Daily Bulletin


Daily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by The Conversation
imageThe master at work: Daniel Barenboim plays his new piano at London's Festival Hall.Lauren Hurley / PA Wire/Press Association Images

In his 70s, the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim continues to attract attention not only for his performance schedule but also for his views on global issues. He is in London to perform a cycle of Schubert’s piano sonatas in a series of four recitals on a redesigned piano, created especially for him.

It is rare for such an event to attract the high-profile media coverage that has been seen over the last days. The new piano was launched at a press conference prior to the first of his Schubert concerts. Although it bears his name, it was built to his specifications by the instrument maker Chris Maene with support from Steinway.

The piano gives rise to two questions: is the design really new, and is it successful? The answer to the first question is no. The main difference between Barenboim’s design and most conventional modern grand pianos is that the strings run in parallel – in other words they do not cross each other. So-called “straight-strung” pianos were common in the 19th century: they were developed in the 1820s and 30s by makers such as Broadwood in London, Erard in Paris and Hoxa in Vienna. Steinway patented a cross-strung frame in 1859, and it is this which has survived in modern grand pianos. Barenboim’s piano is based on an instrument owned by Franz Liszt, which survives in Siena.

imageFranz Liszt played a straight-strung piano in the 19th century.

The second question is rather more complex – Barenboim clearly thinks the new instrument is successful. He has stated that it provides a clearer sound and that it has little of the homogeneous blend that characterises most modern pianos: “The pianist has to create the blend and I like that.”

How does it sound?

Will the average listener be aware of the difference? Possibly, if they listen to a lot of piano music. The clarity of sound is certainly noticeable, particularly in the lower and middle registers, but many of the audience at the first concert noted that there was a lack of the resonance that we expect from a modern piano. “Tinkly” was a word I noticed being used on Twitter after the concert.

Perception of timbre is complex and is highly susceptible to cultural influence, so it is unlikely that a true consensus will emerge. Barenboim has always rejected the notion of period instruments and, in creating a new piano based on 19th-century ideas, he runs the risk of alienating both the period audience and the champions of the modern piano – not that this concerns him.

Nevertheless, more diversity in the piano world is refreshing. Steinway dominates concert halls and has done so for most of the past 100 years; back in the early 19th century there was more competition between piano manufacturers (and indeed many had their own halls, such as the Bechstein Hall in London and the Salle Pleyel in Paris).

Given Steinway’s commercial dominance and the relatively small market for such instruments, it is unlikely that Barenboim’s piano will ever become a commercial success; it is more likely to be a footnote in the history of piano manufacturing and in his own career. Some will no doubt see it as yet another cynical marketing ploy to differentiate Barenboim from his colleagues (though his profile means he has little need for additional exposure) or as a megalomaniacal attempt to dominate the musical world – there is something iconic in seeing his name in brass inlay on the lid alongside the reflection of his hands.

imageMegalomania? Or a desire for perfection? Daniel Barenboim’s new piano.Lauren Hurley / PA Wire/Press Association Images

Ultimately, the piano is a 19th-century beast that has survived into the 21st century but is threatened by technology and popular culture: as Charles Rosen has pointed out there have been few works composed for the instrument in the past few decades that have really caught the public imagination.

The workman not the tool

I believe Barenboim’s most lasting contribution lies not in his philosophising about music and culture, nor in his political advocacy for reconciliation between Israel and the Arab world (though the West East Divan Orchestra is certainly a wonderful creation) but in his ability to communicate great music to a diverse audience.

His playing may sometimes lack some of the fluency that he once had, and he may be accused of wilful distortion at times, but his command of the drama of Schubert’s late sonatas and his idiosyncratic take on that composer’s melodies and architecture remain compelling.

It turns out that Marshall McLuhan’s statement that the “medium is the message” has little place in music. During Schubert’s lifetime it became fashionable to regard a work of art or music as having its own internal unity, experienced, as Kant suggests, within a flow of representations. Barenboim presents us with memorable representations of Schubert’s music, regardless of the shiny black instrument on stage.

Charles Wiffen does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Authors: The Conversation

Read more http://theconversation.com/tinkering-with-the-ivories-barenboim-unveils-his-new-piano-design-42566

Writers Wanted

Schitt's Creek: the TV show has been showered with Emmys but is it worth the hype?

arrow_forward

COVID-19 and small island nations: what we can learn from New Zealand and Iceland

arrow_forward

'If JobSeeker was cut, the unemployed would be picking fruit'? Why that's not true

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Did BLM Really Change the US Police Work?

The Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has proven that the power of the state rests in the hands of the people it governs. Following the death of 46-year-old black American George Floyd in a case of ...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

Scott Morrison: the right man at the right time

Australia is not at war with another nation or ideology in August 2020 but the nation is in conflict. There are serious threats from China and there are many challenges flowing from the pandemic tha...

Greg Rogers - avatar Greg Rogers

Prime Minister National Cabinet Statement

The National Cabinet met today to discuss Australia’s COVID-19 response, the Victoria outbreak, easing restrictions, helping Australians prepare to go back to work in a COVID-safe environment an...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

Ten tips for landing a freelance transcription job

Transcription jobs are known to be popular in the field of freelancing. They offer fantastic job opportunities to a lot of people, but there are some scammers who wait to cheat the freelancers. ...

News Company - avatar News Company

How To Remove Rubbish More Effectively

It can be a big task to remove household rubbish. The hardest part is finding the best way to get rid of your junk. It can be very overwhelming to know exactly where to start with so many option...

News Company - avatar News Company

4 Tips To Pass Skills Certifications Tests

Developing the right set of skills is valuable not only to your career, but for life in general. You can get certified in these skills through obtaining a license. Without a certified license, y...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion