My basic aim is to allow musicians and their audience to reexperience the act of playing and listening to instruments of the Classical era. Logically, the only way to do this is to reproduce the important acoustic and mechanical aspects of the original instruments. To this end, I prefer to copy specific surviving pianos. I hesitate to mix elements from different instruments of the same builder or to combine constructional elements from different builders, as this only dilutes the unique character of each instrument.
For the modern pianist, playing or hearing an accurately restored original instrument is often confrontational; the extremely light touch and the bright transparent sound are both completely antithetical to those aspects of the modern piano. Challenging as it may be, the potential for discovering new aspects of familiar literature is tremendous. I want my copies to provide the same opportunity for musicians and audiences to expand their horizons. To this end, I avoid attempts to make either the sound or touch of the instruments more "comfortable" for modern musicians.
My primary source of information is the examination of restored and unrestored original instruments in museums, private collections, and those which I have had in my own workshop. Additionally, an important source of inspiration has been my extensive exposure to the sounds of wind and string instruments of the era. No instrument exists in a vacuum, and a Classical piano should be capable of holding its own in ensembles of original instruments. A modern fortepiano which is overpowered by a quartet of Classical wind instruments or gut-strung violins is simply not a credible reproduction. To accept such a situation is to assume that composers such as Beethoven and Mozart were incompetent in the art of composition and orchestration, a conclusion which I feel is untenable.
Finally, I have found a tremendous amount of information hidden "between the lines" of original documents, such as newspaper articles, informative pamphlets written by builders, letters between builders and their agents, and comments of ancient musicians. The views of these "on the scene reporters" are invaluable for understanding the position of the Classical fortepiano within the larger musical context of the times.
I belong to a group of instrument makers who are dedicated to the concept of reconstructing historical musical instruments by "copying based on first principles". Our methodology is not to reproduce a given original instrument by merely duplicating the precise physical dimensions or location of each of its physical elements, but rather to duplicate the methods by which the instrument was designed and constructed by the original builder. Some of the aspects of this approach are:
The difference between a copy made from first principles and a literal copy is not obvious to the untrained eye. In both instances, the copy will appear identical to the original. The real difference is that working according to first principles allows the freedom of variation which naturally flows from the use of hand tools using natural materials. Much more importantly, it grants the builder a tremendous insight into the motivations and thought processes of the original makers, often providing explanations for "why things are as they are" which are unobtainable by any other analytical means.
The one aspect where I feel that departures from the original design are of no consequence is decoration. Surviving price lists and descriptions prove that old makers gave their customers a wide variety of decoration options, ranging from low-cost packages with plain veneer and no ornamentation all the way up to very expensive mahogany burl veneer with gilt brass ornaments. Therefore, I do not view the decoration of any given instrument as an inherent aspect of its musical identity, and my customers are free to choose whatever option suits their taste and budget. (N.B. Major case design variations, such as a round or square tail, are NOT aspects of "decoration" and therefore I do not alter the original case form.)