Playing piano songs in fortissimo and forte is a delicate process involving gentle contact with the keys, layering the sound and savvy use of the sustaining pedal
I abhor violence. For some reason, fortissimo and even forte used to disturb me. Pity the piano being pounded violently like that. Does it not deserve mercy? Music is supposed to be soothing and comforting.
It took acquiring knowledge about musical structure, artistic image and expression to erase my ignorant prejudice. More so after I was taught how to play fortissimo and forte with elegance. Having learnt to produce the loud sound that preserves its quality of tone, now I realize it does create music that is soothing and comforting.
What I thought of as violent was the image of a guy raising his arms and hands high up in the air and striking down on the keys of the piano. No one ever does that. Where did that image came from, cartoons? When a pianist does raise his arms high it is to move to a key further away, to pause, or as an expression appropriate to the music he is playing at that moment. Never to strike a key loud.
On the contrary, to play loud, the fingers are placed on the surface of the keys without making a sound. With the fingers already in contact with the keys, press down on them using energy from the upper body and pushing backwards as though attempting to push the piano through the wall. Press all the way down until reaching the bottom of the keybed. Once you have felt the bottom, respond to it by switching off the effort. Meaning to say, stop applying any sort of strength towards the pressing of the keys.
The wrong way to play loud is to land on the keys from a height. I know it appears counterintuitive, one would think if the hand lands on the keys from a higher point a stronger sound could be produced, therefore better. But then, control over the chords and octaves is lost.
Fortissimo and forte phrases are made to sound soothing and comforting by layering the sound. Otherwise they will come off as mere loud violent noise. A phrase contains several groups of notes, it is not necessary to play every note loud. The ploy is to identify the strong base notes within the phrase and play only those notes loud, less so on the middle notes - thus layering the sound. Usually the strong base notes are the top notes in each group of notes. Example shown in Image 1.
The layering of the sound combined with savvy use of the sustaining pedal would have the fortissimo and forte reverberate gracefully across any space the piano occupies. It is because the sound produced is not cluttered by noise, which would have been the case if every note were to be played loud. Try playing loud every note in the phrase shown in Image 2 below to get the point.
The sustaining pedal would then do its job to connect the loud notes with the rest, resulting in a smooth sounding fortissimo or forte phrase. Savvy use of the pedal means to hold the pedal down, sustaining the note on which the pedal is held until just after playing the note on which the pedal is released. The action blurs the two notes (note held before pedal is released and the note after) together, resulting in a pleasant acoustic effect.
The effect is made possible because when pressed, the pedal mechanism raises up the whole damping apparatus off the strings, which prevents the strings of unplayed notes from vibrating when we play. Hence, all the strings are free to vibrate even when a single note is struck with the pedal pressed, many of them do slightly - adding a subtle richness to the sound.