A New Kind of Piano

I have many problems with the modern piano. I value its range and resonance, yes, but the flaws outweigh the benefits. Some history for context: composers in the 18th century performed music on two different kinds of pianos, the Vienna build and the English build. Vienna pianos were light, had a smaller key range, but had a large range of distinct colors of sound. English pianos were larger and broader, with greater key range and resonance, but flatter colors. Come the 19th century and the English piano builders defeated their Viennese rivals. The grand piano of today is an English piano with small changes.

What a pity! Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and other composers relished the Vienna piano for its range of color, and much of their piano music imitates the orchestra. Yet now composers once more demean the piano to a harp turned on its side. I would prefer a fortepiano to my Yamaha piano at home, but I do not want us musicians to return to an older instrument. I would like to build a new kind of piano, even though I only have imagination at the moment.

First, let us shrink the key range: the base end from A0 to F1 and the treble end from C8 to F7. Let us use the key of F to build the range of the piano, not A or C. In regards to tuning, let us keep it flexible, but for my personal piano I would use meantone tuning with A3 at 415 Hertz. Let us make the keys of our new piano lighter, thinner, shallower; this will reduce some loudness and resonance but will return lost nuances in dynamics and range. Let us, somehow, bring back orchestral sounds to the piano: the lowest range of double base and timpani, the base range of bassoon and brass, the middle range of strings, the treble range of woodwinds, and the highest range of piccolo and triangle.  

We did little more than restore the Vienna piano at this point, though our new piano has somewhat more loudness and resonance, but with pedals of different kinds we can unlock new potential. Let us add two knee levers: the right the classic sustaining pedal and the left a “displacer”. The right knee lever gives the musician more grace and control over such an important pedal sound. The left knee lever can lock into place or be released as we please. It acts as a “displacer” by putting pieces of metal among the piano strings, like how Philip Glass put screws in his piano to create a remote dissonant sound.

Let us create three pedals for our right foot, moving from the center to the far right. The centermost pedal sustains notes of the treble range, the middle pedal causes only one or two strings of a note to be struck by the hammer depending on how hard you press it, and the rightmost pedal creates a plucking sound on the strings. Let us create three pedals for our left foot, moving from the center to the far left. The centermost pedal sustains notes of the base range, the middle pedal puts leather between the strings to create a muted sound, and the leftmost pedal places silk over the base strings to create a raspy buzzing noise.

Lastly, let us place two stoppers near middle C, used by hand. The right stopper adds an extra octave note above whatever treble note you play. The left stopper adds an extra octave below whatever base note you place.   

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Choral Fantasy Translation

Schiller’s lyrics from Beethoven’s choral fantasy, translated so it can be sung. Now you can sing along in English!

German
Schmeichelnd hold und lieblich klingen
unseres Lebens Harmonien
und dem Schönheitssinn entschwingen
Blumen sich, die ewig blühn.
Fried und Freude gleiten freundlich
wie der Wellen Wechselspiel.
Was sich drängte rauh und feindlich,
ordnet sich zu Hochgefühl

Wenn der Töne Zauber walten
und des Wortes Weihe spr-icht
muss sich Herrliches gestalten
Nacht und Stürme werden Licht
Äuss’re Ruhe, inn’re Wonne
herrschen für den Glücklichen
Doch der Künste Frühlingssonne
ässt aus beiden Licht entstehn

Großes, das ins Herz gedrungen
blüht dann ne-eu und schön empor
Hat ein Geist sich aufgeschwungen
hallt ihm stets ein Geisterchor
Nehmt denn hin, ihr schönen Seelen
froh die Gaben schöner Kunst
Wenn sich Lieb und Kraft vermählen
lohnt den Menschen Göttergunst.

English
Graceful, charming, sweet, and singing,
Our living tones are beginning,
With a sense of beauty rising
As flowers forever bloom.
Peace and Joy do flow together
As the calming play of waves.
The once bitter has forever
Transformed into august Joy

Music’s magic reins enchanting,
Telling us the sacred wa-ay.
The sun’s mighty glory rising
Night and tempest turn to day.
Peace reigns the world, Bliss reigns the heart,
Solacing the blessed men.
All the genius in Springtime’s Arts;
Let all sunlight shine from them

Grandeur did pierce our hearts with light,
Blooming new in wond’rous sou-und.
Once our souls have taken in flight,
Spirit choirs do resound.
Let all Truth shine, joyous beings,
From High Art’s beloved Grace.
When Love and Strength, come uniting,
All men rise through Divine Grace.