The Sibelius Academy is a prestigious, university-level music school in Helsinki, Finland. It was founded in 1882 as the "Helsinki Music Institute" and renamed in 1939 to celebrate acclaimed Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
Recently, the Academy was able to acquire a very unique instrument — a quarter-tone piano, which provides an octave of 24 pitches rather than the traditional (at least to Western ears) 12.
The idea began to germinate in a Sibelius Academy dorm about 10 years ago, as pianist Elisa Järvi and composer Sampo Haapamäki began discussing the possibility of developing a new, more ergonomic quarter-tone piano. A few years ago, a one-octave version was created by piano technician Matti Kyllönen, and in 2014, a full-scale prototype was built by carpenter Osto Haapamäki.
The quarter-tone scale has a very modern-sounding quality to it, but has actually been around for over 100 years. While he wasn't the first to write with the this scale, Czech composer Alois Hába was one of the first to make it an integral component of his style. His first quarter-tone work was a suite for string orchestra (1917), and he went on to compose a number of quarter-tone piano works, including his "Sonata for quarter-tone piano" (1946-47):
The sound of the quarter-tone scale has become increasingly popular in the 21st century, and Elisa Järvi hopes to see that trend continue. "In the future," she says, "I'm hoping that I could issue new solo pieces for this instrument."
Learn more about the Sibelius Academy's new piano on the academy's website.