The Historical Evolution of Piano Voicing

by Sally Phillips

present here, via YouTube, samples of piano tone that reflect the varied voicing and tonal preferences of concert pianists. As this chronological survey will show, over the last hundred years, with changes in both

musical tastes and the materials available to piano manufacturers, voicing and tonal preferences have changed—mostly toward a brighter sound, but also, more recently, toward a more full-bodied clarity than that produced by the greatly hardened hammers of the 1960s through the '90s.

The range in timbre from bright to mellow can be reflected in a number of ways. In an “orchestral” voicing, the change from bright to mellow at different volumes can vary among a piano's registers. For example, most of the brighter notes might be in the middle to upper registers, while the bass retains a darker quality. In a “homogeneous” voicing, the tone at any given volume level is about equally bright in all registers.

In the samples that follow, the quality of the recording equipment obviously affects the sound quality, as will the quality of the equipment through which they're played. Nevertheless, whether or not true to life, these samples illustrate the range of tonal quality found among pianos.

Chopin, Waltz in C# minor, Op. 64 No. 2

Ignacy Paderewski, 1917
Sweet, simple, clear tone; not particularly bright.

Chopin, Polonaise in A major, Op. 40 No. 1 (“Military”)

(scroll down to the recordings of 1922–23)

Josef Hofmann
Very clear, clean, orchestrally voiced piano with mellow bass and midrange, and very clear, brilliant treble.

Mozart, Fantasie in C minor, K. 475

Edwin Fischer, 1941
Sweet, clear tone; orchestral voicing with a lute-like tenor register. Not overly bright, but displaying a change in timbre between registers.

Mozart, Sonata in A minor, K. 310

(at 17:52)
Dinu Lipatti, 1950
Orchestral voicing with clearly different timbres in different registers.

The Definitive Piano Buying Guide for

Buying New, Used, and Restored Acoustic Pianos and Digital Pianos

Spring 2014    Page W1

Spring 2014    Page W1

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