Piano Congress 2022: Piano - yesterday, today, tomorrow

On September 2-4, 2022, the International Congress of the EUROPIANO Association and the 22nd Convention of the International Association of Pianists and Technicians (IAPBT) - Piano Congress 2022 took place in Warsaw under the honorary patronage of the Minister of Culture and National Heritage, prof. Piotr Gliński. The organizers of Piano Congress 2022 - the first Congress held in Poland were: the Association of Polish Piano Tuners headed by President Andrzej Chabracki, EUROPIANO - a union of 18 independent national associations of piano tuners and technicians and the International Association of Piano Players and Technicians headed by President Gunther Schaible and The Fryderyk Chopin National Institute headed by Director PhD Artur Szklener.

When Jerzy Żurawlew (1886 - 1980) implemented the idea of organizing the Chopin Competition in the 1920s, Jerzy Waldorff (1910 - 1999) referred to the event as an international discussion at the pianos. Almost on the centenary of the 1st International Fryderyk Chopin Piano Competition Warsaw is becoming a world center of piano art not only thanks to the Chopin Competitions (also the International Chopin Competition on period instruments initiated in 2018 by the Deputy Director of the NIFC, Stanisław Leszczyński), but also thanks to the Congress uniting tuners, producers, sellers and renovators of pianos and pianos from around the world in a discussion about the history, present and future of the piano.

At the royal court

The Medici court played an important role in the history of the piano. On the initiative of Grand Duke Ferdinando de' Medici, Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655 - 1731) was appointed to the Florentine court in 1688 to take care of its harpsichords and, ultimately, the entire collection of musical instruments. Almost a quarter of a century later, he announced a new invention - a musical instrument called gravicembalo col piano e forte. Cristofori's first piano prototype became an inspiration for many designers from Germany, Austria, France and England to create design improvements resulting in the development of the piano instrument, until Sébastien Érard patented in 1821 a mechanism with a double escapement, giving the performer the opportunity to perform the most virtuoso works of piano literature . One of his instruments - Érard, 1858 - sounded on September 2, 2022, during the Inaugural Concert of the Piano Congress 2022. It was played by Tomasz Ritter - winner of the 1st International Chopin Competition on period instruments (Warsaw, 2018).

The piano built in Paris in 1858 (serial number 30315) was purchased in 2010 and renovated in the workshop of Grzegorz Machnacki. During the Concert, Tomasz Ritter also played on a copy of Conrad Graf's Viennese instrument from around 1819 - a well-known model of a grand piano with Viennese action (on which Chopin, among others, composed his early works), made in Paul McNulty's studio in 2007 commissioned by The Fryderyk Chopin National Institute.

The ceremonial inauguration of the Piano Congress 2022 took place in a unique and at the same time most suitable setting for a royal instrument - the Great Hall of the Royal Castle in Warsaw.

Piano yesterday

The development of the piano took place in an evolutionary manner. The year 1711 turned out to be a breakthrough, when the invention of the Italian designer Bartolomeo Cristofori was first described, on which he had probably been working since the end of the 17th century. One of the six thematic blocks of the Congress was devoted to the history and construction of period pianos. In his lecture, Professor PhD Benjamin Vogel - an outstanding instrumentologist, author of numerous scientific publications on the history of the development of the piano (including publications on Chopin's piano promoted during the Congress - Buchholtz 1826 and the Collection of Antique Pianos of the Industrial History Museum in Opatówek).

Gert Hecher - pianist and master of the craft of making pianos, discussed the main problems and challenges when reconstructing pianos from the times of Fryderyk Chopin. Amerigo Olivier Fadini, a harpsichord designer and piano repair technician specializing in instruments from the Romantic period, in his lecture referred to the instruments of Chopin's era, with particular emphasis on the issue of hammer felt in Pleyel pianos.

Paul McNulty - a world-famous piano manufacturer who was the first in modern times to build the following pianos: Pleyel 1830, Boisselot 1846, Streicher 1868 and Chopin's Warsaw piano - Buchholtz 1826, presented in a practical way how to solve the basic problems of Viennese pianos, demonstrating the mechanism adjustment process and repair procedures. In the second presentation, he discussed the process of building a copy of Buchholtz's piano (including a screening of the film), the inauguration of which took place during a concert on March 17, 2018 at the Grand Theater of the National Opera in Warsaw.

At the end of the historical part, Andrzej Włodarczyk - a tuner, piano constructor and owner of the largest Polish private collection of historical pianos constantly used in performance practice, discussed the process of reconstructing the Broadwood 1846 piano and the methodology of working on reproducing the instrument, taking into account techniques and materials, on the example of a copy of a Krall and Seidler piano with a live presentation of Broadwood 1846 as well as Krall and Seidler pianos.

Piano today

The modern piano is an instrument of incredible structural complexity. The complexity of the mechanism requires comprehensive knowledge and skills from the tuner. Acoustics is also an important element in the process of preparing an instrument for a concert. Modern concert halls have nothing in common with the intimate salons where musical evenings were held in the era of the Romantics, when the piano and works for this instrument marked their enormous development.

In the second thematic block of the Congress, the main discussion focused on the issues of regulation and intonation of pianos. Paula Kiechle and Elia Ramm presented the above issue on the basis of C. Bechstein concert grand pianos. Ferdinand Bräu discussed the development of the Bösendorfer Vienna Concert series instruments. Joachim Leonardy gave valuable tips and advice on piano regulation during his lecture.

