Pianomania is a film about love, perfection and a little bit of madness. more ▼
„The tone isn’t breathing. “ – complains pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, distraught. This is a typical sentence in Steinway & Sons’ chief technician and Master Tuner Stefan Knüpfer’s normal work day. Each piano has its own personality, each piece demands its own timbre, and every interpretation has a particular temperament.
Pianomania takes the viewer along on a humorous journey into the secret world of sounds, and accompanies Stefan Knüpfer at his unusual job with world famous pianists like Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Rudolf Buchbinder and Pierre-Laurent Aimand, among others. To find the right instrument with the necessary qualities, compatible with the vision of the virtuoso, to tune it to perfection and finally to get it on the stage, needs nerves of steel, boundless passion, and the extraordinary competence in translating words into sounds.
This unusual film by Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis tells – with love and humor – of moments of absolute love of attention to detail and perfection. Pianomania observes, from unique angles, the suspenseful search for the perfect tone.
Relaxing – closing one’s eyes – enjoying. But what is actually behind an award winning or a successful concert? more ▼
PianoMania illuminates the dark corners, goes behind the limelight, and discovers a blond piano technician. One is astonished to observe what a decisive role Stefan Knüpfer plays. Lang Lang, Alfred Brendel, Pierre-Laurent Aimard – the stars swear by him, because he is precisely as obsessed by the idea of the perfect sound as they are – out of love for perfection; and from those rare divine moments during which one approaches it.
The collaborative work between Pierre-Laurent Aimard and Stefan Knüpfer is at the center of the film. Bach’s „The Art of Fugue“ is to be recorded. Pierre-Laurent Aimard has decided in favor of concert grand Nr. 109 for the Bach recording. The film begins one year before the recording,
and the long odyssey of sounds for the two men.
88 keys, 230 strings on a cast iron frame, a weight of 480 Kilogram for the oscillations of the sensitive sounding board. Stefan Knüpfer wants to bring the best out of them; but what is this elusive “best’? Every piano has its own personality. Every composition demands specific tone colors. Every artist has an individual temperament and a vision
Knüpfer wants to study instruments from the time of Bach for Aimard. He experiments with sound absorbers made from felt and with glass sound mirrors. But as fate will have it, the number 109 grand piano is sold to Australia a few months later; and that is not the last obstacle that gets in their way. Knüpfer and Aimard meet regularly, and when the tension is so thick it can be cut with a knife, Knüpfer saves the day with his sense of humor. The road toward the pianist’s longed for “bravo” is long.
Stefan Knüpfer is a communications wizard; but he is also a technician who assembles, tightens, and fine tunes. He works with all his senses and produces pianos that give artists wings.
PianoMania observes Knüpfer’s suspenseful undertaking of searching for the perfect tone, from the interior of the instrument to the exterior, and in the full concert hall.
One afternoon, a rather sleepy artist in jeans and sneakers shows up. It is the Chinese star pianist Lang Lang, who will be giving a guest performance in the Viennese concert hall. Still suffering from jet lag, he has to choose an instrument to play. His overcrowded tour calendar leaves little time for individual settings. Instead, and almost shyly, he asks for a heavy bench that will hold up through his extroverted style of playing without sliding around. The Piano superstar completes his performance in the large hall in a dark suit and wild hairstyle. The bench holds up, and he receives thunderous applause.
The sketches of the comedy duo Igudesman and Joo always parody the elitist music world. Together with Knüpfer they come up with some of the craziest scenarios for the next show.
But then the atmosphere is again so intense that even the quietest air vibrations can be heard. An intake of breath remains an elusive moment.
One of Alfred Brendel’s last concerts takes place at the Grafenegg Music Festival. Knüpfer prepares the piano for him while the star pianist gives his directions humorously.
„The tone isn’t breathing“, complains pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard , distressed.
„There is no magic in that piano.“ ascertains pianist Julius Drake with resignation.
„…I wouldn’t say neurotic’ says the piano technician Stefan Knüpfer in describing his clients, „I would say special.“
The film’s point of view is totally observant; and the complex subject comes across as light as on the wings of angels. However, corresponding to the struggle of the protagonists to find the perfect sound, the sound recording of the film itself was made with the greatest possible effort. All the scenes were recorded in Dolby Surround quality and on up to 90 separate sound tracks. PianoMania is a veritable “Ear Opener”, an acoustic jewel and, last but not least, a valuable contemporary document of our time. Lang Lang is getting older every year, Brendl no longer performs in public, and Pierre Laurent Aimard, who was known to a faithful audience, has since advanced to become the demigod of 20th century music. Lilian Franck’s and Robert Cibis’ PianoMania will be watched and heard with enjoyment even 20 years from now.
- Motivation of the filmmakers
In order for us to be able to concentrate on the making of the film, we one day bought a handbook for housewives which was supposed to help us to waste as little time as possible in housework. more ▼
(Better Simply – Simply Better, by Bianka Bleier and Birgit Schilling). In it we read the following sentence: “One saves 50% energy when one is satisfied with 90% of perfection“. Isn’t that brilliant?
If we are prepared to make a 10% compromise in our aspiration to perfection, we save an enormous amount of energy.
That could be an interesting tip for many of the things we have to do. However, when Stefan Knüpfer records Bach’s „The Art of Fugue“ with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, then it’s about the last ten percent. Our film describes that threshold which does not facilitate daily life, but which enables great art.
Our goal is to make the secrets of the creation of enduring works of art perceptible. Ever since we’ve been making films, we have become familiar with the slow but steady work on a film project, which simultaneously becomes a slow and steady working on ourselves. This has given us new insights into Stefan Knüpfer’s and the star pianists’ particular devotion to their profession, or better said, to their vocation. We were able to feel the intense passion of our protagonists for their work during our research and our first days of filming. Their obsession should touch the film’s audience in exactly the same way it touched us.
At precisely the limit of human potential, something without a name occurs. Something that is bigger than one’s own life. Everyone can call it whatever he wants, for example “eternity”, “art” or “God”. We humbly call it „PianoMania“.