Rhinegold Photo credit: Beethoven-Haus Bonn
The Beethoven House seen from the garden with a bust of Beethoven by Riscutia

Josephine Miles

Beethoven’s pianos feature in new sound sculpture

8:43, 2nd August 2019

Recordings made with Beethoven’s Broadwood and Graf pianos are part of a new sound installation outside the Beethoven House Bonn, the composer’s birthplace

The sound installation ‘Harmonic Time Travel’ was created by American sound artist Bill Fontana, currently Bonn’s city sound artist 2019. A 70-minute sonic loop plays on eight speakers hanging from the first floor of the Beethoven House. Passers-by will hear street sounds and bird song alternating with passages of Beethoven’s piano music.

Special recordings were made using Beethoven’s Broadwood and Graf pianos which stand next to each other inside the Beethoven House. The Broadwood is playable whereas the Graf, Beethoven’s last piano, has never been refurbished and is not fit to be played.

Vibration sensors were attached to the strings of the Graf, and pianist Dmitri Gladkov played Beethoven’s ‘Variations on a March by Dressler’ (composed in 1782 when Beethoven was only 11) on the neighbouring Broadwood. The resonant harmonies recorded by the vibration sensors on the Graf formed the tonal basis of Fontana’s sound sculpture.

Bill Fontana in Bonn (Photo credit: Meike Böschemeyer)

Fontana said that the concept of acoustic memory inspired his approach to the installation. The Graf piano, an instrument which can now only ‘listen’ to sound rather than produce sound itself, provided an ideal vehicle: this piano would become a ‘hearing aid’ for Beethoven’s music, which the composer himself was unable to hear latterly due to his deafness.

Fontana hopes that his sound installation presents a dreamlike, sonic journey through time, with the ambient natural sounds acting as bridges between the piano sections. ‘It should seem a bit like a dream, like a hovering cloud of sound, an acoustic haze. But it shouldn’t be overwhelming’, he said.

‘Harmonic Time Travel’ is part of the Bonn Hoeren project, a joint initiative established in 2010 between the Beethoven Foundation for Art and Culture and the City of Bonn. The installation runs daily from 14:00 to 18:00 until mid-December 2019, keeping the Beethoven House alive while it is closed for renovation.


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