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Sometimes, I wish that Bach had access to our modern piano. The biggest can of worms regarding Bach: should one play his music with pedal? He didn’t have one, after all. The harpsichord of Bach’s time could not even vary from loud or soft.
200 years in the making, the piano was the most complex machine of the 19th century. We haven’t made any changes to it since then, but piano music since then has been an evolving enigma. That gets me thinking – why should I be using the capabilities of our modern instrument at all? Maybe I shouldn’t use the pedal. I should refrain from making things louder or softer, or use the many timbres available to me.
I think about it again, and it occurs to me that if Bach did have a pedal, he would have used it – just like all composers of today.
Such is one of the many conundrums of piano playing that involves playing music that is not stylistically inherent to our modern society. One cannot play Mozart in the same way as Chopin, or Ravel the same way as Scarlatti. They inhabited different fashions, history, cultures, scientific ideas, and so forth. They couldn’t notate such things in their music, however. After all, nobody imagines everything about their time period becoming obsolete and replaced by the next era of history. It is up to the interpreter, then, to put himself in the shoes of whatever composer he plays. Having studied many disciplines at Bard, I realize now that understanding a composer is as much about music and music history as it is about understanding everything else: world history, the arts, philosophy, science.
Unfortunately, this probably means that mastering music is impossible, as there will always be more to know. Having played two senior concerts of music in historical chronology, I appreciate more than ever the power of piano playing to be a time-transplanting tool. Just as well, the music of Bach is eternal - so long as we have our modern instruments, with or without pedal.
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Kiladze, Alexander, "A Long History, a Modern Instrument" (2016). Senior Projects Fall 2016. 22.
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