Pianomania (2010/2012)

by | Sep 4, 2012 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews

Pianomania (2010/2012)
Documentary on Steinway expert tuner Stefan Knüpfer
Pianists in the film: Pierre-Laurent Aimard, Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Till Fellner, Rudolf
Buchbinder, others
Directors: Lilian Franck, Robert Cibis
Studio: First Run Features [2/14/12]
Video: 16:9 color
Audio: German & English DD 5.1 or PCM stereo
Subtitles: English
Extras: Directors’ Q & A (on-screen text)
Length: 93 minutes
Rating: *****
A quite amazing film about the work of Steinway & Sons’ Chief Technician and Master Tuner in Vienna, Stefan Knüpfer. He works with some of the world’s top concert pianists in matching them to instruments that have exactly the elusive perfect tone they demand. He has to have nerves of steel in some cases, as the tastes of some of the pianist are so specific and sensitive. In a way Knüpfer is just as much of a crazy perfectionist as some of the famous pianists are. Some can tell when he makes even the most infinitesimal adjustment. Everything and anything can affect the piano’s tone. He jokes about a Japanese visitor finding a ball of dust on the sounding board of a piano. He told him “Put it back!” Moving huge Steinway concert grands on and off a performing stage on a moment’s notice is nothing out of the ordinary—just depending on a concert pianist’s whim.
There are humorous and suspenseful points in the documentary. Knüpfer even designs six reflectors which sit atop the piano to better meld it’s sound with an accompanying symphony orchestra. But when tried on a Bach solo piano recording they prove to have a negative influence on the sonics and are dropped. He also meets with the classical comics Ingemisco & Joo, who say he has better ideas for their sketches than they do. Much of the film is spent on the preparations for Pierre-Laurent Aimard’s recording of Bach’s Art of Fugue for DGG. Aimard believes Bach intended various of the sections to evoke the sounds of a harpsichord, fortepiano, pipe organ, and chamber orchestra, and he wants Knüpfer to continually subtly change the tone of the Steinway concert grand so that the different movements are closer to the sound he believes Bach heard inside his head.
The filmmakers say in the Extras they bought a small housewives’ handbook to get ideas on starting the film. It had a quote that “One saves 50% energy when one is satisfied with 90% of perfection.”  This film is obviously about that 10%. The general idea of the film is sort of like one buying a Masarati and having an Italian expert come with it to tune it exactly to your desires. In fact, in the film, Ingemisco & Joo talk about working out a sketch in which two concert pianists would be racers in a car race.
—John Sunier

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