One Piano, Three Keyboards

Béla Bartók, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frédéric Chopin, Claude Debussy, Franz Joseph Haydn, Robert Schumann-Liszt


Donison-Steinbuhler 'DS' Keyboards



“[Carol Leone] has the chops for this wonderfully varied and intrepid program, displaying formidable technical acumen and a fine sense of lyricism. Her Haydn is crisp and sturdy, while his student Beethoven’s late work suitably introspective without losing the superb yet odd structure that couches so much of Beethoven’s later music. Chopin’s opus is quite a change, yet Leone manages the transition without a second thought, and the short step to Liszt’s Schumann arrangement proves mild indeed... all that matters are Leone’s ability to traverse these wonders successfully, and offer rigorous and thought-provoking interpretations, which she most certainly does. The sound is warm and enveloping, nicely captured at SMU. A fine disc, affectionately recommended.”
Steven Ritter, Audiophile Audition [November 2017]
"Each performance is carefully crafted with a great clarity of articulation"
Kim McCormick, SAI Pan Pipes [Sprilg 2017]

“Carol Leone presents a recital full of brilliant, exciting piano music from the standard repertoire. Leone plays everything quite well, and I was pleased to listen many times over the course of a month. She is up against formidable competition in every work here. Despite my having favorites for all of these pieces, I found this recital musically very satisfying. I would go out of my way to hear her play, and imagine that she is an excellent teacher.”
Harrington, American Record Guide [January/February 2017]
See "Personal Touch", a lengthy feature article in International Piano
[January 2017]
[ * * * * ] “a pianist with ordinary-size hands is hard-pressed to perform much of the music of the Romantic era and beyond. Carole Leone is one such pianist – but she has found a way to do something about it. More precisely, she has tapped into such a way: Canadian pianist Christopher Donison and Pennsylvania engineer David Steinbuhler have created special keyboards that have smaller octave spans than the now-standard one of six-and-a-half inches. By using two different DS keyboards plus a standard Steinway one for the same instrument, Leone is able to focus her performances on a new MSR Classics CD on the music she is playing, not being distracted by simply trying to manage the works’ technical requirements. This is such a marvelous advance from a pianist’s viewpoint that it is a wonder it has not been done before... From a listener’s viewpoint, of course, the means by which the music is performed is and ought to be transparent; what matters is simply the quality of the performance. And that is uniformly high here: Leone is a sensitive, careful and thoughtful interpreter of all six works on the disc. Whether the smoothness and evenness of her articulation is partly due to her use of different keyboards for different pieces is, for listeners, wholly irrelevant. What matters is that she offers a set of works that showcase piano sounds and techniques from the 18th century to the 20th, and she plays all the pieces with understanding and fine articulation... Each performance here is carefully calculated and played in a stylistically apt way, presumably made easier for Leone by her use of differing keyboards to make the varying demands of the works easier to meet. She meets them all splendidly, in any case, and thus offers a recording of considerable value both to everyday listeners and to her fellow pianists..”
Mark J. Estren, InfoDad [October 2016]
SILVER MEDAL, Classical and Solo Instrumental categories
GLOBAL MUSIC AWARDS [September 2016]
“[In the Haydn] Leone plays with drive and sparkle, and with plenty of wit. She builds crescendos through both texture and volume, gives independent shading to contrapuntal voices, and plays lyrical passages gracefully... Leone’s playing is polished and thoroughly thought through. And the recorded sound, both here and on the disc as a whole, is excellent. The Bartók, similarly, is very reputable playing. Leone’s rhythm is precise and her voicing of thick chords is entirely clear... it’s a fine performance of a sonata that makes considerable physical and emotional demands... Leone demonstrates a striking sensitivity to color and texture.”
Myron Silberstein, Fanfare [November/December 2016]
“Leone adjusts with no difficulty to the various keyboards. The artistic results are what matters and each work gets the interpretive elan of Carol Leone's abundant musicality, without the strain of stretching in Promethean ways. And in the end this is a superlative recital, with the whole historical stretch spanned in delightful ways without undue hand twisting. So what matters is the beauty and dramatics of the music in Carol Leone's hands. And for all that we have a definite winner performatively! Ms. Leone is a true artist.”
Gapplegate Classical Review [September 2016]
It is the rare pianist that doesn’t long for a larger hand span to meet the demands of the modern piano keyboard and the masterworks composed for it. In this recital of well-loved works for piano, Carol Leone breaks new ground by performing on a single American Steinway ‘D’ fitted with three unique keyboards, each having different key widths. As the recital progresses from 18th century to 20th century repertoire, Leone chooses a keyboard with progressively narrower keys, allowing for ideal mastery of the repertoire and sound production from the instrument.

We expect so much in our life to be tailor-made to fit our size. This morning, we got up, put on well-fitting clothes and shoes, and popped on our prescription glasses or contacts. We got in our cars and adjusted the seat, steering wheel, rear view mirror, and seat belt. Yet, somehow, when it comes to the piano keyboard, we persist in the idea that it should be “one size fits all.” This, despite hand-span research that has concluded that our modern conventional piano keys are too wide for 24% of male adults and 87% of female adults! (The average adult male has an 8.9-inch span and the average adult female’s is 7.9 inches.)

