Playing on the Modern Piano – Part II


C P E BACH wrote in his essay:

In general, the briskness of Allegros is expressed by detached notes and the tenderness of Adagios by broad slurred notes…There are many who play stickily, as if they had glue between their fingers. Their touch is lethargic; they hold notes too long. Others, in an attempt to correct this, leave the keys too soon, as if they burned. Both are wrong. Midway between these extremes is best.’

It is often forgotten throughout the 18th century a non-legato touch was a norm because of the emphasis on long legato lines during the 19th century and that short and long notes were the exception. Staccato was indicated by stroke or wedge, which also implied an accent while long notes were marked with slurs or phrase mark. Any unmarked notes were to be played about half their length through the actual length would depend on the context i.e., depending on the mood and ‘effect’ of the piece. CPE Bach in his own words:

Tones which are neither detached, connected, nor fully held are sounded for half their value, unless the abbreviation Ten (hold) is written over them, in which case they must be held fully. Crotchets and quavers in moderate and slow tempos are usually performed in this semi-detached manner. They must not be played weakly, but with fire and a slight accentuation.’


How we tend to play on the modern piano is different. Generally, it is assumed that everything is to be slurred and often ‘pedalled’ unless there is a definite staccato mark. In earlier music, there are long lines, and these lines are articulated. The space and silence between phrases means shape just as spaces between words and sentences when we speak.

We become so accustomed to using the pedal nearly all the time on the modern piano, so that when without the pedal, the tone sounds thin to our ear. Mozart and Haydn certainly enjoyed a sustaining device but use them more as a ‘special’ effect, in the same way as string players used vibrato. Beethoven began to demand more use of the sustaining pedal, but the modern player should not forget the earlier style and should take care not to swamp the music with too much pedal.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel pupil of Mozart wrote in his piano method:

Let the pupil never employ the Pedals before he can play a piece correctly and intelligibly. Indeed, generally speaking, every player should indulge in them with the utmost moderation; for it is an erroneous supposition that a passage, correctly and beautifully executed without pedals and of which every note  is clearly understood, will please the hearer less, than a mere confusion of sounds, arising from a series of notes clashing one against another.’


The development of piano was obviously included a feature that the volume increases, hammer got larger, strings got thicker and soundboards more resonant to achieve this aim. Even the early piano had a wide range of dynamics. In playing Mozart and Haydn on the modern piano one should not be afraid to bring out the contrast. What one should avoid is the thickening of the sound (texture), the quality that alienates the clarity and the delicacy of their writing and they instrument they played.

The texture in Beethoven and Schubert were more dens and on their larger instruments more weight and of sound can be employed. Even so, care must be taken not to force the tone and to make the early 19th Century music sounds like Liszt or Brahms. The notes on the left hands in particularly must sound clear and distinct even in the thick chords.

Play from the Soul

The classical era surely endured sixty or seventy years of the most prolific music that the world has seen. During this time, there were many great symphonies, concertos, string quartets and song written for the new instruments – piano. The true emotion did not really show itself until the flowering of the Romantic Age. Classical Age was mainly concerned with proportion, balance, and symmetry. This is a serious misconception; that classical musicians are more interested in the substance of the music in what the form were expressing.

Here are some widely read treatise to say to keyboard players:

‘A musician cannot move others unless he too is moved. He must feel all the effects that he hopes to arouse in his audience, for the revealing of his own humour will stimulate a like humour in the listeners…Play from the soul and not like a trained bird’! (CPE Bach, 1753)

Everything is delivered by great execution. Many good performers who know how to produce the effect in the right place such as how to vary the character as much as it is humanly possible to make the music sound bearable to the listeners by means of a good performance given a miserable scribble of scores (Leopold Mozart, 1756)

Whoever performs a composition so that the ‘affect’ even in every single passage, is most faithfully expressed and that the tones become at the same time a language of feelings, of this person it is said that he is a good executant. Good execution, therefore, is the most important, but at the same time, the most difficult task of making music. (Türk, 1789)

Whatever that delivers tasteful, pleasing and ornamental of a passage including the expression the immediately relates to the feelings of the player who successfully displays in his performance, urging the heart of his audience to be awaken and addressed what the composer wanted to deliver is deemed to be the beauty of the performance. Nonetheless, expression can neither be taught nor acquired. It must be felt right in the soul of the player into the performance.

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