A devotion to purity of sound: ‘Pianomania’

If you’re one of those children who grew up with piano lessons, you’ll appreciate “Pianomania.” If you own a piano, you’ll be inspired to dust if off and get it tuned.
 “Pianomania” was released in 2009 in Austria.  It won a German Film Award for, what else? Best Sound. At the San Francisco International Film Festival, it was the winner of the Golden Gate Award for Best Feature Documentary.
“Pianomania” follows the Steinway & Sons’ chief technician and master tuner in Vienna as he attempts to play matchmaker between famous pianists and the perfect piano. The man, Stefan Knupfe, is extremely detail-oriented, patient, diplomatic and works with a finely tuned sense of humor. His clients include French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, the Chinese-born Lang Lang, the Austrian Alfred Brendel, and fellow Austrian Rudolf Buchbinder.
You might have been able to hear a sour note from an old untuned piano, but these men can hear the slightest sharpness of tone. The fine tuning goes beyond fine measurements, padding and tightening of strings. A piano is tuned and adjusted for a particular venue. You’ll be able to hear the difference and that’s a credit to directors Lilian Frank and Robert Cibis.
This isn’t a Zen study of pure sound. Frank and Cibis introduce the tension of temperamental artists preparing for a performance or, as in the case of Aimard, a recording of Bach’s works. Each piano becomes an individual, one whose sale and subsequent unavailable status sets a pianist into mourning.
This 94-minute movie gives you a new appreciation for sound: in recordings and in concerts, for the people who work behind the scenes to bring the instruments into tune and for the people who devotedly play the tunes for us.
In German and English, with English subtitles. It’s German long title is: “Pianomania: Auf der Suche nach dem perfekten Klang.”
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