In 1998 in a fortuitous event, I came across an article written by Canadian pianist Christopher Donison in Piano & Keyboard magazine. I had only dreamed about a narrower keyboard, but what I read in this article changed my life. Mr. Donison and a Pennsylvania engineer named David Steinbuhler had joined forces to develop new keyboard sizes called the Donison-Steinbuhler Standard, and Mr. Steinbuhler was actively building and selling these keyboards! By 2000, I had my own university studio piano retro-fitted with one of these keyboards and I have never looked back. Today, my university owns a concert Steinway D that has, in addition to its conventional 6.5-inch octave keyboard, two alternate DS Standard keyboards: a DS5.5[TM] with a 5.54-inch octave, and a DS6.0[TM] with a 6.0-inch octave. All three were used for this recording.

Why have I chosen to play these piano keyboards? Using appropriately sized keyboards has improved my musical outcomes, kept my hands healthier, and expanded my repertoire. I am in the good company of those who use and used keyboards with alternate key sizes: Beethoven, Liszt, Josef Hoffman and Daniel Barenboim to name a few! (Barenboim recently unveiled a piano with narrower keys, called the Barenboim-Maene Concert Grand.)

Given the musical and technical benefits of playing on a keyboard that properly fits one’s hands, it is easy to make an excellent case for the use of the alternate sizes offered by the DS Standard. The case becomes more compelling in view of the unhappy fact that pianists commonly injure themselves on keyboards that are too large. These playing-related disorders are characterized by numbness, weakness and pain that negatively impact the musicians’ ability to perform. Barbaric! Instead of shrinking the keys, the majority of pianists stretch their hands for hours every day as if on a medieval rack.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, keyboard sizes were variable and pianists exercised their adaptability and flexibility. Because of mass industry production, 20th century keyboards became standardized. The close links between certain European male virtuosos and the major piano manufacturers in the late 19th century undoubtedly influenced keyboard size, which is designed to fit the largest hands, not the average. Pianists mistakenly bought into the idea that they themselves were as inflexible as the keyboards. Sadly, we became ignorant of our own natural adaptability to play keyboards of varying size. Today’s pianists should be encouraged to embrace the beauty and freedom of flexibility.

Why hold the keyboard size a constant in the 21st century? A recent study of university piano majors revealed that almost 75% of those surveyed wished for larger hands. Pianists all over the globe are now seeking to adopt this new ergonomic paradigm. The organization PASK (Pianists for Alternatively Sized Keyboards) is leading an international movement committed to convincing all major piano manufacturers to begin producing pianos with narrower keys. PASK is informing academics, piano teachers, competition organizers and concert venue managers that these piano keyboards have significant benefits for the majority of pianists around the globe.

It was with great joy that I made these recordings, and I offer them up to introduce a new paradigm and to encourage others. In the closing lines of the text to Schumann’s Widmung performed here in Liszt’s beautiful transcription, the poet speaks of being transfigured and being raised above his self to be his “best self.” As we explore the marvels of the piano repertoire, let’s acknowledge our human-ness and use our man-made instruments to become our best selves in making music!

Carol Leone [May 2016]

American pianist Carol Leone is highly active as a soloist and chamber musician, appearing throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. She performs regularly with the Grammy-nominated contemporary music ensemble Voices of Change, and as concerto soloist with the Meadows Symphony Orchestra. A successful recording artist, Leone can be heard on the Gasparo, Crystal and Augusta Read Thomas labels. Leone is a top prize-winner in piano competitions, including the National Beethoven Sonata Piano competition. As a teacher, Leone has received many awards, including the 2005-2006 Texas Music Teachers Association’s Collegiate Teacher of the Year award. She has taught and presented internationally in Russia, England, Australia, China, South Korea, Italy, the Czech Republic and Austria, and has seen many of her students themselves be successful in international competitions. Considered the world’s leading advocate and presenter for ergonomic piano keyboards, Dr. Leone has energized a worldwide movement to transform pianists’ artistry and wellness. Invited to conferences around the world, she passionately reminds audiences of the innate wholeness of any pianist and the new keyboard paradigm for elevating their music making. She is a member of the Committee on Wellness for the National Conference on Keyboard Pedagogy. Leone grew up in western New York in a musical family, performing as a child with her father as a jazz duo, and singing, dancing and playing piano and drums. At the age of 10, she dedicated her studies solely to classical music and to the piano. Her professional training included study with legendary Polish pianist Mieczysław Horszowski at the Curtis Institute of Music, where she received a performance certificate. She was a private student of Guido Agosti in Rome following a summer at the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, where she earned the coveted Honors Diploma. She also studied with György Sebo˝k, Earle Voorhies and Pamela Mia Paul. Dr. Leone is currently a piano professor at Southern Methodist University’s Meadows School of the Arts in Dallas, Texas and chairs its Department of Piano Studies.

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I. Allegro
II. Adagio
III. Allegro molto

I. Vivace ma non troppo. Adagio espressivo
II. Prestissimo
III. Andante molto cantabile ed espressivo


ROBERT SCHUMANN (1810-1856) | arr. FRANZ LISZT (1811-1886)

CLAUDE DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
L’ISLE JOYEUSE, L.106 (1904)

BÉLA BARTÓK (1881-1945)
PIANO SONATA, BB 88, SZ.80 (1926)
I. Allegro moderato
II. Sostenuto e pesante
III. Allegro molto

MSR Classics