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Interview with Ronald Brautigam

Interview

Ronald Brautigam is a leading fortepianist as well as a master of the modern piano. He says it’s not so much the instrument as the music that’s important.

You are playing Mozart’s Concerto No. 20 as part of Aurora's Mozart’s Piano series. What stands out, for you, about this concerto?

It is one of only two concertos by Mozart written in a minor key, and is a lot darker and more dramatic than his other concertos. In Mozart’s D minor, death and the spirit world lurk around the corner (Don Giovanni, Requiem), and that rather gloomy atmosphere can be felt throughout the first and third movements. I have not played this concerto for some time, so it will be a real pleasure to put the music back onto the piano and have a look at it with fresh eyes. Studying and playing Mozart’s music is an ongoing process: you keep discovering new aspects each time you restudy a score.

It’s part of an evening titled Reels and Dances. Does the concerto fit into either category?

If anything, I would say that the final movement with its relentless drive and obsessive rhythm is not unlike Hans Holbein’s series of Totentanz (Dance of Death) woodcuts so the choice of this particular concerto is not such a bad one, albeit perhaps a bit on the dark side…

‘Studying and playing Mozart’s music is an ongoing process

How does it feel to be playing the concerto on a modern Steinway rather than a fortepiano? What is the difference for you, and for the audience, between the two instruments?

When playing with a modern orchestra, I prefer to use a modern grand piano to match the volume, colour and expression of their instruments. A fortepiano has a much lighter and smaller sound, which can be wonderful, but it doesn’t blend particularly well with the much richer sound of a modern orchestra. And let’s face it, in the end it’s the music that’s important, and in a lesser way the instrument on which it is played. I don’t play Mozart differently on a fortepiano, I do exactly what’s written in the score and try to make that work on a modern piano just as well as on an earlier instrument. Interpretation lies between your ears, the instrument is exactly what it says: an ‘instrument’ to bring the music back to life.

How will you be celebrating the Beethoven anniversary next year?

I have just recorded the five piano concertos on fortepiano together with the Kölner Akademie and its conductor Michael Alexander Willens, so that box should be coming out just in time for the festivities. And I will play a mini-series of three concerts with Beethoven sonatas on fortepiano at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw, with the last concert on or around the date of his birthday – no one knows exactly when he was born, including Beethoven himself!

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