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Bach, Chopin and the Affordances of Keyboard Instruments in the Long Eighteenth Century 

Paper i proceeding
Författare Joel Speerstra
Publicerad i Fryderek Chopin Institute International Conference, Sept 1-3: Baroque traditions in the music of the Romantics during the first half of the nineteenth century
Publiceringsår 2017
Publicerad vid Högskolan för scen och musik
Språk en
Länkar en.chopin.nifc.pl/institute/events/...
Ämnesord J. S. Bach, F. Chopin, clavichord, harpsichord, Pleyel piano, Érard piano, historically informed performance practice
Ämneskategorier Musikvetenskap, Musik


The Wikipedia entry for Chopin’s piano maker Ignace Pleyel (1757-1831)  currently says: ”Pleyel retired in 1824 and moved to the countryside about 50 km outside Paris. He died in 1831, apparently quite aware that his own musical style had been fully displaced by the new Romanticism in music.[citation needed].” Yes, indeed! If such a citation could be found! When does the late eighteenth-century musical style get fully displaced? Overlapping discourses, the dissociation of musical understanding between professionals and amateurs, producers and consumers of music, the overlapping histories and influences of keyboard instrument types on improvisation, composition, and performance practice are not simple, clean and linear. This presentation will take as its starting point that our understanding of the relationship between Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier and Chopin’s 24 Preludes could be enhanced by a reassessment of the keyboard instruments available to each composer. The physical capabilities of various keyboard instruments necessarily form the way in which we think musically as well as the way in which we are able to compose or improvise at the keyboard physically.  The American psychologist James Gibson (1979) made up the noun ”affordance” in order to describe the complementarity he observed between animals and their environments. The term has been applied successfully to create theories about the interface between a user and a technology. In Gibson’s sense of affordance, a door with a piece of string hanging from it affords close-ability, while a door with a doorknob on it affords both close-ability and open-ability. Bach’s clavichord was the culmination of a five-hundred year exploration of affordances between performers and builders, while the pianos of Chopin’s youth were still highly experimental and in a period of dynamic development. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, piano technique in central and Northern Europe was probably still influenced by the well-developed clavichord tradition.  The ”death” of the harpsichord and clavichord in the nineteenth century is also beginning to look overrated. Yes, in  cosmopolitan centers like Paris, fashions changed quickly  and the future seems to have arrived, but Paris was also a platform for a discourse between different cultural time-lines and sets of information. Thomas Tellefsen (1823–1874), for instance,  also arrives in Paris. New research suggest that the genius Chopin piano student from clavichord-laden Trondheim managed to convince Pleyel, using his own pedal clavichord, to begin building pedal pianos so that the Parisian organists would learn to play Bach with their feet. What central European Bachian influence does he bring when he is also asked to complete Chopin’s piano method?  Keyboard technique for Chopin and, sadly, even for Bach, is still all too influenced by our widespread addiction to the pianos of the twentieth century without ever encountering Bach’s clavichord and the Broadwoods, Erards and Pleyels of Chopin’s own day.  This presentation will try to present the affordances in Chopin’s instrument landscape surrounding the production of Chopin’s 24 Preludes.  Gibson, James. 1979. The ecological approach to visual perception. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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