand that melody into a more interesting texture. Another idea is to take scales. I mean, these are all total-- anyone who's played piano for even six months will be all too familiar with these.
So we go scales. One other tactic is to go into the minor. That gives us a different kind of mood or sound world.
So sort of tragic undertones. And then normally to finish what Mozart would do is an expressive slow variation followed by a kind of rollicking finale. Now, in the theory classroom, this is something that I'm interested in pursuing with students, getting them to come up with their own variations on different themes, whether generated in real time or composed.
It's a really good way, I think, to reanimate these musical processes, to give students insights into how composers worked, as well as how pianists played. So since I wanted to demonstrate these techniques today, I was looking for an appropriate theme to use as an example. And I've stumbled upon this one. Malcolm, have you got a slide for this? So actually, it goes like this.
[MUSIC - ROGER MOSELEY, "ANNIE LISLE"]
So this tune has promise. Maybe--
Maybe an institution should take it up as [INAUDIBLE]. But actually, it turns out that dozens have. Cornell was the first to use this as their alma mater. But institutions around the globe have followed suit. So there's clearly something to this melody.
So what I'd like to do now is to kind of, if this doesn't sound sacrilegious, do a kind of mashup of what Mozart did with "Twinkle, Twinkle" and to the alma mater, take that, and put them together. And this is where having this piano is really excellent, because as will be apparent, there's a little bit of historical gap here. This was written in 1857 and then adopted by Cornell in 1870.
Whereas, the pianos that we're looking at here, this is from 1780 kind of era, and this one, the 1820s. So in a way, this is perfect, because it's kind of in that sweet spot, the crossover between Mozart "Annie Lisle." And so what I'm going to try to do to respond to that, to the quality of this instrument is to do something in the style of Carl Czerny or one of the kind of journeyman composer pianists from the 1830s.
So I'm going to do exactly what I just demonstrated with Mozart. I'm going to do first a kind of arpeggiated version, and then one that uses scales, and then a slow, sad one. And actually, this is deliberate to try to evoke something, to tribute to poor Annie Lisle.
If you read the lyrics, you'll see it's a kind of tragic tale of a young maid taken from us in the prime of her life, probably consumption or some other romantic kind of disorder. So yeah, a sort of a slow tragic one and then a kind of upbeat finale. Oh, Malcolm, if you've got the next slide, this is a-- Right, so here it is in its more familiar form.
[MUSIC - ROGER MOSELEY, "ANNIE LISLE"]
Thank you. I want to just give a shout-out to Cornell Professor David Yearsley on this, because I don't know if any of you have heard him play with the alma mater at the organ, but he does amazing things with it-- five voice fugues. And so was he was an inspirational force here.
Just to finish, I wanted to say a couple of things about recent developments with historical keyboards here at Cornell. Over the last few years, Cornell's music department has entered into a close and productive relationship with the Westfield Center for Historical Keyboard instruments. And under the dynamic directorship of Cornell music professor and university organist Annette Richards, Westfield has staged many events, from master classes to festivals, around the country. And several have taken place right here on campus.
As Malcolm mentioned, the historical limits of what was known as performance practice have been shifting quickly. And current students in our DMA program and Keyboard Studies reflect this. Now, music of the 20th and even the 21st century is being subjected to the kinds of questions that Malcolm so influentially asked of Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. And in that spirit, the Westfield Center and the Department of Music recently mounted a festival celebrating the keyboard music of Olivier Messiaen.
But music of the 18th and 19th centuries remained central to the Westfield Center's mission, as well as to the musical and scholarly environment in our department here. And a major international festival is going to celebrate that fact in August. Malcolm is going to say a little more about that.
MALCOLM BILSON: Is this on? Yes, this international-- I just want to talk about the future of this. And one of the things is certainly this festival that we're going to have in August. And there are flyers that you can pick up on the way out that tell all about that.
And one of the features-- there are going to be wonderful artists from all over the world playing here and lots of different kinds of pianos from every period. But one of the things that makes me especially proud is that our Beethoven sonata project, seven of us, it's now 20 years since those records came out. And there will be an evening where each of us will play a Beethoven sonata.
But an even bigger dream has to do with what's going to happen to all these pianos at some point. You see here two pianos, which are replicas. But we have quite a few wonderful original pianos from every period.
