As August approaches, Edinburgh is suddenly full of posters advertising the thousands of Festival and Fringe events about to be unleashed upon us. You can feel the city is about to overflow with visitors.
One of the most popular of the several festivals which co-exist in the city in August is the Book Festival which takes over Charlotte Square and a portion of George St with an array of pop-up venues and an intense programme of events more or less on the hour, every hour for two weeks.
This year both Bob and I have been invited to speak about our latest books. His talk is on orchestral music, and he’s preparing recorded examples to illustrate his points. Mine is largely about piano music and I’d like to be able to play some live examples.
Because of the practical difficulties and expense of putting an acoustic piano in a tent for an hour, I’m going to use a digital piano. With some reservation though – I don’t consider myself an expert on the digital piano, and I’m not sure it quite conveys the beauty of the 18th and 19th century music I want to play. But live music is better than no music, so I’ll do my best.
It may not be widely realised that the digital piano works in a different way from the acoustic one. On the digital piano, each note is the recording of an individual note. A chord of several notes is basically the simultaneous playing of several recordings of individual notes which know nothing of each other.
On the acoustic piano, where there are steel strings that resonate when the hammer strikes them, the strings vibrate in sympathy with one another, especially if the note being struck is closely related to them on the harmonic series. If you press down the sustaining (‘loud’) pedal, which lifts all the dampers, every string is free to resonate with any other. This produces sympathetic resonances which contribute to the complexity of piano sound, and can be used by the pianist to enhance its beauty. If you are used to that sound it is very disconcerting to play a piano which doesn’t offer it. The digital piano has many advantages, and is developing all the time, but currently it doesn’t match the classic sonority of the traditional grand.