Music Hall, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, 6 November 2009
GSMD has recently received on loan a fine Paul McNulty copy of a 5-octave Walter fortepiano of c.1795 (similar to one owned by Mozart). Jane Booth, Head of Historical Performance at GSMD, welcomed famous fortepianist Ronald Brautigam to initiate it in an experimental Haydn/Beethoven Master Class, in which members of the piano faculty were encouraged to try the instrument.
Brautigam explained that his almost instant conversion came about very simply. He had worried at his inability to make Mozart sound as he wanted on modern concert grands and with a first opportunity to play a fortepiano everything fell into place. He has recorded the repertoire extensively; see my reviews of him in Haydn and Beethoven.
In a generous schedule, three students had a whole hour's tuition each before an invited audience including many of their peers (that contrasts with a common pattern for such classes, e.g. one last week at RAM was shared by sixteen trumpeters). Brautigam is intuitive rather than doctrinaire in his approach, and very persuasive.
One of the three was already studying early keyboard and revelled in this opportunity. Her lesson largely concentrated upon finger touch and lightening her address of the keyboard. She knew her chosen Haydn Sonata in A, Hob XVI:46 well, and was able to respond to suggestions and, I thought, to absorb them. A second was a Steinway man, clearly more comfortable in big playing for big halls, probably with a penchant for the major virtuoso repertoire of 19th & early 20th C and the Steinway's power was quite a shock as he tore into Haydn. He took ill to short spells at the "small" piano and did not find it easy to absorb advice instantly; his performance of the big EB Hob XVI:52 was perhaps overlearned and his approach ingrained.
Hopefully, when developing her interpretations of the classical repertoire she will want to spend time on that instrument, and it will feature increasingly in the piano teaching at the Guildhall School.
Peter Grahame Woolf
See Musical Pointers reports of Masterclasses at RAM and on DVD