Mozart’s Piano: The Fortepiano

The piano used in our performances of Mozart’s Piano by fortepiano virtuoso Kristian Bezuidenhout was made by Thomas and Barbara Wolf in 1997 in The Plains, Virginia, outside Washington, DC. It is modelled on the work of the eighteenth-century Viennese maker Anton Walter, and has a keyboard range of just over five octaves (from FF to g”’). Knee levers are used to raise the dampers, and a hand stop operates the moderator (a piece of cloth that slides into place between the hammers and strings to produce a muted effect). Veneered in curly cherry, the case is primarily of spruce.

Walter Piano

Gabriel Anton Walter (1752–1825) was part of a cadre of piano makers, performers, and composers living in Vienna. Walter and his colleagues Stein, Hofmann, Kober, and Schantz worked closely with Haydn, Mozart, Hummel, and Beethoven. Each maker had his own designs and brought special qualities to the instruments, which the composers used to advantage. Haydn praised Walter’s pianos for their brilliance and complained about the prices he charged, but ultimately preferred the pianos of Schantz. Beethoven, while liking Walter’s instruments, also expressed concern about their economics.  Acquainted with most of the German and Austrian makers and often praising them, at the time of his death Mozart owned an early-period Walter of a slightly different design than the more usual model heard tonight.

Thomas and Barbara Wolf have made reproductions of historical keyboard instruments since 1969. Originally trained as musicians (he a bassist, she a pianist), they apprenticed in the workshops of Frank Hubbard and Eric Herz in Boston. In 1974 they moved to Washington, DC to begin a long association with the keyboard collection at the Smithsonian Institution, filling the roles of restorer, conservator, and technician. The Wolfs make a wide variety of clavichords, harpsichords, and fortepianos based on originals from the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries. Restoration and maintenance of antique instruments is also important to the Wolfs: their work can be found in the collections of several museums.

We are delighted that the builder Barbara Wolf will join us to tune and maintain the fortepiano. If you attend a concert, please feel free to welcome her and ask her questions about the instrument. However, we ask that you leave her in peace during the intermission tuning.


Join us for Mozart’s Piano from November 9–12, 2017 at Jeanne Lamon Hall, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Tickets are available here.


University of Toronto: Faculty of MusicThe fortepiano belongs to the Faculty of Music, University of Toronto, and we are very grateful for the very generous loan of the instrument for this week’s concerts. Special thanks are extended to Dean Don McLean and to Piano Technician Gordon Christie for their support and assistance.

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