A new sound of music

The MU School of Music is acquiring a hand-crafted fortepiano from the Czech Republic
Sunday, September 24, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 11:26 a.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

MU piano professor Janice Wenger’s affection for music from the era of Mozart and Haydn goes back to her college days. Soon she will be able to play her favorite music in a historically correct way.

An historic reproduction of a fortepiano, the ancestor of the modern piano, will make its way to MU by this Christmas. The fortepiano comes to MU from American Paul McNulty’s workshop in the Czech Republic.

This spring, Wenger went on a concert tour in Europe, performing in Brno, Czech Republic. While abroad, she visited McNulty’s workshop, one of the few in the world, to see the process of building a fortepiano. Upon returning to the United States, Wenger, along with School of Music Director Melvin Platt, began the process of acquiring a fortepiano for MU. The instrument has been ordered and paid for by the MU School of Music, with the help of the College of Arts and Science and the MU Office of Research.

Wenger said she is eagerly awaiting its arrival.

The fortepiano was due to arrive this month, but because of the intricate, hand-crafted process, there have been delays.

But Wenger has improvised.

“I put these up until the real thing arrives,” she said, pointing to two pictures of a fortepiano printed on computer paper and hung on her office cabinet.

Wenger is excited about the fortepiano not only for her own personal use but for her students’ benefit. She believes that playing on an authentic instrument will help her students better understand the music.

“They will be more well-rounded,” Wenger said. “This will add depth to their degree.”

Edwina King, a sophomore piano performance major and a student of Wenger’s, is looking forward to the new instrument’s arrival. She is currently working on Ludwig van Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata, which would have been performed on a forte-


“In the third movement, there is this part using the pedal that is hard to play without blurriness on the modern piano,” King said. “But it will sound cool on the fortepiano. It’s important to get back to the original performance practice.”


The first fortepiano was created by Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1720. It was the first keyboard instrument to switch from plucking strings to using hammers on strings. To differentiate his instrument from the harpsichord and other keyboard instruments of the day, Cristofori called it “piano et forte,” literally “soft and loud.”

Through the years, different terminologies have been used. MU piano professor Janice Wenger chooses to call MU’s new instrument a fortepiano because the model from which it is based, a 1792 Walter instrument, was called a fortepiano. However, it is also acceptable to use the term pianoforte, though that term can also be applied to the modern piano.

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