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#2320694 - 08/27/14 02:03 PM Chopin's Technician
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Hi Folks,

Ed Foote led a very interesting and informative discussion on temperament on the pianist's forum. And it prompted a question on my part that I thought only you technicians could answer.

Who was Chopin's technician? How did he tune Chopin's piano(s)? I'm ashamed to say myself that I've never thought of this before, and I went to school and everything!

It's very likely that Chopin had a strong relationship with the instrument maker, and they provided technicians who took care of his piano in Paris....or so I would think. I have no idea how he managed on tour during that period.

What do you all think?
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2320724 - 08/27/14 03:40 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
SMHaley Offline
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Registered: 05/06/13
Posts: 646
Loc: Seattle
When concertizing its most likely Chopin played a number of different pianos which were taken care of domestically. During his time in Paris I believe he brought back a Broadwood, which I would imagine was maintained by such a person in town.
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#2320743 - 08/27/14 04:48 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
Ed Sutton Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/12/13
Posts: 42
In England his technician was Alex Hipkins, head technician of Broadwood.
Hipkins was a strong proponent of equal temperament, and also a fine musician and musicologist, performing Chopin's music at a time when it was not well-liked in England. He also performed Bach on clavichord and harpsichord.
His daughter, Edith Hipkins, wrote a book, _How Chopin Played_, which includes diary notes from her father. They do not say anything about the tuning of Chopin's piano, but they mention that Chopin liked playing smaller pianos and old square pianos he found in patrons' houses.
So far as I know, there is no documentary evidence of Chopin's preferences in tuning and temperament.

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#2320744 - 08/27/14 04:49 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
Emmery Offline
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/08
Posts: 2376
Loc: Niagara Region, On. Canada
It was quite common for musicians to carry a crude tuning lever with them in their travels at that time when technicians were not so widespread. The larger venues of course, likely had some nearby technician, or possibly someone on loan from the piano manufacturer supllying the instrument.

I remember seeing a photograph taken by a friend of mine years ago at the Chopin museum in Warsaw; one of the displays had a crude looking iron tuning lever in it. Not sure if it was Chopins or not, but given his ability to write works at an early age and compose pieces according to key color, I would not doubt that he was able to tune to some degree, when no one else was available to do so.
_________________________
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#2320796 - 08/27/14 07:11 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
SMHaley Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/06/13
Posts: 646
Loc: Seattle
It seems to be a forgotten piece of history that early keyboardists tuned their instruments themselves.
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#2320801 - 08/27/14 07:24 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
Gadzar Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 12/15/06
Posts: 1736
Loc: Mexico City
Someone, I donīt remember who, has posted here that Beethoven used to tune his piano. And by the time he was almost deaf, his piano was really out of tune and he didn't notice!

I guess he heard music with in his mind, not his ears.
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#2320808 - 08/27/14 07:34 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: SMHaley]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Originally Posted By: SMHaley
When concertizing its most likely Chopin played a number of different pianos which were taken care of domestically. During his time in Paris I believe he brought back a Broadwood, which I would imagine was maintained by such a person in town.


So if I understand you, Broadwood had an agent or a dealer in Paris?
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2320823 - 08/27/14 08:21 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
Ed Sutton Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/12/13
Posts: 42
The grand pianos of the mid-1800s were more difficult to stabilize and tune than modern pianos.
The monochord tuning devices, such as Blanchet and Roller's tuning scale were calibrated in equal temperament. This is not to say they worked very well, but they were not calibrated in "Victorian" temperament, the intention was ET.
Somewhere I read that Chopin had complained that his tuner had left Paris, and he could not get his piano tuned to his satisfaction - no further details.
If George Sand's report is to be believed, Chopin's piano had a magical capacity to stay in tune, or he tolerated a less than in tune piano. She claimed it was shipped from Paris to Mallorca (via ox cart, ship and ox cart) and that when the crate was opened, in was in "perfect tune."
I think it is more likely that people tolerated pianos in a wide range of out-of-tuness. We can observe today that not all great pianists have very critical ears, yet some of them make beautiful music.
Interpret what you want from the music, but the documentary evidence is not very helpful.

