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Black & Brown

Ronald Brautigam
Piano & Fortepiano Masterclass

Music Hall, Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London, 6 November 2009

GSMD has recently received on loan a fine Paul McNulty copy of a 5-octave Walter fortepiano of c.1795 (similar to one owned by Mozart). Jane Booth, Head of Historical Performance at GSMD, welcomed famous fortepianist Ronald Brautigam to initiate it in an experimental Haydn/Beethoven Master Class, in which members of the piano faculty were encouraged to try the instrument.

Brautigam explained that his almost instant conversion came about very simply. He had worried at his inability to make Mozart sound as he wanted on modern concert grands and with a first opportunity to play a fortepiano everything fell into place. He has recorded the repertoire extensively; see my reviews of him in Haydn and Beethoven.

In a generous schedule, three students had a whole hour's tuition each before an invited audience including many of their peers (that contrasts with a common pattern for such classes, e.g. one last week at RAM was shared by sixteen trumpeters). Brautigam is intuitive rather than doctrinaire in his approach, and very persuasive.

One of the three was already studying early keyboard and revelled in this opportunity. Her lesson largely concentrated upon finger touch and lightening her address of the keyboard. She knew her chosen Haydn Sonata in A, Hob XVI:46 well, and was able to respond to suggestions and, I thought, to absorb them. A second was a Steinway man, clearly more comfortable in big playing for big halls, probably with a penchant for the major virtuoso repertoire of 19th & early 20th C and the Steinway's power was quite a shock as he tore into Haydn. He took ill to short spells at the "small" piano and did not find it easy to absorb advice instantly; his performance of the big EB Hob XVI:52 was perhaps overlearned and his approach ingrained.

The third student's session was the most rewarding for us. Her innate level of musicianship and flexibility allowed for quick responses and significant modifications to her Beethoven Op 2/2. Again, Brautigam was aiming at a more relaxed approach, with "all the time in the world" to negotiate difficult flourishes, and in one page marked piano he insisted that the many sfs should not automatically be taken as ff. She approached the Walter with trepidation - "it won't bite" said Brautigam - and was tentative on the smaller instrument at first. But returning to it some minutes later, she achieved what was asked of her to audience applause.

Hopefully, when developing her interpretations of the classical repertoire she will want to spend time on that instrument, and it will feature increasingly in the piano teaching at the Guildhall School.

Peter Grahame Woolf

See Musical Pointers reports of Masterclasses at RAM and on DVD