In her recent recording for La Dolce Volta, pianist Vanessa Wagner played a piano recital of the music of one 18th century and one early 19th century masters: W.A. Mozart (1756-1791) and Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). She played the recital on two very different pianos: a Brodmann piano from 1814 (the kind of piano played by Beethoven) and a Yamaha CFX, the current flagship grand piano in the Yamaha range. Two centuries separate the two keyboards and there’s a world of sound difference.
We open with Mozart’s Fantasia in D minor, played on the Brodmann piano. This piano, built in Vienna in 1814, has 4 pedals: una corda and forte, as are still found on modern pianos, and bassoon and celeste. These pedals make it possible to modify the fortepiano’s timbre and intensity. When you listen to this piano in performance, you are immediately struck by the piano’s stillness. The strings to not resonate in a way that we’re used to and there’s a silence between notes that we’re not familiar with. In addition, the action is particularly easy so that runs up and down the piano seem to roll off the fingers.
Mozart: Fantasia in D Minor, K. 397 (Vanessa Wagner, fortepiano)
When Ms. Wagner switches to the Yamaha piano for Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 17, we hear the immediate change in sound, most particularly in the resonance and echo of the larger instrument. The runs seem less effortless – they still run, but the flow has changed.
Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 17 in B flat minor, K. 570: I. Allegro
When she moves to the older composer, Clementi, first on the Brodmann, we again hear the thin sound of the early 19th century keyboard. But now we can also hear some of the subtleties of this piano. Each area of the piano seems to have a different feeling – a bright high voice, a reassuring middle voice, and a slightly fuller bass sound. This helps us differentiate between the voices more easily – the high melodies seem to sing above the middle and lower sounds.
Clementi: Piano Sonata in F major, Op. 23/2: I. Allegro con spirito
On the Yamaha piano, the voices are more alike and much louder. It’s as though the shading of the earlier instrument has been stripped away like a varnish and now the music itself lies exposed.
Clementi: Keyboard Sonata in G Minor, Op. 50, No. 3, “Didone abbandonata”: IV. Allegro agitato, e con disperazione
Clementi was one of the great virtuosos of his day, and Beethoven regarded him as one of the finest sonata composers he knew. Clementi became known as the ‘Father of the Piano’ for his ability to write works that drew out the capabilities of the piano. That knowledge, tied with his own virtuosic playing, resulted in works that even the young Mozarts (Wolfgang and Nannerl) found difficult.
This lovely recording gives us a chance to contrast two near contemporaries – and two who in 1781 were actually paired against each other in a piano competition in Vienna. The competition, held by Emperor Joseph II on Christmas Eve, was declared a tie, but between themselves, the two pianists agreed that Mozart had ‘won.’
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