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#2320826 - 08/27/14 08:24 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: Ed Sutton]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
Hi Ed,

While I have a lot of respect and even liking for Mme Sand and her writing, I simply don't believe her about that.
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2320883 - 08/27/14 11:20 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
MarkyRich Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/28/14
Posts: 5
Loc: South Australia
Great thread, of course the early keyboardists tuned there instruments, unless they were royalty. I've had my tuning hammer cpl months now. Love it. Nowhere near changing temperament yet but watching this space closely...

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#2320900 - 08/28/14 12:19 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
BDB Online   content
Yikes! 10000 Post Club Member

Registered: 06/07/03
Posts: 21530
Loc: Oakland
I tuned for Beethoven once.

Click to reveal..
Camper van Beethoven
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Semipro Tech

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#2321053 - 08/28/14 10:31 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: SMHaley]
bkw58 Offline

Silver Supporter until December 19, 2014


Registered: 03/14/09
Posts: 1729
Loc: Conway, AR USA
Originally Posted By: SMHaley
It seems to be a forgotten piece of history that early keyboardists tuned their instruments themselves.


Yes, it seems so. In the early years a tuning hammer or lever was often included with the instrument. Not sure when the practice stopped but I have seen a few grands from the late 19th or early 20th century that still had the fastener on the case, (Hammers were long gone.) How many pianist-composers actually used the hammer may be unknown. Have read where some did, but do not recall which. I assume that keyboardists from JS Bach and earlier tuned their own harpsichords.


Edited by bkw58 (08/28/14 10:32 AM)
Edit Reason: typo
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#2321088 - 08/28/14 11:47 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
chopin_r_us Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/17/10
Posts: 943
Loc: UK
In 1772 Broadwood was charging a guinea for 5 tunings (once a month) http://www.harpsichord.org.uk/EH/Vol1/No1/Broadwood.pdf . Pleyel, I'm sure, would have kept Chopin's Paris pianos sorted.

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#2321136 - 08/28/14 01:22 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: Ed Sutton]
Ed Foote Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1164
Loc: Tennessee
Originally Posted By: Ed Sutton

Somewhere I read that Chopin had complained that his tuner had left Paris, and he could not get his piano tuned to his satisfaction - no further details. .


Greetings,
I remember reading that Chopin's tech had killed himself, and that Chopin was morose over not finding another tuner that could tune the same.

This factoid, if it is that, presents a consideration inre temperament. On the one hand, if we are to believe the account of the times as posited by Fred Sturm in his series of temperament articles, (also citing Paul Poletti), all the tuners in Paris were tuning a modern version of ET by 1850. If that is so, then I don't know why one of the biggest names in the business couldn't find another tech that would tune exactly like the first. Since there is only one ET, all of them should have been the same, and given the construction of the instruments and lack of air conditioning, "exact" can be a fairly broad description.

However, (and this is the position of the mossy-brained temperament proponents), IF Chopin had a tuner that was tuning a specific unequal tuning, it may have been hard to find another tuner that would create the same harmonic toolbox as his first tuner, and Chopin just might have been able to tell the difference. I submit that there is support for the presence of non-ET in Chopin's life. jes' sayin'…

It is also interesting, (to those same moss-brains), that Chopin's selection of key mimics the percentages of key usage by virtually all keyboard composers between Bach and Schubert. In everybody else's case, the fewer accidentals, the more the key was used. (LVB, in sheer numbers of compositions, does prefer Eb but that is the only out of step key in the charts of his selection). There is a coherent progression of key usage that shows a definite correlation to the near universal form of WT that was common, only in Chopin's case, the chart is 180 degrees reversed. It is reversed, but the correlation between key usage and WT is still patently obvious.

