There was an unusual concert in MU’s Fine Arts Building on Wednesday morning, and it celebrated a new arrival to the School of Music: a custom-made fortepiano, a historically accurate reproduction of a 1792 model instrument that is the predecessor to the modern piano.
After some careful maneuvering on the part of piano technician Ken Zahringer and others, including piano professor Janice Wenger, the fortepiano, in a plywood crate weighing 600 pounds, was set down in the middle of the building lobby. Wenger had waited patiently for the piano since she ordered it in August 2005 but could hold back no longer. She, along with Zahringer and Peter Miyamoto, another MU piano professor, took the fortepiano out of its case at once.
The lobby began to fill with curious bystanders, drawn by the hum of cordless drills and the smell of fresh wood. The fortepiano, all 150 pounds of it, emerged from the giant crate; it had safely survived the trans-Atlantic journey from the forests of the southern Czech Republic where it was made. Once the five legs, only three of which are weight-bearing, were attached, it was show time.
Wenger seated herself at the instrument and began to play, smiling, as the expression goes, clear to her fingertips. The joyous strains of Mozart’s piano Sonata in D Major resounded through the building. The fortepiano’s sound, not as powerful as that of a modern piano, is a bit strange to the unfamiliar ear. To those familiar with the piano, a fortepiano sounds almost out of tune because it’s pitched slightly lower.
It was Miyamoto’s turn next; he played Mozart’s piano Sonata in B-flat Major.
“It was nice that it was christened with Mozart,” Miyamoto said. The instrument upon which the MU fortepiano is based was made the year after Mozart died in 1791.
A few students were allowed to play the new acquisition, too. Joel Thomas and Kathy Nenadal, both graduate students, and Priscilla Yuen, an undergraduate, took their turns at trying out the fortepiano.
Thomas found it interesting and thought-provoking to play the fortepiano. He said that when playing, he began to “imagine all the great music written for it.”
After the excitement died down, the fortepiano was moved to its permanent home in Wenger’s office. There it will be kept in the necessary climate-controlled environment, which will keep its spruce wood from warping or cracking. Wenger will perform on it in February at her faculty recital. Guest artist Malcolm Bilson will dedicate the fortepiano with a performance and master class in March.