Posted by: rbbadger | September 12, 2009

Haydn’s piano

The piano has changed a great deal since its invention by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 18th century.  It came into its own in the classical period.  A huge amount of music was written for it by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert.  The piano changed more during the 19th century.  By the 1860s, cross-stringing and the metal frame became standard. 

In this short video, the fortepianist Malcolm Bilson plays the type of instrument that Mozart and Haydn played.  It is a great deal lighter and a bit smaller than today’s concert grand.  He is playing in Esterhaza Castle, once the home of the Esterházy princely family who employed Haydn.  The palace is located in Fertőd, Hungary.  It is a bit like an Austro-Hungarian Versailles.  It rivals even Schloss Schönbrunn, once the palace of the Hapsburg Emperors, in splendour.  It is perhaps the ultimate aristocratic caprice.  Prince Nikolaus had a hunting lodge in this part of rural Hungary.  When he became the prince, he decided to build his summer palace in the area.  Many of the servants and musicians, Haydn included, felt isolated, as they often had to leave their wives and families in Eisenstadt, the Austrian city where the main palace of the Esterházy family was located.  As the story goes, once the prince had been spending more time at his summer palace than everyone had expected.  Haydn composed a symphony to give the prince a hint that everyone wanted to go home.  Symphony No. 45 “Farewell” ends with a slow movement.  One by one, the musicians leave the stage until the movement is finished by the two violinists alone.  Apparently, the prince got the hint and everybody packed up and returned to Eisenstadt the next day.

Malcolm Bilson is one of the most important figures in the period performance movement.  He specialises in playing on the types of pianos that Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven would have known. 



  1. Thanks! That’s a beautiful palace, but I would want to go home to my family after a while there too. And that piano has a nice sound. Don’t you like how the white keys are black and the black are brown?

  2. So pretty! I liked the story. 🙂

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