Did he do this for easy of fingering? If so, why is he the only one that felt that way? Did he compose this way because he was infatuated with the perfection of ET and removal of WT's interruptions and wanted to celebrate this freedom? If so, I bet he would have mentioned it. Or, did he do this because he liked the contrast between highly tempered harmony and pure fifths in the melody? If so, his music should be significantly more effective in a WT, which is easy to prove or disprove, if one were to listen to the same pieces on both tunings. I even put a piece of his on a CD in a DeMorgan temperament, which is a backwards version of a WT, the ultimate REVERSE-WELL since it is by design. We all thought it sounded fine, and some of my Chopin customers thought they had found the holy grail when they played on that temperament. It could have been, we don't know.

Bill Garlick, on historical tuning: " There is absolutely nothing to support a dogmatic position on any of this".

We know the plausible possibilities, and I suggest to anyone that they familiarize themselves with more than one temperament, if for no other reason than to fully appreciate what ET really sounds like. We don't know what the parade actually looks like until we get out of it and see it from a different perspective.
Regardss,

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#2321155 - 08/28/14 02:27 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: Ed Foote]
Jeff Hurchalla Offline
Junior Member

Registered: 06/11/14
Posts: 12
Loc: Portland OR
When I was looking at the history of tunings ten years ago, one of the things I came across is that the systems for tuning ET weren't perfected until the end of the 1800s. Probably I got this from Owen Jorgensen's huge book of tunings, which was a fascinating read. If I recall correctly, the systems for tuning ET around the mid 1800s tended to produce something between WT and ET, maybe tending to lean more toward ET as time went on. It's an interesting thought that maybe Chopin's favorite tuner produced a particularly pleasing version of quasi-ET to his ears. Or maybe he liked the stretch or unisons. I think you've got the right idea with just trying different things, since we're left with guessing on a lot of this.

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#2321493 - 08/29/14 10:28 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
UnrightTooner Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 4940
Loc: Bradford County, PA
Yes, we are left guessing.

What I find interesting is how our guesses might indicate our inclinations. Kinda like those silly quizzes about how you butter your toast indicates your personality.

So... IF ET is the hardest temperament to tune and IF there was no "system" for tuning it during Chopin's time and IF Chopin was morose when the ONLY tuner that could tune to his liking died, which meant satisfactory distant keys; wouldn't it be more likely that this ONE tuner did what others could not because it was so difficult, there was not system for it and their priority was not the distant keys? What would that be? ET, of course. But then that is MY inclination. laugh laugh laugh
_________________________
Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
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#2321494 - 08/29/14 10:34 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
chopin_r_us Offline
500 Post Club Member

Registered: 09/17/10
Posts: 943
Loc: UK
Buttering your toast hot shows you lack delayed gratification. i.e. definitely not middleclass!

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#2321516 - 08/29/14 11:28 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: UnrightTooner]
Ed Foote Online   blank
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 05/03/03
Posts: 1164
Loc: Tennessee
Originally Posted By: UnrightTooner
Yes, we are left guessing.

What I find interesting is how our guesses might indicate our inclinations.
<snip>
IF Chopin was morose when the ONLY tuner that could tune to his liking died, which meant satisfactory distant keys; wouldn't it be more likely that this ONE tuner did what others could not because it was so difficult, there was not system for it and their priority was not the distant keys? What would that be? ET, of course. But then that is MY inclination. laugh laugh laugh


The level of objectivity is directly dependent on what you mean by "satisfactory distant keys" Modern,(your) definition, or do we know what Chopin thought it meant? What some call harmonious, others think dull, what some call brilliant, others think harsh. It is only in the ET era that such distinctions are moot. This is why I maintain that the only way to determine the optimum tuning for a Chopin piece is to listen to the piece performed on both ET and an alternative. if one doesn't' trust their ears, there is historical "proof" for both, so the choice becomes one of either leaving the status quo or not. I encourage the adventure for my customers, and they have responded well and profitably to the choices.

