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THE SCOOP | After 130 Years, Daniel Barenboim Redesigns the Modern Piano

By Michael Vincent on May 29, 2015

Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand, 2015.
Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand, 2015.

The modern piano has seen very few changes since the 19th century, but this week pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim has revealed a new design that he hopes will revolutionize the instrument.

The instrument was developed by Barenboim in 2011, and built by Belgian instrument maker Chris Maene. The piano is called the Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand, and was designed over a period of 18 months.

What makes the piano unique is it’s ability to play with the power of a modern piano, but with a transparency of a 19th-century instrument. The sound is achieved by arrangement the strings in a diagonal cross pattern, modifying the soundboard, and using bass strings made from yellow brass (see image above).

The piano was inspired by a 19th-century grand in Sienna, that Barenboim found which also featured the parallel strings.

According to the press release, “The transparency and tonal characteristics of the traditional straight-strung instruments is so different from the homogeneous tone produced by the modern piano across its entire range,” Barenboim said. “The clearly distinguishable voices and colour across its registers of Liszt’s piano inspired me to explore the possibility of combining these qualities with the power, looks, evenness of touch, stability of tuning and other technical advantages of the modern Steinway.”

Chris Maene commented that he had dreamed of building a new type of concert grand inspired by 19h century design. “By the end of the 19th century many piano builders tried to copy the success of Steinway & Sons,” Maene said. “In this process, they all ignored the straight-strung grand pianos with their unique sound characteristics. As a result, the 20th century offered us very similar instruments in regards of construction and sound.”

To compare the sounds, here is Barenboim playing a short excerpt from a Beethoven sonata on a Steinway:

  Now here he is playing the same excerpt on the Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand:

 

As you can hear, the pianos are radically different in the higher register. The sounds on the Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand do not mix the same way, and provide the pianist for more control as to the density of the sound.  The question is will this become an idiosyncratic piano for use only by a select few, or will it revolutionize piano design? We suspect the former, but only time will tell.

(Video via Classical FM)

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Michael Vincent
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Michael Vincent

Michael Vincent is the Editor-in-chief Ludwig Van and CEO of Museland Media. He publishes regularly and writes occasionally. He has worked as a senior editor for over fifteen years and is a former freelance classical music critic for the Toronto Star. Michael holds a Doctorate in Music from the University of Toronto.
Michael Vincent
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