Some words about the instruments used in this recording…

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Mr. Nobuo Yamamoto, for graciously lending and placing his precious instruments at my disposal. Without his friendly help, this recording could never have taken place. Mr. Yamamoto was one of the collaborators in the restoration of historic keyboard instruments at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, and now is the owner of the famous Yamamoto collection in Sakai City, Osaka. His collection is a very distinctive, important contribution to the classical music scene in Japan, because the most of the instruments under his care are still very much in their original condition. Mr. Yamamoto says he feels a strong responsibility to protect and to preserve their authentic shapes and the materials used at the time of the construction, so that later generations of musicians and curators will be able to “see and hear” the art of piano-making from the 18th to the early 20th Century.

In this recording we have tried to retain the various sounds arising from the instruments itself, because the sounds of metals, woods, and leathers rustling and sometimes rattling next to each other would have been a part of the original “music-making”. It seems to me that the atmosphere of Austro-German musicians in early 19th Century, depicted so lively, in the novels of E.T.A. Hoffman, or in other writings of Bettina von Arnim, will come out intact and alive if one plays and listens to those instruments with love and passion, with care, but without overly erasing the effect of ringing bass strings against the soundboard, or the squeaky tones from the pedals.

We used the following two instruments in this recording; Sonata in C Major and Fantasy are played on a Viennese action instrument made around 1820, which is attributed to Mattaeus Stein or someone who was close to him. Because the name plate does not exist anymore, we cannot be certain of this fact. The condition of the instrument is excellent however and it preserves the very essence of Viennese fortepiano making of around 1820. The piano has four pedals; in addition to the damper and shift pedals, the moderator and bassoon pedals are also attached. This is a feature which is found very often on the Viennese instruments at that time.
Sonata in f minor is played on a Broadwood, a famous British piano maker with English action dated from 1816. This instrument has two pedals consisting of damper and shift pedals, as is found on today’s pianos, but the similarity ends there. Since the three strings are strung from the bass register to the top register throughout, and the shift distance is quite long, one is able to make a real differentiation between una corda, and tre corde. The right damper pedal is divided into two parts, a system which enables the player to lift the whole damper or use them separately according to the lower and the higher registers. In fact the most striking character of this Broadwood piano derives perhaps more from the dampers themselves, which are placed under the strings and the felt materials of which are soft and designed so as not to stop and cut short the sounds immediately(especially in the bass register), but more to help the overall sonority to last longer. This is a concept and a system which not only the British but also the French makers such as Erard and Pleyel also continued to equip their pianos well into the end of the 19th Century. The combination of this damper system and other features gives this Broadwood a rather dark, profound character, with a very long lasting bass. This instrument is almost identical with the one Beethoven himself actually owned from 1818 on to his death in 1827, which some years later was owned by Liszt in Weimar until his death in 1886.

It is also very interesting to compare these two Viennese and English instruments visually also, because their different veneers(materials and colors)represent and coincide with the characters of the respective sounds so well. Probably the makers were very much aware of this and tried to create a coherence of sound and appearance.

Beethoven is said to have composed these two sonatas directly under the inspiration and influence of a 1803 Erard piano, an early English action model, which he received as a gift from Paris. But it is important to note here that at first Beethoven liked the instrument, but gradually he became unsatisfied with it. And eventually he requested that his good friends Nannette Streicher and Mattaeus Stein(the daughter and son of the famous Johann Andreas Stein of Augsburg)to make many “improvements” on the action. Of course the year of the composition of those pieces and the production year of those two instruments are not exactly the same, but it seems (and sounds) to me that the character of the instruments and the pieces match very well.

Kyoto, January, 2011. Makoto Ueno