Research has shown that all necessary "systems" for tuning an accurate Et were available before Chopin was born. If it was widespread, I think there was more than one in Paris that could have produced it, on demand. We know there was one tuner that was special to Chopin, I have a curiosity as to why. That he was special because he could tune ET is not plausible enough answer, given how prevalent and available it may have been at the time.
Regards,

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#2321529 - 08/29/14 11:59 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
UnrightTooner Offline
4000 Post Club Member

Registered: 11/13/08
Posts: 4940
Loc: Bradford County, PA
So Ed:

"... so the choice becomes one of either leaving the status quo or not ..."

This reminds me of the Dr. Pepper commercial about choosing to be different, so you can be just like other folk too. wink
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Jeff Deutschle
Part-Time Tuner
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#2321591 - 08/29/14 03:17 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: BDB]
David Jenson Online   content
2000 Post Club Member

Registered: 10/22/06
Posts: 2101
Loc: Maine
Originally Posted By: BDB
I tuned for Beethoven once.

Click to reveal..
Camper van Beethoven


Aaaagh! I can't believe I clicked that!
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#2321744 - 08/29/14 10:48 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
Ed Sutton Offline
Full Member

Registered: 08/12/13
Posts: 42
Greg wrote:
Hi Ed,
While I have a lot of respect and even liking for Mme Sand and her writing, I simply don't believe her about that.

Greg,
I did not say she was to be believed!
Ed ;-)

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#2321821 - 08/30/14 08:16 AM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
RonTuner Online   content
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 01/21/04
Posts: 1658
Loc: Chicagoland
So we are to believe that because there was a system for tuning ET, that technicians actually achieved ET on pianos of the day?

How about now? Is there any such system in place? Are there better checks and balances to make achieving ET more likely?

In the informal testing on piano world of those willing to post audio files, I seem to remember that the only one to actually achieve ET was a non-professional trying out a software (Dirk's) approach...

Kindof makes it difficult to believe that those over a hundred years ago were doing any better!

Ron Koval
_________________________
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my piano videos:
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#2322340 - 08/31/14 05:59 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: Ed Foote]
laguna_greg Offline
1000 Post Club Member

Registered: 04/02/13
Posts: 1382
Loc: guess where in CA and WA
HI Ed!

"On the one hand, if we are to believe the account of the times as posited by Fred Sturm in his series of temperament articles, (also citing Paul Poletti), all the tuners in Paris were tuning a modern version of ET by 1850. If that is so, then I don't know why one of the biggest names in the business couldn't find another tech that would tune exactly like the first. "

Not to put too fine a point on it, but in fact Chopin was long dead by this time, and have been out of the country a couple of years before that touring in the UK.

It's something to consider. He was much more contemporaneous with Beethoven than we like to think in the 21st century and, this being the case, it prompted my initial question.

Also, among his best writing, the chromatic modulations throw up accidentals by the handful in every beat in some cases, and in other cases in ever measure. I'm thinking of the extended works including the Barcarolle, the Fantasie, the Scherzi, the Ballades and the Polonaise-Fantasie. And then there are the 60+ Mazurkas, where every one of them is an abject lesson in moment-to-moment chromatic modulations/tonicizations, again full of accidentals and all to distant keys.

It's something to consider.

Again, thanks to everyone who has contributed to a very interesting discussion about an obscure but important topic!
_________________________
Laguna Greg

1919 Mason & Hamlin AA
1931 Bechstein C - now sold
http://www.triangleassociates-us.com/about_us (my day job)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_Taubman (a recent article I wrote about one of my teachers)

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#2322372 - 08/31/14 07:13 PM Re: Chopin's Technician [Re: laguna_greg]
gynnis Offline
Full Member

Registered: 02/16/14
Posts: 122
Loc: Florida, Connecticut
Hmm, I wonder if Chopin's tonic substitution has something to do with it. Anyway, the French Romantics seem to be smitten with key color and mood. Faure even lapses into church harmonizations in his late songs. Given the number of pieces dedicated to Mme. Pleyel, I suspect Chopin was well cared for by the Pleyel family.
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