Anil Srinivasan's workshop on the history of the pianoforte was a series of melodic postcards spanning centuries

“I Love A Piano,” Irving Berlin's anthem to the keyboard, underlines why the pianoforte occupies a unique place in the world of music. A symbol of grandeur and refinement on the concert stage, this musical instrument with its ebony wood, ivory keys, felt hammers and brass strings is a work of art. At ‘A Presentation on the Piano's Journey through Musical History', sponsored by Casio, and held as part of The Hindu Friday Review November Fest, Anil Srinivasan, who has spent most of his career in the frontlines of the city's Western music scene, branched out, revealing himself not only as an elegant performer but also as a veritable authority on the history of the pianoforte.

He began with the legend of how a wood and string instrument managed to capture the imagination of medieval Europe, how the early piano was a descendant of the Eastern santoor and the Western dulcimer, on the musical styles of four centuries and how composers themselves perceived the piano.

At the Seva Sadan Prayer Hall which opened out to a banyan tree nodding gently in the breeze, Anil underlined the instrument's journey around the world by playing musical examples, both short pieces and excerpts of longer ones, from a Chopin tail-piece (which inspired the M.S. Subbulakshmi favourite, ‘Kaatrinile Varum Geetham') to Für Elise, ‘Summer of 69', the James Bond theme and Pachelbel's Canon in D.  

Anil mathematically mapped out the keyboard on the Casio Celviano and delineated how an early harpsichord would have sounded. He drew the ear of the audience to the use of the number of octaves and the texture and spoke of how master piano-makers such as the pioneering Cristofori, the brilliant Stein, the classic Steinway and the modern Yamaha pushed the boundaries of tonality. This he supported by reading from Christian Jacq's book on Mozart, The Great Magician.

Anil journeyed through the French Revolution and the changes in the arts that swept Europe post-1789 heralding the Romantic Era with its accompanying emotional graphology and unfettered expression. For this, he played a poetic Chopin composition that used every dynamic to create music that “wrapped around you like a cloak”. He went from chirpy Chopin to pastoral Schubert and finished with how colonialism took the pianoforte to far-flung corners of the Earth where it has developed its own local flavour. He ended his lecture drawing notice once again to the East-West connect with a fine rendition of ‘Vande Mataram'.

So fine that it made you want to hum along with Irving Berlin.

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