How big is my piano?

How big is my piano?


norman lebrecht

January 13, 2018

In a chamber recital, should the piano lid be on half-stick or whole?

Half, as you can see, was enough for Sviatoslav Richter.



  • M2N2K says:

    In sonatas with most instruments, short stick usually works better. In trios and quartets, the preferred solution depends on repertoire, players, instruments, acoustics…. In quintets, long stick is almost always a must.

    • Honza says:

      If only it were that simple!

      • M2N2K says:

        Well, of course, to elaborate on my summary above, one should take into consideration: 1) style and character of the piece, 2) abilities and preferences of the performers, 3) power and projection of the instruments they are using, 4) all of the parameters of the venue’s acoustics – and if all of that is easy for you, then yes, indeed, making the right decision about the piano lid is simple enough, when compared to rocket science and brain surgery.

    • Bruce says:

      Depends on how loud the piano is — and how loud the pianist plays. (Also the acoustics of the hall, but mostly the sensitivity of the pianist)

      I once was asked to listen to a group rehearsing the Trout Quintet. It was, if I remember correctly, the day of the concert, or maybe the day before. The pianist had the lid open on the long stick and she was completely overpowering the strings. They asked me what I thought and I said “the piano’s too loud.” Immediately a couple of the string players started making shushing motions with their hands, along with tense facial expressions that said “no no, don’t make her mad.” I didn’t catch on quickly enough though, and started to say “Maybe if you put it on the short stick —”

      Just as the pianist began to look very offended and huffy, one of the string players said “We’ve already had that conversation. The lid is going to stay where it is.” The pianist looked pleased and settled back into her seat. It was clear who was the boss of this quintet.

      I said something like “Oh. In that case, it sounds fine,” and left. There had clearly already been some strife in the group about this, and I didn’t want to cause any more.

      The performance was a tour de force for the pianist, with string accompaniment that was more visible than audible.

      • M2N2K says:

        When the musician is not very good, changing the height of the piano lid is not going to solve the problem, that’s for sure.

        • Bruce says:

          It wouldn’t have made her a more sensitive musician, but it might have made her a little quieter. :-/

          • M2N2K says:

            Perhaps; but when the musician is not, as you put it, “sensitive”, then the volume level is only one part of a much bigger problem.

          • Bruce says:

            Well yes. This pianist was also in charge of tempo changes (indicated or otherwise, mostly otherwise). She loved playing chamber music, I think because it gave her a chance to be in charge.

  • steven holloway says:

    In 1955, Edinburgh Festival Director Ian Hunter noted that Solomon, Pierre Fournier and Zino Francescatti were all giving recitals and concerto performances. He took the plunge and asked them if, as they would be at the Festival anyway, they would like to collaborate in a concert of piano trios. They agreed and rehearsed intensively at Solomon’s house in London. Francescatti described their first day together as a ‘coup de foudre’. In performance, the piano was on long stick, which astonished Gerald Moore, for the balance was perfect, the concert hailed as the jewel of that year’s Festival. This would suggest that the approaches of the artists, both to their instruments and to the music, is key when it comes to the piano lid. I must think that they chose long stick because their rehearsals had been a joy, their mutual understanding of the music and one another so great, that all were intent upon balance, nuance, and deference when called for. It would help, of course, that this was innate in Solomon’s approach to the piano, Fournier and Francescatti fine collaborative artists, and the three of them great friends from the first rehearsal on. They planned to have occasional collaborations in the future, a dream trio indeed, but that plan collapsed with Solomon’s stroke the next year. Of course, playing on long stick would be a disaster with some pianists.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    In Bruno Monsaingeon’s portrayal, Richter said that all he cared about in selecting a piano was a good pianissimo, nothing else. What a penetrating thought.

  • Sixtus says:

    In recording sessions, long stick is always preferred and at times even no lid would be best. The late recording producer Max Wilcox once showed me the “medium” stick he had made for those performers who were uncomfortable with a long stick. It was a psychological trick as the medium stick sound was nearly the same as full stick!

  • Robert Holmén says:

    There is as much sound coming out of the bottom as there is out of the top and the lid only moderates the top.

    • Bruce says:

      Still, if closing the lid can reduce the volume by 25% (or even say 15% on the short stick), that can be enough.

  • Kelvin Grout says:

    A real pianissimo can only be made with the lid fully open, plus of course a pianist who can actually produce said pianissimo, a rare commodity these days. I have been playing Lied recitals with lid fully open for the last 25 years and had no problem with balance.

  • Will says:

    I can’t quite believe that nobody has yet mentioned that it very much depends on whether the piano is e.g. a sensible 6’6″ grand Steinway/ Boesendorfer/ Yamaha, i.e. ideal for chamber music…(!)
    or whether it is an absurdly over-sized ( for chamber music) 9 foot ‘concert grand, designed to compete with a symphony orchestra. The Wigmore Hall in London seems to have only the latter, which is (using the word again) absurd!

    • M2N2K says:

      Why “nobody has yet mentioned”? Already in my very first comment here all the way up above you might read that “the preferred solution depends on … instruments”.

  • Gene says:

    Another variable is the damper pedal. Relying on it too much in chamber music or vocal accompanying will affect balances for the worse. Gerald Moore’s exemplary playing with singers was clear and transparent because he used the pedal sparingly.

    • M2N2K says:

      This would apply to sustaining pedal to an even greater degree.

    • Will says:

      ‘damper pedal’ = ‘sustaining pedal’?
      I assume you aren’t referring to the ‘una corda’ pedal ( actually ‘due corda’ pedal in our 21st century)?

      • M2N2K says:

        It has always been amusing to me when people proudly and confidently state their “expert” opinions with much aplomb while using decidedly wrong terms for the very subject they are talking about.