The Well-prepared Piano (2009)

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The title of this collection of short piano etudes refers to two definitive works in the keyboard literature based on two almost completely opposite concepts. Johann Sebastian Bach’s Das Wohltemperierte Klavier (1722) is based on a ‘well-tempered’ tuning, which allowed music to be played on the same instrument in all twenty-four keys.  Although this was not yet the so-called ‘equal’ temperament, it started the trend towards a ‘neutral’ approach to the keyboard instrument: intervals and melodies could be transposed without losing the qualities of the original key. Two centuries after Das Wohltemperierte Klavier, John Cage came on the scene with his ‘prepared piano’ (Bacchanale, 1938). The effect of his preparations is a dismantling of the ‘neutral’ piano ideal: depending on the preparation, each key of the piano is given a unique and almost untransposable sound identity. In my Das Wohlpreparierte Klavier I, the use of electronic sound techniques combines elements from both approaches. The piano keyboard is played in a conventional way, but in each etude, digital processing is added to the sound using microphones. The etudes are divided into series, each of which focuses on one type of processing. These sonic adaptations are not conceived of as extensions that can be turned on and off at a whim, but as obstacles challenging creativity that come before the compositions. I prefer to use the description ‘electronic preparation’ to the overused ‘live electronics’. The first series of etudes is dominated by one of the oldest sound-synthesis techniques: the ring modulation. A double ring modulation transforms the keyboard into a highly unequal tonal area with clearly distinguishable registers. This sonic heterogeneity is explored in short etudes, each of which highlights one kind of movement. Pulse, continual microvariation and speed are the most conspicuous ingredients. Das Wohlpreparierte Klavier I was commissioned by TRANSIT 2009, where it was premiered by Frederik Croene on 24 October.

Frederik Croene, piano

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