New Orleans, Louisiana
June 26, 2016
June 26, 2016
August 28, 2016
The piano that Mozart, Haydn, and the young Beethoven used to compose the music of the classical era (often referred to as a “fortepiano”) was very different from the modern concert grand instrument of Steinway, Bösendorfer, et al. in a number of important ways. It was much smaller (~3’ x 7’ vs. ~5’ x 9’) and almost 80% lighter. The keys were 1/3 shorter and the keystroke half as long and much lighter. There were only 63 keys, vs. the 88-key modern piano. It also used knee levers rather that foot pedals. These differences made for a very different tactile experience when playing the instrument. More important were the differences in sound produced by the instrument. The sound was very light and precise, with lower maximum volume. The sustain is very short. As a result, the piano of the late 18th century looked, sounded, and felt very different from the modern version.
These differences had a major impact on the way classical composers composed, and it is difficult to completely understand music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries without understanding (and hearing) these differences. Accurate reproductions of Mozart’s piano are available but these can cost in excess of $60,000 new, due to the large number of parts that must be hand carved from wood, as well as the string/soundboard system. The high cost limits the availability to academic musicologists or anyone simply interested in hearing the music the way it sounded to Mozart and Haydn.
This paper describes a senior design project aimed at using modern techniques such as 3D printing and electronic signal processing to build a hybrid replica of Mozart’s piano with accurate feel and sound quality but at a cost of ~$2,000. The keybox and soundboard are accurate reproductions of the original, but the expensive, labor-intensive parts of the key action are made using 3D printing. In place of the strings, an electronic key velocity sensing system was developed and couples to a physical-model-based digital sound generation system. To reproduce the complex behavior of the original soundboard, a high-power acoustic transducer used for home theater applications was coupled to a dimensionally correct plywood soundboard.
To evaluate the efficacy of the hybrid system, acoustic spectrograms were compared to those from an actual replica 18th century fortepiano. The system was also evaluated by a professional fortepianist. The system compared quite favorably in terms of sound quality and had essentially identical haptic characteristics.
The prototype of the hybrid fortepiano was developed by three senior students over a three-quarter timeframe. Expected student learning outcomes included an ability to use the knowledge and tools of the discipline relating to acoustic measurement and analysis, 3D printing and prototyping, microcontroller-based sensing, analysis, and communications, an ability to design, fabricate, analyze, and optimize a complex physical system in terms of cost and performance, and an ability to communicate effectively in written, oral, and graphical forms. Assessment was performed using written reports and oral presentations as well as an evaluation of each student’s contribution to the project. Oral presentations were assessed at the end of the first and last quarter and written reports at the end of each quarter. Both written and oral presentations were assessed by all faculty members and a number of outside assessors from regional industries. The assessment of individual student contributions was performed by the project advisor and co-advisor.
Rosen, W., & Ertekin, Y., & Carr, M. E., & Davis, B. A., & Cassidy, M. (2016, June), Printing Mozart's Piano Paper presented at 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, New Orleans, Louisiana. 10.18260/p.25954
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