Fortepiano: a key to music from the past

As one of China’s few capitals, Wang Yuehan considers it her responsibility to introduce the ancient instrument to the public and help the public better understand its appeal through its performance.

“When I play Mozart’s music on the piano, it brings me back the music of his era,” Wang told the Shanghai Daily. “I feel personally connected with great musicians. Fortepiano helps me better understand the reason and logic of their composition.”

Fortepiano: The Key to Music from the Past

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Replica of the Fortipiano made by Viennese piano maker Anton Walter in 1805

Featuring a softer sound and smaller frame, it is a piano used in the mid-18th and early 19th centuries, where classical-era composers, especially Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven the Younger, wrote their own piano music.

The old Fortepiano became obsolete in the late 19th century due to the demanding craftsmanship and high cost. It was revived in the 20th century after increased interest in historically informed performance.

Wang became interested in Fortipiano when she was studying at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in the United States.

“I was drawn to her bell,” she said. The sound is warm and intimate.

“Also, Fortepiano does not have a strict educational program. My teachers also conducted research and explored how to play the Fortepiano themselves. There is no authority. Learning progress becomes an exploration of my initiative.”

Fortepiano: The Key to Music from the Past

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Wang said that playing the piano is more delicate compared to the modern piano, and requires different style, strength, and more precise control ability from the instrumentalist.

“Playing the pieces on the piano helped me better understand how these great composers created the classics,” she added.

“Some of the great melodies and short percussion can be shown better by piano playing than by modern piano. Some higher notes are simply missing due to the piano’s limited vocal range.”

Wang received her master’s degree from Jacobs School of Music in 2017, majoring in piano and fortipiano. She returned to China and has been looking to play the piano ever since.

“Some people have asked me why I devote my time to a specialized machine that has already been wiped out over time,” she said. “But I have my reasons.

“For music students, learning Fortepiano can help them better understand the history and development of classical music. In China, Fortepiano is still an eclectic course. So far, the instrument is only available in three music academies in China.”

She added, “For the audience, I hope that my appearance captures the spirit and essence of the great composers. I hope that more people will be able to attend Furpiano’s concerts and lectures and learn about the instrument.”

Fortepiano: The Key to Music from the Past

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Wang is among the few measles advocates in China.

Before graduating from Jacobs School of Music, Wang purchased a fortress made in the Czech Republic, a replica of the Fortipiano made by Viennese piano maker Anton Walter in 1805.

Walter was one of the most famous builders of Fortpiano in the late 18th century. Mozart purchased a fortepiano in 1782 by Walter at the age of 26, and used it in all of his public performances until his death.

The 1805 Walter fortepiano features an all-wooden frameless chassis over the soundboard.

Compared to modern pianos, it has a smaller range of five and a half octaves, which has already evolved significantly from the five octaves commonly seen in the eighteenth century. The pedals are positioned below the keyboard, and are controlled by the player’s knees rather than the feet.

Due to its exquisite wood structure, Fortepiano is sensitive to the environment. Temperature and humidity can affect his voice dramatically. Wang keeps the air conditioner and humidifier all day at home for the Fortepiano. After taking the instrument to a new city, you spend a lot of time changing the tone.

Fortepiano: The Key to Music from the Past

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Fortepiano is very sensitive to the environment.

Wang was born and raised in Wuhan, Hubei Province.

She is giving a concert to her colleagues at Hubei’s Changsha next weekend. Her last concert was held at the Shanghai Center for Oriental Arts before the National Day holiday. Some of the shows were from her first solo album “Mozart Fantasie & Rondo” released last year.

At the age of 32 next month, Wang plans to release her second solo album “Beloved” on her birthday. The album will include eight piano sonatas by Mozart. The recording was taken over by producer Feng Hanying, who has worked with famous Chinese pianists such as Fu Cong and Lang Lang.

Wang revealed that she had already ordered a new piano for herself.

“The new Fortepiano has a slightly wider range, which allows me to play Schubert and Beethoven’s later works in the future,” she said.