11.000 Strings - a microtonal universe for 50 pianos

It started with a dream: 50 pianos as one instrument. Georg Friedrich Haas has created a unique sound experience that is coming over us like a force of nature from the depths of the universe.

With 11,000 Strings for 50 Microtonally Attuned Pianos and Chamber Orchestra , Georg Friedrich Haas explores a microtonal space for 50 pianists on as many wall pianos and an ensemble. The composition was commissioned by the Busoni-Mahler Foundation and supported by the Ernst von Siemens Music Foundation.

Peter Paul Kainrath, director of Klangforum Wien, on the inception of the idea for this composition: "In 2018, I had the opportunity to visit the Hailun piano factory in Ningbo, China. Before each instrument leaves the factory, it is played continuously by automated machines for over 24 hours. I saw this on location – 100 pianos being played simultaneously. I immediately thought that for a composer like Georg Friedrich Haas, this kind of setup would be highly compelling, as he is one of the most enthusiastic proponents of "unleashing" traditional tonality through microtonality."

Georg Friedrich Haas, whom many consider the most eminent Austrian composer of our time, accepted the challenge: "It is one of these ideas that are so crazy that there is no other possibility but to say 'Yes!'" The result is a unique concert installation. With 11,000 strings, the composer leads us into a microtonal nirvana.

The world premiere in Bolzano (1 August 2023) was performed by pianists from numerous conservatories and universities, together with the Mahler Academy Orchestra. The first follow-up performance with the original version of the composition was part of the 2023 edition of Wien Modern festival: The ensemble of Klangforum Wien, together with 50 pianists from the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna (MDW), performed the thrilling piece for the first time in the Great Hall of the Wiener Konzerthaus (1 November 2023).

It is only thanks to the Chinese piano manufacturer Hailun Pianos, which shipped 50 of its pianos to Europe, that it was possible to realize this project.

No items found.

The concert installation

The visionary and ambitious project started with an idea, or rather a dream: No less than 50 pianos of identical construction are set at the center of a microtonal compo- sition, complemented by an ensemble consisting of 25 musicians.

To achieve the desired acoustic effect, each piano is tuned exactly 2 cents apart - which corresponds to the difference between the tempered fifth and the beatless fifth. Consequently, the distance between the piano with the highest pitch and the lowest is precisely 1 semitone minus 2 cents. Furthermore, the octaves must be “stretched” identically on all instruments; an effect that can only be achieved by using pianos that are completely identical in construction. The dynamic bandwidth of the composition ranges from massive, monolithic agglomerations of sound to delicate, subtle formations.

"I am writing music that develops its full quality only in a live performance. The difference between 11,000 strings on loudspeakers and 11,000 strings in the concert hall, surrounded by 50 pianos and 25 other instruments, is about the same as the difference between a powerful thunderstorm or an immense flood on TV or in reality (from a safe place, close to the forces of nature)," emphasizes the composer referring to the boundless energy of his work.

World premiere in Bolzano (1 Aug. 2023)
Set caption in image ALT
Concert layout for performance at the Wiener Konzerthaus (1 Nov. 2023).
Set caption in image ALT
No items found.

The Great Hall of the Wiener Konzerthaus is being delineated by the 50 pianos, serving as fixed sound coordinates. In between, the ensemble moves to various positions throughout the piece, with new constellations constantly emerging, while the audience gets to experience this concert installation from the inside, either seated or freely roaming the space in between the installation. Depending on the performance venue, the setup can also be adapted to various configurations, e.g., an ellipse, an octagon, etc. The pianists play with their backs to the audience.

Microtonality - How do we listen to music?

As a rule, we climb up and down ladders with our ear – with all the steps at the same distance, up and down, left and right. This has become too narrow for the composer Georg Friedrich Haas. He wants to fly and let his ear slide through a large space that is criss-crossed by waves instead of steps. The result of this approach is a new kind of weightless listening, freed from the ballast of static constructions.

Georg Friedrich Haas himself actually rejects the concept of microtonality, for him, the notion is “actually wrong”. After all, everything that does not correspond to the 12 pitches that are traditionally being notated in Western music, qualifies as “microtonal” – every orchestra sounds microtonal and therefore beautiful. „When I work microtonally as a composer, I do no more and no less than to organize what happens anyway, only in a new way,“ Haas says.

Of course, the exceptional feature of 11,000 strings is the set of instruments that are being employed in the execution of the piece – a large number of pianos. The piano, unlike string instruments or the human voice, is much less suited to exploring sound ranges outside of the twelve-tone intonation. In the case of the major third, the deviation from the tempered system is 7 hundredths of a tone - this is therefore played by a piano seven instruments away. The resulting major triad is much purer than the major triad heard on a traditionally tuned piano.

It is one of these ideas that are so crazy that there is no other possibility but to say "Yes!".
George Friedrich Haas

About Georg Friedrich Haas

Georg Friedrich Haas
(Photo: Harald Hoffmann)

Georg Friedrich Haas, who celebrated his 70th birthday in 2023, taught at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Graz (lastly as associate professor) and at the Music Academy in Basel. In 2013 he was appointed Professor of Music at Columbia University in New York and has been teaching composition there since.

Haas feels both rooted in the European tradition and strongly influenced by the aesthetic free- dom of American composers like Charles Ives, Harry Partch, John Cage and James Tenney. He also has repeatedly made reference to the musical mysticism of the composers Giacinto Scelsi and Ivan Wyschnegradsky.

In a survey published in the January 2017 issue of the Italian music periodical Classic Voice, 100 esteemed experts were asked to choose “the most beautiful music composed since 2000”. By a wide margin, they awarded first place to Haas.

His wide-ranging output, including numerous works for large orchestra, for chamber orchestra, instrumental concertos, eight operas, ten string quartets, a variety of other chamber music and vocal works, etc., is constantly finding new audiences worldwide – and not only at special new music events; his compositions are also reaching a traditionally schooled public. Haas has devoted his work to the utopian ideal (unattainable in its full perfection) of creating a new music that is both expressive and mellifluous – not despite but because of the fact that it is new.

No items found.

Photos of the world premiere in Bolzano: (c) Busoni-Mahler Foundation/Anna Cerrato
Photos of the Austrian premiere in Vienna: (c) Wien Modern/Markus Sepperer


Commissioned by / With the support of

Exclusive Project Partner: Hailun Piano Co., Ltd.

Technology Partner

Discover more

"Little I-Am-Me" - Georg Friedrich Haas
11,000 Strings at Wien Modern 2023
Image Gallery
Georg Friedrich Haas: 11.000 Strings - Trailer
Georg Friedrich Haas - the little I AM I
Georg Friedrich Haas - HYENA