Extended Piano Techniques in Theory, History and Performance Practice

Luk Vaes
Supervising team:
Prof. Frans de Ruiter
Musician type:
cluster and glissando techniques, extended techniques, historically informed performance practice, piano, prepared piano, string piano
18th century music, 19th century music, 20th century music



So-called "extended techniques" have suffered a consistent lack of understanding from a theoretical, historical and practical point of view. 

Although most of them – e.g. playing directly on the strings, cluster- and glissando-techniques – exist in a substantial part of the repertoire for the piano and have done so for more than a couple of centuries now, the use of the techniques on stage still sparks off negative reactions by audiences, composers, performers and tuners as well as owners of pianos. Any one-sided approach towards appreciation has proven to be inadequate: academic analyses do not succeed in handling the matter satisfactorily, endeavors by musicians to teach and advise on the "proper" use of the techniques have come short of applying an in-depth and a historically informed perspective. A comprehensive and exhaustive survey of the extended techniques as a whole can serve to alleviate the risk that the relevant repertoire sinks into oblivion, contributing to a reassessment of the subject, in turn benefitting contemporary professional performance practice, concert programming, composers’ interest and musical as well as music-historical education. The subject and its related terminology are scrutinized and (re)defined where necessary. The acoustical properties of the techniques are explained from the perspective of the performer to ensure proper insight in the way they produce sound. Over 16.000 compositions have been considered to write the history of improper piano playing, comparing manuscripts with first and subsequent editions of solo as well as chamber and concerto music, original compositions as well as transcriptions, from the "classical" as well as the "entertainment" sector. Original preparations collected by John Cage were tracked down and described in minute detail so that alternatives can be considered on the basis of professional information. Historical recordings as well as personal experiences and interviews with composers are used to pinpoint historical performance practices. To help the pianist prepare for concerts with the relevant repertoire, measurements of the internal layout of the most common grand pianos are listed in order to anticipate possible problems in advance.

Related events

18 December 2009 (20h00)

Early Treasures

Luk Vaes' first PhD concert

Luk Vaes played works for piano, organ, harpsichord, clavichord by Balbastre, Corrette, Beethoven, Haydn, Clementi, Moyreau, Rust and Wernicke. 

22 december 2009 (16h15)

PhD Ceremony Luk Vaes

Leiden University

Luk Vaes publicly defended his doctoral thesis Extended piano techniques: in theory, history and performance on December 22nd, 2009.