The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Rediscovering old piano technique is altering how the music of the classical Old Masters sounds and how easily it is played | August 26, 2016

By Jacob Stockinger

Sure, for a long time musicology has traced how musical styles, forms and instrumentation have changed.

But now some researchers are using computers to investigate – and revive – an older keyboard technique from the 19th century that differs dramatically from the more modern technique generally in use. (Below is a photo by Alexander Refsum Jensenius.)

old piano technique CR Alexander Refsum Jensenius

It turns out not to be as outdated or useless as many assume.

It changes not only how the music of Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert and Chopin sounds but also the ease with which the performer can play it.

Here is a story from The New York Times that the Ear had stashed from about a year ago.

But he thinks it still seems timely – and fascinating.

And he hopes you do too.

Here is a link:

See what you think and leave a comment.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Very interesting! The music does sound lighter and more rpid, and the [posture is beautiful to look at. I hope we can see much more of this in the future (from a non-pianist!)

    Comment by Daryl K.. Sherman — August 30, 2016 @ 12:29 pm

  2. Unfortunately, the NYTimes web site limits numbers of visits for non subscribers. I finally got access and yes, this is a good article but it also raises questions.

    For those curious about the article, here is what a piano pedagogue (from Europe) found:

    “While modern players tend to hunch over the keys and hold their forearms nearly perpendicular to the keyboard, 19th-century style dictated that pianists sit bolt upright. The posture prevented players from bringing their weight to bear on the keyboard, instead forcing them to rely on smaller finger movements. The elbows were held firmly against the body, with forearms sloping down and hands askew.”

    The funny dots on the pianists hands in the picture above, by the way, are microdots to transmit information about the pianist’s movements to a computer so that they can be analyzed.

    While this is all to the good, what about those pianists who claimed a “pedigree” that goes way back, like piano greats such as the late A. Rubinstein or C. Arrau? Would they not have learned those “old techniques” and might their style not have been a composite? Or did technique change over time?

    I don’t know, just am thinking about the classical tradition of playing that was handed down by instructors and not the books the article relies on.

    Comment by fflambeau — August 26, 2016 @ 9:28 pm

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