4 Things I’ve Learnt Playing On A Period Instrument

I recently purchased a Broadwood Square Piano which was built in 1814. This is the kind of instrument composers of the classical period would have been used to, and is very different from a modern piano. You can watch my YouTube video where I compare this period piano with a modern instrument, see here

I have found that playing on this period instrument can be very useful in helping me understand how composers of this time might have interpreted their music and I wanted to share a few thoughts on this with you:

1. Smaller dynamic range

Period instruments have a delicate tone and certainly don’t achieve the big fortissimo sounds available on a modern grand piano. We need to bear this in mind when playing music of this period and grade our dynamic contrasts accordingly.

2. Lighter touch

The keyboard has a much lighter touch and shallower key depth. This does take a bit of getting used to, but in some ways it makes ornaments and passage work easier to play. It also lends itself to using a slightly detached articulation which suits much of this music well.

3. Pedal

On my Broadwood instrument the damper pedal is operated by the left foot. Other pianos of this time didn’t have a damper pedal at all and on some it was operated with the knee. Music of this period is much less reliant on the pedal than later Romantic music. It’s certainly worth learning pieces without the pedal first and only adding it where required.

4. Keyboard range

The range of notes available is smaller with 67 keys rather than the 88 found on modern pianos. Obviously music of this period is written with this in mind but when improvising cadenzas it’s worth thinking about this.

I’m looking forward to sharing more performances on this period instrument with you and you can follow me on patreon.com/thesquarepianoplayer to access all my Broadwood music videos and much more content.

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