Steingraeber & Söhne KG

Soundboard Transducers

A New Form of Artistic Application 


The use of electronics for pianos is “old hat”. Yet electronics have rarely served artistic and creative expression, if at all. They have mainly to do with muting, “player pianos” or pop music, which booms out of the soundboard of late.

Electronics offer a multitude of professional applications, however, including:

  • The ability to play in all historical and non-traditional temperaments or to switch to another tuning system in a matter of seconds! 
  • Live performances of quarter-tone music from the early twentieth century
  • Works for piano with live electronics from a sound source, that is, from the soundboard.
  • Booster function to increase the dynamic range of the piano, e.g. at open airs, by adding the transducer impulse to the normal soundboard vibration.

The first grand piano of that kind was presented on May 20, 2017 in Stuttgart’s Liederhalle at a concert involving artists from the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts. The trial by fire in Stuttgart was preceded by nineteen months of preparatory work, an initial tryout in concert at the Würzburg Music Conservatory in January 2016, and three months of programming and rehearsal work at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts in spring of this year. Robert HP Platz, Professor of Composition in Cologne, provided the impetus for this Steingraeber innovation. In 2016, he organized a performance of his composition, Branenwelten [Brane Worlds], in Würzburg with musicians from the Frankfurt Ensemble Modern and a sound engineer from IRCAM. Already in February 2012 and in collaboration with IRCAM in Paris, he presented computer-generated playback in the piano's own soundboard.



The transducers also provide access to of a variety of piano temperaments. This second application had already aroused the interest of pianist and Professor of Piano at the University of Arts in Teheran, Dr. Pooyan Azadeh, during a visit to Steingraeber in September 2015. In order to adapt ancient Persian music to the piano, he needed pianos with Eastern temperaments and microtones. Especially in Iran, Western instruments must also be capable of authentically performing Eastern music.

This is how the spectacular programme for the May 2017 concert came about:

1. Teil: Contemporary Music
Branenwelten [Brane Worlds] by HP Platz. The classic – acoustic – grand piano in a dialogue with itself ON TWO LEVELS: Pianist Clara Murnig playing the tradition instrument and simultaneous, alternately tuned electronic music, transmitted via computer signal by way of two transducers in the soundboard.

2. Teil: Charles Ives, Quarter-Tone Music
The spirit of optimism in the 1920s also led to exciting quarter-tone and microtonal music, which has nearly faded into obscurity, due to the lack of available instruments: A single quarter-tone grand piano still exists in a Prague museum. In Stuttgart, Charles Ives’ Three Quarter-Tone Pieces for Two Pianos rang out in the hall. Clara Murnig played live at the grand piano with quarter-tone playback (Electronics: Robert Hofmann) via transducers in the grand piano soundboard.

3. Teil: Mozart’s Fantasie in D minor KV 397 ... in five different temperaments
We first heard Mozart’s work performed live by pianist Clara Murnig - in well temperament - with traditional hammer action. The piano sound then continued with the use of its natural soundboard, but with the addition of the hammer stop system: first, in just intonation, then in Indian, Arabic maqam and, finally, Balinese temperament. The corresponding sound signals were sent to the grand piano via computer.


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