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So many notes, so little time - The Titfield Thunderbolt
Heisenberg might have stayed here
So many notes, so little time
I'm a habitual listener to Radio 3 in the car, so I've caught a bit of the Beethoven experience this week. Unsurprisingly, there have been many works which I was not familiar with, nor have any urge to listen again. But amidst the pleasant but unremarkable domestic canons and songs, there have been some gems; I was particularly taken by Melvyn Tan's performance of Piano Sonata No 1 on the fortepiano, contrasted the following evening by a relatively dull rendition by John Lil on the pianoforte of Piano Sonata No 10.

Beethoven wrote music on the bleeding edge, particularly so for the piano, which was undergoing constant re-engineering: in his early career, it had five octaves; later, it had expanded to eight. The modern piano is more humid; the fortepiano is a fresh air sound, somewhat like a harpsichord but with the added ability for dynamic range, and the option to sustain notes with the pedal. I rather doubt Beethoven's later piano works would sound so good on a truly period instrument (indeed, in many cases they would be literally unplayable), but the earlier works (such as both those above) do sound more lively on the fortepiano.

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