Fall 2022 was a busy but fruitful semester. In addition to the modern piano that I routinely practice, I was delighted to have the chance to play different keyboard instruments that are rarely seen. These instruments each have distinctive qualities regarding touch, timbre, etc., and I found this experience extremely impressive.
I took the keyboard literature class this semester, in which I studied early keyboard repertoires and composers from the Medieval to Classical periods, and —most memorably—played early keyboard compositions on historical instruments. There were two class performances throughout the semester: the first featured the harpsichord and consisted entirely of J. S. Bach’s works; the second featured the fortepiano and showcased exclusively classical compositions.
As for the harpsichord, even though I played and had taken lessons before, I still felt a little rusty since it had been more than one year ago. The harpsichord’s keys are relatively short, narrow, and light, so playing with the muscles trained for modern pianos frequently resulted in my fingers being unintentionally stuck on other notes. It also took me some time to get used to the keys’ black and white colors, which are the opposite of those on modern pianos, and the slight resistance I felt when pressing the keys since it produces sounds by plucking strings. Moreover, there are differences in how to deal with music, particularly Baroque compositions, such as some indescribable musical expressions or ornament execution, which often sound better and more charming on the harpsichord than on contemporary pianos.
This was my first time playing the fortepiano. Its keys are to some extent similar to those of the harpsichord, and its register is only about five octaves (it’s a Stein model). Since it has fewer octaves, when performing classical music, several notes that seem commonplace on modern pianos are actually almost at the highest or lowest of the instrument! Another unique fact is that its “pedal” is a “knee pedal” rather than a foot pedal. It is situated just beneath the keyboard, and the sustain effect is activated by pushing it up with the knee. How interesting! Overall, it has a gentler sound and truly emits a graceful “classical elegance.”
In addition to these two historical instruments, I served as the celesta player in the UI Symphony Orchestra’s public performance at the end of October. Unlike the relatively new Yamaha celesta in the Harding Band Building that I played in the wind orchestra last academic year, this time was the Simone Celeste owned by Krannert Center. This instrument only has one sustaining pedal, and at first glance, it looks like a mottled huge old black box with worn-out fabric on the upper panel. I looked into the history of this specific brand “Simone” and learned that it had ceased production, making this instrument really an “antique”! Although the celesta section in the concert repertoires was not very demanding, because of its rather delicate timbre, I paid closer attention to the projection (especially the solo passage in Ravel’s Tzigane) to ensure a clear and “heavenly” sound was created.
Playing three different historical keyboard instruments in one semester was a terrific experience, despite not having much time to devote to each one. I hope to further explore more instruments in the future to have a greater understanding of how various musical genres are performed and interpreted.
Chin-Hsuan Sharon Cheng (written in Dec. 2022)
除了這兩個古樂器，我還在管弦樂團10月底的公演演奏鋼片琴。不同於上學年我在管樂團彈過的Harding Band Building裡比較新的Yamaha鋼片琴，這次的樂器則是Krannert Center的Simone鋼片琴。這台琴只有一個延音功能的踏板，整個像是一個古老的黑色大箱子，上面有斑駁的紋路，音箱的布也有點破損，一看就很有歲月的痕跡。我稍微查了一下它的來歷，說是此牌鋼片琴已經停產了，所以這台果真是個「古董」！雖然公演的曲目中鋼片琴的份量不多，但因為這台鋼片琴本身的音色較為小聲輕柔，所以任何彈的時候（尤其拉威爾Tzigane中間的solo）我都很注意聲音的傳播投射，以確保有傳達出最清亮、「天堂般」的聲音。
Chin-Hsuan Sharon Cheng (2022年12月)