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Beethoven’s French Piano

A Tale of Ambition and Frustration

Using a replica of Beethoven’s Erard piano, scholar and performer Tom Beghin launches a striking reinterpretation of a key period of Beethoven’s work.

In 1803 Beethoven acquired a French piano from the Erard Frères workshop in Paris. The composer was “so enchanted with it,” one visitor reported, “that he regards all the pianos made here as rubbish by comparison.” While Beethoven loved its sound, the touch of the French keyboard was much heavier than that of the Viennese pianos he had been used to. Hoping to overcome this drawback, he commissioned a local technician to undertake a series of revisions, with ultimately disappointing results. Beethoven set aside the Erard piano for good in 1810.
Beethoven’s French Piano returns the reader to this period of Beethoven’s enthusiasm for all things French. What traces of the Erard’s presence can be found in piano sonatas like his “Waldstein” and “Appassionata”? To answer this question, Tom Beghin worked with a team of historians and musicians to commission the making of an accurate replica of the Erard piano. As both a scholar and a recording artist, Beghin is uniquely positioned to guide us through this key period of Beethoven’s work. Whether buried in archives, investigating the output of the French pianists who so fascinated Beethoven, or seated at the keyboard of his Erard, Beghin thinks and feels his way into the mind of the composer, bringing startling new insights into some of the best-known piano compositions of all time.

See a companion website for the book.

384 pages | 11 color plates, 37 halftones, 27 line drawings, 11 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2022

History: European History

Music: General Music


“In this one-of-a-kind book, Beghin presents a detailed study of Beethoven’s Erard piano and its significance for Beethoven’s music. This is a tour de force of organological research. Beghin’s association with the Orpheus Institute has given him the resources to conduct extensive research on a replica of the Erard instrument under controlled conditions. Beethoven’s French Piano achieves something truly remarkable, inviting us to rethink the now-receding paradigm of absolute instrumental music—serenely detached from any dependence on the physical world—through some of the very music on which that paradigm depends.”

Robin Wallace, author of 'Hearing Beethoven: A Story of Musical Loss and Discovery'

“Blending performance research and organology, Beethoven’s French Piano demonstrates how historical instruments can alter our interpretation and appreciation of music from the past. The complex story of Beethoven’s acquisition of and subsequent experimentation with his Erard piano has never been told with such verve and subtlety. Beghin’s insights challenge us to listen anew to many of Beethoven’s keyboard works.”

Robert Adelson, author of 'Erard: A Passion for the Piano'

Beethoven’s French Piano is a synthesis of historical, organological, stylistic, and aesthetic considerations. Beghin has given us keen insights into the relationship between the acquisition of Beethoven’s Erard and its influence on his musical language. Pianists, historians, and piano builders will be enlightened by this fascinating book.”

Robert Levin, Harvard University

 “Expert . . . the book is lavishly illustrated with printed music examples, complex diagrams and pictures.”

BBC Music Magazine

"For their doughty efforts, Tom Beghin and his team of researchers and instrument builders deserve every piano lover's thanks."

International Piano Magazine

"When a leading fortepianist-scholar teams up with a world-renowned piano builder plus experts in various scientific and technical fields, and a group of talented and curious students to investigate every imaginable artistic significance of the Erard fortepiano Beethoven received in 1803, the results are revelatory. . . Beghin exhibits his research discoveries with total commitment, imbuing every moment of his playing with vital conviction to produce a Beethoven unlike any you’ve heard before."

Early Music America

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Abbreviations
Introduction. Parallel Tales
1. Aspirations and Entanglements

Vignette 1. The Letter
(by Tilman Skowroneck)
2. The Psychology of Waiting
3. Malleability of Tone
4. The Lure of una corda

Vignette 2. Two Visitors in Paris
(with Robin Blanton, Michael Pecak, and Tilman Skowroneck)
5. The Perfect Instrument
6. An Unlikely Competitor
7. Continuous Sound

Vignette 3. A Gift Not a Given
(with Robin Blanton)
8. The Vertical/Horizontal Paradox
9. A Grand Sonata
10. A Prize-Winning Teacher

Vignette 4. Building a Replica
(Chris Maene in conversation with Robin Blanton)
11. Revisiting the Revisions
12. Mixing Sound
Epilogue. Time and Resonance
Appendix A. Beethoven’s Erard: A Timeline
Appendix B. Op. 53, 54, and 57: A Timeline

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