Instruments    -    How to Choose a Fortepiano

Choosing a fortepiano

A fortepiano is a major investment; the majority of musicians keep their first instrument for their entire life, even if that was not their intention at the time of purchase. Therefore one should go about selecting an instrument with the appropriate care.

Step 1 - which kind of instrument?

There is no such thing as an all-in-one fortepiano; between 1790 and 1830, south-German and Viennese pianos changed and grew as rapidly as have computers over the last several decades. Therefore, any one instrument will always be better suited for certain literature than others. Modern fortepianists - just like modern harpsichords before them - have begun to realize that they will need at least two if not three instruments to properly play the full range of Classical piano music. The idea that one can play Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schumann on one and the same instrument is just as unwise as the notion that one can play everything from the Fitzwilliam Virginal book to Rameau on a French double harpsichord. Thus, when buying your first instrument, rather than trying to satisfy all your desires at once, it is much better to focus on one body of literature and buy an instrument well-suited for it; hopefully, latter in life you will be able to acquire more instruments to broaden your palette. In making a choice, two factors will limit the possibilities:

Step 2 - The Big Question: "Modern" or "Historic" fortepiano?

The second most important thing a modern musician must ask himself before choosing an instrument is:

"Why am I doing this?"

Each person will have different motivations, and each will feel more or less dedication to the idea of "turning back the clock". The world of historical pianos is like a foreign country; some may view a fortepiano as though it were a second home for weekends and vacations, while others will want to move there, master the language, learn to cook like the locals, and partake in traditional life. Using 18th century terminology, we might call the former Fortepiano Liebhaber and the latter Fortepiano Kenner. If you don't decide which one you want to be, you may wake up some day and realize you bought the wrong instrument!

Good luck, and have fun in your process of exploration and discovery!