Old-fashioned Sounds

Via Megan McArdle, here’s Slate’s In Search of Lost Sounds: Why you’ve never really heard the “Moonlight” Sonata.

Because a lot of people my age grew up hearing more of the old, out of tune upright pianos prominently featuring chipped ivories and a funky smell… than we did well-made, well-cared for, and thus rare, older pianos, it’s easy to understand why we preferred the new.

The story is about the Frederick Historic Piano Collection — 24 pianos made from 1790 to 1928. They are housed in a small Victorian library building in Ashburnham MA and they are featured in a yearly concert series. Hearing one of those concerts and seeing the pianos is one of the most appealing reasons I can think of to visit Massachusetts.

There are several clips in the article comparing compositions by Beethoven, Brahms, and Debussy played on a Steinway to them played on pianos the composers might have actually used. I checked YouTube for more recordings by the pianists playing the old instruments, but didn’t find any. That’s a void begging to be filled.

Fascinating… and somewhat of an indictment of standardization. Heed this, autotune.