Wednesday, October 27, 2010


Yesterday afternoon I saw the Austrian documentary Pianomania at the Berlin & Beyond Film Festival at the Castro Theatre. The film follows Steinway piano technician Stephan Knüpfer as he tirelessly goes about selecting, tuning, tweaking & even reconstructing the instruments. One is reminded that the concert grand piano is also an Industrial Age machine. The strangely engaging Mr. Knüpfer comes across as both mild-mannered & happily obssessed, not quite able to conceal his impish delight.

The documentary largely focuses on his year-long preparation of a piano for Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recording of Bach's Art of Fugue, & this comes across as a true collaboration between 2 equally persistent artistic personalities. There are also glimpses of Mr. Knüpfer at work with Lang Lang, Till Fellner, Julius Drake, Ian Bostridge, Rudolf Buchbinder & the formidable Alfred Brendel.

The film has no commentary, so there were a few inexplicable moments, such as when Mr. Knüpfer demonstrates a machine that bounces a tennis ball against the piano strings. I was intrigued by the experiment of adding reflector panels to the piano, which reminded me of the lower lid invented by Daniell Revenaugh, which was subsequently banned by Carnegie Hall. The film ends with a wholly absurd sequence in which Mr. Knüpfer replaces a piano leg with a violin, to the wary astonishment of musical comedy duo Igudesman and Joo.

PhotobucketI walked into the screening exactly at 5pm, & the audience was not large, though there were also many late arrivals. Before the screening, festival president Rudolf de Baey demanded that the audience tell him why he was wearing red & white. It was in honor of Austria's National Day.

§ Berlin & Beyond Film Festival

Directors/Writers/Producers: Robert Cibis, Lilian Franck
Austria, Germany (2009)

Tuesday, October 26 at 5:00pm
Castro Theatre, San Francisco


Immanuel Gilen said...

Funny. That's exactly what the King does to us unsuspecting Belgians on our National Day...

y2k said...

Uh! I wish I had checked the Museum of Fine Arts film schedule - the next (and final) showing is this Friday and I can't attend. The doc sounds very interesting; maybe it'll come around Boston again in a few months to a different theatre.

This reminds me a bit of Note by Note, which was shown on PBS last year. Have you seen it?

Axel Feldheim said...

IG: Oh dear. Well at least the Castro audience, being mostly Americans, had an excuse for not immediately coming up with the right answer.

y2k: I do hope you get to see it somewhere. I think Pianomania is very interesting for classical music audiences, especially for its behind-the-scenes look at rehearsals & recording sessions. However, it is hard for me to imagine it reaching a general audience.

Axel Feldheim said...

y2k: & thanks for pointing me to Note for Note. I did not know about it, but I must see it. It definitely looks like it has overlap with Pianomania. Both movies could be seen as major PR for Steinway!