After a good day’s work tuning, cleaning, voicing and regulating pianos at Reed College, I got to indulge myself a little and play around with their fortepiano, the modern piano’s predecessor. Working with a school often has its perks! I get access to their instrument storage room the the harpsichord and fortepiano. I spent a good bit of time playing, tuning and maintaining a harpsichord while doing my time getting my undergraduate at George Fox University, but I haven’t ever had access to a fortepiano like this!
So how is a fortepiano different from our modern pianos?
1. The fortepiano is much lighter and smaller than the modern piano. There are fewer and thinner strings, and there is no metal frame to maintain the high tension you find on a modern piano. This gives the fortepiano much less sustain, but more delicacy than the piano.
2. There are less keys. The fortepiano has between 4 and 6 octaves compared to the piano’s 7.5.
3. This fortepiano has reverse colored keys! The black keys are white and white keys are black (harpsichords are often this was as well).
4. The keys are hammers are much smaller and extremely light, which makes it easier to play very light and fast.
5. The hammers are covered with leather instead of felt, giving a very different timbre of sound. In fact, each register seems to have a more unique timbre, much less uniform than the piano.
6. One of the hardest things for me to get used to was the pedal placement! Instead of having a pedal lyre underneath and the pedals close to the floor for your feet to work, the “pedals” are right underneath the keyboard and are operated by your knees! Instead of pushing your foot down to depress the pedal, you have to push your knee up. Very counter-intuitive for me!
I’ll leave you with a link of a little video of me playing a bit of a Haydn sonatina I’m currently teaching one of my students. Bear in mind that I didn’t tune this instrument before playing here. 🙂
Here is a link of a great video where you can learn more about the fortepiano, or you can read about it on Wikipedia here.