And we are hoping at some point to have a Westfield Center-- Westfield is associated with Cornell-- to have a Westfield Center for all of these historical pianos. And there are about 10 in town with mine and Cornell's. Plus, there are other colleagues of mine around the country who would give their pianos too as well. There could be 30 or 40 of these historic pianos.
And the idea of this center is that it would not be a museum. There would be a curator. And every piano would be in good working order. And if somebody from the University of Michigan wants to come here and spend a month, they can do it.
And in the case of some of the replicas, we might even let somebody from the University of Michigan take it for a month. This is all just a dream. But it's going to go on. The dream will go on.
So we will finish now with a Schubert Marche militaire, that piece we have played at the beginning was just an opener. This is a real one.
That was Schubert called "Kindermarsch." But this is for grownups.
[MUSIC - FRANZ SCHUBERT]
We thought if anybody has any questions, there's a microphone someplace-- or objections. We love those too. Where is the mic that was put up here?
AUDIENCE: Could you say something about the pedals?
MALCOLM BILSON: Yes. This piano has no pedals. It does, however, have knee levers. [PIANO PLAYING] And it also has-- both of these have a celeste stop, which brings a cloth strip between the hammer and the-- so-- [PIANO PLAYING] And that piano has it too. That piano also has a third pedal, which shifts the keyboard like a modern piano to play fewer strings.
This is not an exact copy, because the piano this was copied probably had five or six pedals. They had drums and bells and bassoons. People like to play battle pieces.
And you have the cries of the wounded and the cuts of the canon and all this kind of stuff. Occasionally, you do find a piano that has only three pedals like this. It probably belonged to a musician.
Well, it's interesting. One of the builders says, everybody wants these fool things, and I'll give them, but I'll make them pay a lot for it.
You-- well, somebody else wanted to ask.
AUDIENCE: I had the same question.
MALCOLM BILSON: Oh, the same question, yeah.
MALCOLM BILSON: Yes.
AUDIENCE: You mentioned that the modern designing has felt pads. Are these unpadded, when you mentioned the cloth.
MALCOLM BILSON: Oh, these have wooden hammers covered with leather. The history of the piano hammer, it's very interesting. The history of the-- A piano is, after all, a little bit like a series of bells. I mean, the smaller the bell is, the smaller the hammer with the harder the surface that you take right. And as you get bigger bells, you will get bigger, softer hammers.
And so basically, it's not only that this has smaller, softer-- this has smaller, harder hammers. This has somewhat larger, somewhat less hard hammers. And this has much larger hammers.
But the strings are also getting bigger and heavier. And there's a correspondence there, so that even in every one of these pianos, the hammers at the top are much smaller than the hammers at the bottom, in the Steinway as well. So that's the way it works.
AUDIENCE: I have a question. If I were your student and we have a Schimmel at home, so I could play the Mozart that you played.
MALCOLM BILSON: Yes.
AUDIENCE: What do suggest? Obviously, most people aren't going to have access to the original instruments of the time. What do you think the closest [INAUDIBLE].
MALCOLM BILSON: She asks, what do you do if you've only got a modern piano. Schimmels are nice. When was it built?
AUDIENCE: Well, we purchased it about six years ago.
MALCOLM BILSON: That's nice. It's a very general piano.
MALCOLM BILSON: I have no answer for that.
Because one of the things that is very interesting-- look, everybody understands that for Wagner, it's soprano, and Mozart, you don't take the same soprano. Now, why not? You have this Wagnerian soprano with this huge voice, she's not going to sing Mozart much. But she probably does sing Mozart. She sings Mozart at home, just not on the stage.
And the little soubrette soprano doesn't sing Isolde either but sings hopefully at home. So we're not trying to tell anybody not to do anything. What we are trying to do is somewhat raise consciousness of what's in the music and then do what you can. O don't know if that's a cop out answer. Yes.
AUDIENCE: Is there any special tuning? And who is prepared to do that for these pianos? And also, where are these stored? Are they more sensitive to moving around? And is there any special prepare--
MALCOLM BILSON: She's asking about tuning and moving. At the time, modern pianos-- so this is too complicated-- Modern pianos are tuned in equal temperament. These are not tuned in equal temperament. These are tuned in a way in which one key sounds nicer and the other key sounds-- my wife is Hungarian-- has more paprika.
And how composers move through these keys, that all changes late in the 19th century. And the answer is that we are very fortunate here to have our regular piano tuner, Ken Walkup, who has been here for many years, got interested in these about 10 years ago. And he tunes better than I do. He tunes absolutely wonderfully. And I think he would also say-- and most of us say that his work on the Steinways has gotten much better too.
