It is February 1858: During his sojourn in Paris, Richard Wagner visits the salon of the widow of the piano builder Pierre Erard, and is so captivated by the sound of one of the instruments that he applies all his eloquence to convince Madame Érard to give him this concert grand piano (2.48 m in length, serial number 30320) as a gift. Wagner welcomes its arrival in Vienna as a major, even decisive source of inspiration for the composition of Act I in his epoch-making opera Tristan und Isolde. As the composer himself said: “The new piano flattered my musical sensibilities enormously, and the gentle night tones of the second act of Tristan came to me in my phantasies as if of their own accord…”
But what is it that gives an Érard from the middle of the 19th century its magical Romantic tone? The parallel stringing throughout, that must be mentioned first, results in an impressive clarity and focus of the bass range, which is nearly overwhelming to 21st century ears. Following from this is a completely natural and relaxed structure of the overtone series, which allows the upper range to be organically connected with the tonal foundation: a perfectly constructed “tonal pyramid”! Tonal characteristics like these are highly suitable for classical compositions founded on Baroque figured bass music and lend themselves especially well to the tonal textures of the Romantic period as well as its flamboyant and differentiated harmonic writing. From the point of view just mentioned, the absence of some design features in the modern concert grand piano, as can be seen in the frequently cited weak projection of the treble range and somewhat reduced volume of the bass range, which dispenses with organ-like pathos, can only be seen as advantages if a quasi-authentic interpretation is desired. The aesthetics of a slender and yet strong tone capable of being modulated allows a transparency of texture in the parts not possible to this extent with modern instruments. Thus, an Érard is like an eyewitness from the 19th century, a highly varied, lively century which was open to both history and the future, the effects of which are still being felt to this very day. To develop signposts for the future out of the past could thus also be a motto, among others, for his last recordings “Doppelgänger” (Knut Schoch, Tenor and Mathias Weber, Piano) and “The Sonatas for Piano and Violoncello” (Beethoven).
Mathias Weber (translation: Atelier de textes)