The talk with the directors of the Warsaw Chamber Opera – Stefan Sutkowski, Edward Pałłasz and Krzysztof Kur
Stefan Sutkowski: – while listening to Chopin’s music today, the impression is that the great concert of instruments already are not used. The modern concert grand piano is the product of very remote epoch to the time Chopin’s music and romantic music. You can not draw far-reaching conclusions about the Chopin’s playing which was requiring an instrument highly susceptible (capable) in refine forming it’s it’s tone, in producing legato and technical proficiency – if the only available instruments from his time are few originals. The same applies to the music of Mozart: as to his music we could reach only with making a copy of the piano Walter, so the only chance to hear what sounded piano on which Chopin played, was to build a copy of the piano which he used in his time. An instrument similar to the piano on which Chopin gave his first concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris.
We wanted to be as close as possible to the truth, so we have asked to make for us a copy of example instrument of 1830 or – if it is not possible – of 1831. Wondering who could make a copy, we took into account Paul McNulty, which with whom we already had an exceelent cooperation when we were buying Mozart’s instrument. The requisite tender procedure very strictly defined a copy of which instrument you are interested. McNulty was the only bidder who met the conditions imposed by us, and the negotiated price – although high for us – turned out to be acceptable and also possible to cover by funds earned by the Warsaw Chamber opera.
We are delighted to be part of the world’s first attempt to build a copy of such piano. We are also had a good sure feeling because Paul McNulty found the instrument which with would serve as a model to construct our copy, also we knew that during our instrument the construction it will be monitored on an ongoing basis by Viviana Sofronitzky, pianist with extensive experience in playing such instruments.
Paul McNulty took part in the selection pattern. He said, first, that a live instrument – because it’s a big piano, so, what was used for performances in the presence of many listeners – is a museum of instruments Brussels, but then he found the instrument of instruments in the museum in Paris and finally modeled his copy after this.
KRZYSZTOF KUR: – In the tender documents, however, was provided a copy of the instrument from Brussels, because from the beginning we did not know that Paris will be even better piano meets our criteria. We thought at first, it will be an instrument in 1831, but after changing documents it turned out that “our” Pleyel instruments modeled after the piano from the museum in Paris, serial number 1555, which was completed in 1830 and in July of the same year sold to Mr de Villermay. Nice to know who played on it.
S.S. – It’s an unusual story, of course: like Paul McNulty we were bearing the risk that the project will fail. The instrument was built in one and a half years because making such a piano is much more difficult than building a copy of Walter fortepiano or pianos of Walter’s time. Pleyel from 1830 is much closer to our times than the eighteenth-century technology. When we heard sounds like this instrument, we were not any more surprised that Chopin wanted to play these pianos, wanted to have them at home, composing for them, and finally, also concretizing on them. The instrument was structurally well thought through and had to be also well executed in order for the copy to be so interesting.
EDWARD PALL: – The starting part of the work was made in Poland, producing the cast iron piano frame parts. There is still in our country the knowledge of how to cast iron according traditional technology.
K.K. – My visit of Paul McNulty workshop in Prague near Divisovie moved me in time. It feels as maybe factories in the early nineteenth century looked similar. For making some big part there were sometimes up to six people in working to help Paul; all parts there were made manually, means the closest possible technique for the old time. I saw the case of Pleyel piano from the thirties nineteenth century, which Paul had bought in Paris at the flea market of old pianos. This case was in such bad state that it was not any more good for any restoring, but you can remove the soundboard and see how successive layers of wood glued, were as thick bims were laid inside the wood out and how all internal parts were matching parts to each other. It turned out that the case is made of oak plywood 20 mm thick, which – to increase rigidity – with each side as added on glue 2-mm layer of wood by layers arranged vertically and all together covered with ornate mahogany veneer. From the outside, measuring instrument model in museum, it was impossible to see these details. In a similar frame made of 20-millimeter plywood, composed of three layers of plywood, continuing the string elements are 60 mm thick.
S.S. – Concerts, which was planned on a copy of Pleyel piano, require the orchestra from the time of Chopin. This orchestra is a team of Musica Antiqua Collegium Varsoviense – which was always playing only on historical instruments. The orchestra was founded in 1957. Now the orchestra is preparing itself to perform on instruments from the first period of the Romantic era, a Pleyel /McNulty fortepiano also made in tuning romantic time, so everything will be kept according these lines. We will also use music scores from Chopin’s time, as the Variations on Mozart’s Op. 2, or from the time close to this period. We want to be the most authentic, Concerts scores are much older than used nowdays Fitelberg editions. In our theater, at al. Solidarity hads already launched the Chopin Year. The premises provided by our Lions Club was already organized an evening dedicated to the music of Chopin. Seven Songs of Chopin there singing by Olga Pasichnyk in partnershio with Eve Pelweckiej; interpretations were extraordinary, beautiful and moving. Key Warsaw Chamber Opera concerts are planned for 28, 29 and 30 September in the Great Hall of the Royal Castle. In each of them will be a piece for piano and orchestra with ome additional pieces. Together with the Variations on Mozart’s Op. 2 will be performed the duet “Là ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, sang by Marta Boberska andRobert Gierlach, who will appear in the opera costumes before and after the execution of Chopin’s Variations Viviana Sofronitzki. On the second day Natalia Pasichnyk will perform Concerto in E minor by Chopin, before which will be sounded the overture to the opera “Two Huts (Chatka, small Cottage??)” by Kurpinski. The third evening will be filled with Concerto in F minor, performed by Janusz Olejniczak, preceded of Concert Overture by Ignacy Feliks Dobrzynski. Collegium Musica Antiqua Varsoviense Orchestra will be led by Kai Bumann. We are thinking of recording all the works and to release CD albums.
E.P. – There is also a frame around these events. Some days before the concerts with Chopin’s music will be performed Passion by Joseph Elsner in Evelengical Church. Elsner was evangelic and passions are familiar concert form, Chopen, when he was in Paris tried to make it published, which means he valued it. On October 1 and 2 in our theater is also scheduled “Halka” in the Vilnues version.
S.S. – Our piano is the only such copy in the world. Paul McNulty is building a second instrument, but it does not intend to sell, saying that the price would have be more then hundred thousand euros, ie the price of modern concert instrument. Our piano obliged to be used on many occasions – festivals, courses, seminars musicology, because the main motive was interest to find out how Chopin’s music sounded in the time when he himself was performed. We might not be able to restore all manners of his playing, maybe not his subtlety and freedom, but we can get closer to sound palette, which had at his disposal. On most original fortepianos of the time playing is possible only with difficulty, and their sound capabilities are limited. By using a new copy, we can try to overcome these limitations, because possibly our instrument is sounding closer to the original than the two hundred year old originals.