Musical Performance in the Times of Mozart and Beethoven: The Lost Tradition in Music, Part II

By Fritz Rothschild | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IV
TOUCH AND BOWING

Keyboard Touch

Keyboard touch depends not only upon the ability of the player but also to a great extent upon the nature and the quality of the instrument. Many decades of experimental work were necessary before the piano- forte attained the standard of reliability and mechanical perfection that we associate with it today.

It is generally known that keyboard touch has changed completely since the days of Bach and Mozart; it is also an acknowledged fact that the correct touch is essential for the true interpretation of the composer's intentions. Throughout the development of keyboard instruments the nature of touch, as determined by the nature of the instrument, had a definite effect on the performance of music. Since composers were unable to anticipate any effects that might be made possible by future mechanical improvements, they could only exploit those available to them.

The question naturally arises as to whether it is possible to do justice to old music by using a touch that was totally unknown at the time it was written. This applies to the ordinary manner of playing just as it does to staccato, legato, etc. In many present-day performances the same system of touch is applied to works by Bach, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven as it is to those by Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, Brahms and contemporary composers.

Some musicians, no doubt, deliberately use modern touch for the music of all periods as a matter of personal conviction; while others, perhaps the majority, do so simply because they do not know better. In the following pages extracts are given from the writings of eminent musicians of the past who described the instruments and touch of their own time.

C. P. E. Bach, Versuch über die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen, 1787 (p. 6, § II):

". . . Besides the many keyboard instruments which remain unknown, partly on account of their shortcomings, and partly because they have not yet been introduced everywhere, there are two principal kinds, namely harpsichords and clavichords, which hitherto have met with the greatest approval. The former are generally used in large ensembles, (zu starken Musiken) the latter

-37-

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