"PROPERLY TUNED MASTERPIECES" -- Zankel Hall -- May 28, 2013
The Foundation For The Revival Of Classical Culture presented master pianist Tian Jiang in a concert entitled "Properly Tuned Masterpieces". The concert occurred at New York City's Carnegie Hall Zankel Hall, May 28, at 7:30 pm. The program included Beethoven's Sonata no.7 in D Major, op.10, no.3; the Sonata no.23 in F minor, "Appassionata" op 57; and Brahms' Variations on a Theme by Handel, op.24.
The title, "Properly Tuned Masterpieces" was expressly chosen to provoke a discussion, perhaps a debate: is there such a thing as a correct, and therefore optimal, tuning of Classical musical compositions? If this is so, and such "well-tempering" was known to and utilized by Mozart, Beethoven, and other Classical composers in their compositional work, why was this changed, and who changed it?
The unique feature of this concert was that it was performed at the original tuning used by Beethoven, at C=256 cycles per second. For the past thirty or so years, concerts have been performed at various pitches—that is nothing new. In this concert, however, the performances was done on both fortepiano and modern piano—two different instruments, at the same tuning of C=256 cycles per second.
Beethoven wrote, as a "motto" of his famous Grosse Fuge, "As free, as it is rigorous". The late principal violinist of the legendary Amadeus Quartet, Norbert Brainin, stated: "Beethoven really took the concept 'as free as it is rigorous', earnestly. This is his first commandment. Bach also wrote in four voices, but with him, the voices are not individual. With Beethoven, every voice is different, although distinctly stamped by the Motivfuhrung (motivic thorough-composition). This is (Beethoven's) great achievement."
The required vocal interplay in late Beethoven compositions, for example the late string quartets, would be strongly, and wrongly, affected by arbitrary tuning--for example, by an artificially high—or artificially low—“A”. Merely technical? The human body's temperature is "tuned" to 98.6—not 98.4 or 98.8. Is the difference "merely technical"?
The practice of "merely" ignoring the deeper implications for human knowledge of the breakthroughs in music compositional technique made by the great Classical composers, has been epidemic since Stravinsky's premiere of The Rite Of Spring 100 years ago. We assert that musical tuning is not arbitrary, is not a "mere matter of taste", any more than photosynthesis is a matter of "taste". Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier cannot—or at least, should not—be played at "any old tuning".
But the "lower tuning" performances must demonstrate palpable improvements in the listening experience. Today's world concert hall Steinway is generally pitched at an A of 440-442 cps (cycles per second) in contrast to a "Beethoven A" equal to 430.5-432cps. Tian Jiang's performance, so tuned, will hopefully provoke a re-thinking of this essential, in fact indispensable, principle: a great and beautiful idea must be presented by the most transparent means available.
About the Artist: Tian Jiang
The pianist Tian Jiang returns to Carnegie Hall this year, after his stunning concert of last May 13th, 2012 at the Hall's Stern Auditorium. (The over 2200 in attendance were comprised primarily of young, first-time classical music concertgoers.)
Sponsored as one of five top young Chinese musicians by the great Isaac Stern, during and after the famous 1979 visit of Stern to China, Tian Jiang has recently championed the cause of creating the largest, and greatest, possible American audience for Classical musical performance and composition. To that end, he has embraced and assisted the work of the Foundation For The Revival of Classical Culture, particularly in New York City schools. He has played in virtually every great concert hall in the world, and with most of the world's great orchestras. He has recently toured South Africa and Australia, as well as given concerts in his native China. Most recently, in late April and early May 2013, Mr. Jiang finished a highly successful concert tour in East and Mid Asia, performed at the City Hall of NAGASAKI, the Cultural Center of SHANGHAI, and a high profile private concert for the Royalty of United Arab Emirates in DUBAI.