Wim Bless talked about the facts and myths related to raising the pitch, and Jarkko Björknäs mentioned issues related to the piano scale, string calculations and acoustic quantities from the perspective of a piano technician. The Stanwood protocol for pianos was discussed by David Stanwood - the creator of the balance equation and a pioneer in the field of touch scale metrology. Tadeáš Doskočil presented the issue of designing a new piano, and Udo Steingraeber showed construction solutions thanks to which the historical features of the sound and touch of the keyboard were preserved in contemporary Steingraeber pianos.

Piano tomorrow

The piano of the future is not only a modern instrument that is a combination of art, craft and technology (e.g. Steinway Spirio, Yamaha Disklavier), but also a piano that will be rediscovered thanks to the renovation process.

In the third thematic block of the Congress, Zbigniew Mielżyński raised issues related to the broadly understood renovation of pianos, and Andrzej Sutowicz discussed the issues of construction and renovation of keyboards. Ryszard Mariański presented the specificity of regulating the mechanism when renovating a piano, and Wojciech Kozłowski compared the locks and tuning pins of various manufacturers when renovating pianos. At the end of the third thematic block, the issue of using covering surfaces in the renovation of pianos was discussed by Sylwester Kowalczyk.

Around the piano

The discussion around the piano concerned the broadly understood issue of the piano industry. Janusz Starzyk talked about the Polish piano industry of the 20th century, Timothy Barnes discussed the issue of creating effective valuations, as well as a price list for piano services. Michiel van Loon presented a system for paralyzed pianists, and Jan Grosbach demonstrated practical operation of the harpsichord.

There were also issues related to the presence of piano showrooms on the Internet. Anna Grochowicka - manager of the Klaviano.com portal, shared with the lecture participants her knowledge about trends among customers wishing to buy an upright piano or grand piano, as well as about promoting a piano showroom on the Klaviano.com portal and the impact of advertising on sales.

Open Day and accompanying events

In the first decade of the 21st century, the last Polish Grand Piano Factory, Arnold Fibiger, founded in 1889, was closed in Kalisz, and its name was illegally changed to "Calisia" by the then authorities after the war. Krzysztof Rottermund wrote about the last owner of the Factory - Gustav Arnold Fibiger: "He was the only Pole to become a member of the "Europiano" organization (European Union of Piano Maker Association) in 1960. He participated in the "Europiano" congress in Berlin (West) in 1965 and visited an exhibition presenting, among others, the latest design solutions for grand pianos and upright pianos, and participated in a number of lectures and technical demonstrations. He also did not neglect to read specialized Western magazines, such as "Das Musikinstrument" and "Europiano". The new experience and knowledge gained in this way were used to construct our own, constantly improved models of upright pianos and grand pianos. (Muzykalia XII – Zeszyt niemiecki 3 [Musicals XII - German Notebook 3]).

The program of the educational Open Day Piano Congress 2022 (September 2, 2022), whose organizational and substantive partners were The Sfogato Musil & Arts Society and the Petrof Company, included not only workshops on the history and construction of the piano, based on the example of original models of the Renner mechanism and the collector's a piano model made of Lego bricks (Marta Polańska), lectures: "The evolution of the piano repertoire in the context of the instrument's development" (Marta Polańska), "How to care for an upright piano (Andrzej Kruszewski), but also a demonstration of tuning a Yamaha CFX concert grand piano (Michał Bednarski) and concerts of young pianists from all over Poland. Performers: Sebastian Balcerzak, Joanna Jasnowska, Szymon Kania, Daniel Paweł Kaźmierczak, Stanisław Makuracki, Małgorzata Radek, Daniel Rożek, Maja Sikorska, Seweryn Julian Szarpak, Julia Willner-Paster and Oliwia Witkowska.

The Congress was also accompanied by concerts: Aleksander Łachacz Trio, a recital by Sławomir Zubrzycki on the Viola Organista instrument built in his workshop according to the design of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as a screening of the film "The Soul Enchanted in the Piano" directed by Elwira Fibiger - daughter of the last owner of the Arnold Fibiger Factory in Kalisz, Gustaw Arnold III.

Throughout the duration of Piano Congress 2022, participants, just like Gustaw Arnold Fibiger in Berlin 57 years ago, could visit an exhibition of grand pianos and upright pianos at the DoubleTree by Hilton Garden Inn Hotel in Warsaw from manufacturers such as Petrof, C. Bechstein, Steingraeber, Kawai, Yamaha, Bösendorfer, August Förster, Seiler, Pramberger, Samick, renovators' stands: WR-Piano, Kowalczyk Piano, Piano Renovation Professional S.C., Piano Studio, Piano Parts International, Paul McNulty, Sławomir Zubrzycki, suppliers: Knud Danielsen ApS, Hellerbass, Gazelle, Australia Piano Supply, Jahn Pianoteile, Taffijn Piano Supply BV, Piano Life Saver, MiQralon AB/Ltd, Renner and sellers: Pianoforte Concert Management, FX – Music Group, Salon Muzyczny Pasja, Klaviano.com.

Ignacy Jan Paderewski (1860 - 1941) - who lived during his studies in the house of the Kerntopfs - Warsaw piano manufacturers, from whom he received the instrument in recognition of his pianistic talent, wrote in his "Memoirs": " Knowledge is the only thing that enriches and that no one can take away from anyone.”

We hope that the knowledge gained during the Piano Congress 2022 taking place in the city and homeland of Fryderyk Chopin (1810 - 1849) - the greatest Polish pianist and composer who opened a new era for the piano, will inspire all those interested in issues related to the construction, reconstruction and renovation of instruments and will open a new chapter in the discussion on the future of piano art and piano craftsmanship.

Marta Polanska