That my auto mechanic who never ever worked on anything but a Mercedes might not really understand what a car is. You got a Chevrolet, a Honda, a Volkswagen. And then you learn what cars are, and then perhaps you-- that's my idea.
ROGER MOSELEY: Malcolm, Malcolm?
MALCOLM BILSON: What?
ROGER MOSELEY: Why don't you play the opening of the "Impromptu" in G flat and G major. I think that would be interesting.
MALCOLM BILSON: Yes, that's very interesting. If there had been time-- I won't do it now-- to play this beautiful G flat of--
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "IMPROMPTU"]
That was published in 1826 or so in G flat major, six flats. And the publisher said, nobody is going to take it. So they put in G.
[MUSIC - MALCOLM BILSON, "IMPROMPTU"]
That's got much more of this. And it goes into E flat minor, goes into a real bad keys.
Those things were important. They were still important to Chopin, certainly. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Sort of a follow-up on the tuning, I know that you do voice on modern piano differently, different ways. Can you change, or how much can you change the voice line on the older-- on the older--
MALCOLM BILSON: He's asking about voicing. What voicing means is you make a hammer harder or you make it softer. And that is you can do on all pianos. You can to make a modern piano-- you could give it hard hammer, sounds like a barroom piano. And you can make it sound like some lovely thing, but there's a lot to it. There's a lot to it.
A friend of mine who is a wonderful harpsichord builder said, you know, I never realized this, you got to pluck that string, and that's it-- in a way. You can have slightly different plectra, but it's not like what you can do with pianos. Yeah.
AUDIENCE: How much does the type of wood versus paste make the sound--
MALCOLM BILSON: I have no idea.
MALCOLM BILSON: I have no idea. This is something I know nothing about. I think this is veneer anyway. So I don't think it matters. You can paint them if you want, yeah.
AUDIENCE: What was the impetus for the change from the-- you said that the older pianos have certain characteristics than Steinways and other characteristics. Why did it evolve that way?
MALCOLM BILSON: It evolved very, very gradually. We don't have a-- the last piano before Steinways, the Érard, that was Listz's piano. If we had an Érard here and this, then we'd have a real competition. These are no competition for a Steinway. It's just a totally different thing, see? So I mean, it's--
I mean, the whole idea that Beethoven would be like a Steinway is hardly even worth talking about. I mean, Beethoven, when we did all those Beethoven sonatas, Beethoven as he was writing these sonatas, the piano changed drastically from this to this and how Beethoven changed his style of writing always to the instrument. Good composers write for instruments. And you have an instrument that is so totally foreign to anything Beethoven ever would have encountered, that it's just--
At the same time, well, you have to say that the greatest musical talents for over 100 years have played Beethoven on this. And of course, that brings a lot of stuff out. I mean, these are great musicians. But there are things that will remain hidden, because it's not possible to discover them through such a thing. Yes.
AUDIENCE: You said you could finally do Mozart with your big hands in terms of the old piano [INAUDIBLE].
MALCOLM BILSON: No, I can finally play [SINGING INSTRUMENTAL PIECE]. That's what I meant. No, I had to learn to do this. I'm still learning. One more maybe.
AUDIENCE: So in the early 1970s, when we were both a bit younger, I used come to this room as a student to hear you play. And I want to say, it's just as thrilling today to hear you again in this hall. Thank you very much.
MALCOLM BILSON: Thank you. Thank you.
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Over the past thirty years or so, an ever-increasing number of serious musicians has begun to perform classical works on instruments for which that music was originally conceived, rather than on their later counterparts. Cornell's Department of Music has a long history of being involved in this effort, and our collection of important keyboard instruments in particular has made it an international center for performance and historical research.
Malcolm Bilson and Roger Moseley highlight the important expressive differences that historical pianos can help achieve and explain how they shed new light on the notational practices and aesthetic profiles of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, and Schubert.
They play solo and four-hand compositions and improvise on several different instruments, demonstrating how their variety of tone and touch opens the door to a world of sonic possibilities that lie beyond the reach of the ubiquitous Steinway.
To celebrate Cornell's sesquicentennial, Bilson and Moseley give a brief history of how Cornell came to occupy a unique position in the musical world at large and discuss how this legacy might provide a platform for exciting future developments.