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This dynamic library features Flemish Harpsichord, Frensh Harpsichord, Virginal and Fortepiano.

The harpsichords have been sampled so that you can get both manuals separately and combined. You can even use a key switch to change the registration (from upper manual only, to lower manual to both at the same time) while playing. All instruments are captured with their release sounds, giving them an unbelievable realistic quality.

The Sampled Fortepiano

Making a beautiful instrument more available by Howland Auchincloss

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732) invented the piano during the period 1680-1720, but its acceptance, especially in his native Italy, was very slow, and it is said that he was very disappointed. However, in Germany and Austria very active development took place, and by 1770 there was an instrument, now universally referred to as the "fortepiano," sometimes as the "Viennese fortepiano," which was enthusiastically accepted in the general area of Austria and southern Germany. By far the most important aspect of the subject today is that Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven wrote many compositions for the fortepiano, and some of these compositions were for their students and therefore vary greatly in technical difficulty. Almost surely, anybody who has taken piano lessons for a few years or more has worked on one of these works, but, almost always they were playing a modern piano, not a fortepiano. In the period 1770-1790 the steel frame had not yet been devised, and the metallurgy of string manufacture was different than in the mid-19th century. These factors combined to make string tension much reduced. In order to avoid excessive force on the string, the weight of the hammers was much less. The end result of these limitations and of the builders' adjustments to them was, somewhat surprisingly, that the action of most fortepianos was very light. The tone was clear and even penetrating, but the sustain was much less. To like the fortepiano today, even if one's pleasure is limited to listening to recordings, is to take a step backwards in time. After about 1800 the fortepiano was gradually replaced almost as completely as it had replaced the harpsichord. Essentially, although the term "fortepiano" was still sometimes used, the actual instrument came more and more to resemble the modern piano. By 1860 the American Steinway Piano is said to have had virtually all of the essential features of the modern piano. It is not a great exaggeration to say the the fortepiano disappeared in the same way that the harpsichord and the lute disappeared. Even more unfortunately, the revival of interest in "early music" at the turn of the 20th century did not include the fortepiano. Major credit for the return of the fortepiano to the concert stage and to recordings belongs to a relatively small group of scholars, performers, builders and restorers in Europe and in America dating from the 1970s. Malcolm Bilson, now at Cornell University, was the driving force in Norht America. However, the price of a new fortepiano reconstruction is high, the instrument requires frequent tuning, and the number of keys is considerably less than is the case for the modern piano. It is therefore not satisfactory as a general-purpose piano. As a result, it is still difficult for most pianists, amateur or professional, to gain personal experience with the very special qualities of this instrument which was so popular in Vienna more than 200years ago. With the present disk there are now two available sampled fortepianos, and we no longer can say that the acoustic instrument is indispensable to the ability of a pianist attempting to create the sound of a Haydn sonata on the fortepiano. Certainly, the acoustic instrument will be seen as essential for the concert hall. The Boldersounds Fortepiano ( has been available since 1999 and originated with a sampling session in 1997. The fortepiano used was the personal instrument of Malcolm Bilson, a noted teacher, scholar, performer who helped me arrange the sampling session. The sample editing was done by Dennis Burns of Boldersounds after some less than satisfactory efforts by me. The instrument was a copy of a fortepiano by Anton Walter, one of the best builders of the 18th century. The fortepiano used for the present disk is also a Walter piano, but in this case the instrument is a restored original. The sampling and editing were done in 2001, almost 4 years later. The later efforts benefit at a minimum from improved technology and also, probably, from the availability of a better instrument, but rather than look at the two disks as competitive with eachother, I would urge that they are complementary, because the fortepiano was not a standardized instrument. Together with the Post harpsichords and virginal they get the Gigasampler owner off to a good start with 18th century keyboard instruments. A frequent initial reaction to the sound of the fortepiano is that it is less beautiful than that of a fine modern concert grand piano. I believe that such a reaction will usually be changed if the player listens to good recordings. The clear sound and reatively short sustain of the fortepiano tends to favor the special elements of style in the music of Haydn and Mozart. The sound is different but not inferior. Another complaint often voiced is that a sampled piano is not (and probably cannot be) the sonic equal of the acoustic instrument as it was at the time of sampling. This is part of the general dictum that live music is better than recorded music. One answer to this complaint is that the sampled fortepiano is good enough to be an alternative to the modern piano, which is simply an "incorrect" instrument for playing music written long before it was available. Each player will make his or her judgment about what kind of "piano library" they want to have. Malcolm Bilson has told me that there are many fine pianos of both 18th and 19th centuries which deserve attention, and we can be optimistic that a library started now will grow in the years to come. There is one aspect of the fortepiano for which there is at present no simple way of copying at present. This is the very light action of the fortepiano previously mentioned, which facilitates extremely rapid playing. I have yet to find a digital keyboard which has an action comparable to a fortepiano. Therefore, if a friend was buying a MIDI controller, I would advise them to select one with a light action if their main enthusiasm was 18th century music.


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