Piano History Essay

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Have you ever wondered how the modern piano came to be? Although few people consider it, the history and developments in the manufacture of pianos is very important to the creation of the music we have today. The limitations and characteristics as well as the advancements of the early pianos affected the music that composers wrote for those instruments. We cannot fully understand the music unless we understand something of the instrument it was written for, so, with that in mind, it would be helpful to go over the early history of pianos.
It all began in ancient times with the creation of the psalterion, a dulcimer-like instrument. It consisted of a box shape with wire strings tuned to play a scale across it. Wooden hammers held in the hands were used to strike the strings to create music. Next came the clavichord. The clavichord had a keyboard added which was used to strike the strings by means of small copper plates. The clavietherium, coming next, used gut strings instead of wire, and they were played upon by leather hammers attached to keys. The virginal was also a keyed instrument, but in this case it used quills attached to the ends of the keys or levers to vibrate metallic strings. Composers such as Palestrina, and Byrd used the Virginal in the Renaissance. Even Queen Elizabeth herself played the Virginal. Next came the Spinet, which, similarly to the Virginal, used quills to vibrate the strings. The idea of a square pianoforte was likely to have been come from the Spinet, The Harpsichord, which was of a slightly similar shape to the modern grand piano, came after the Spinet. It used crow-quills connected to a key by means of a “jack” to play the strings. It had two keyboards; with one an octave higher than the other. A...

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...eyboards than on light ones: this has greatly strengthened my fingers. However, on this type of piano it is impossible to obtain the subtlest nuances with movements of the wrist and forearm, as well as of each individual finger. These nuances—I’ve experienced them at Chopin’s on his beautiful piano, with its touch so close to that of the Viennese instruments. Things that came out perfectly on my solid and robust Erard became abrupt and ugly on Chopin’s piano” (Eigeldinger). The Pleyel is much more responsive to subtle nuance than the heavier keyboarded pianos.
It seems clear that the choice of piano played a large role in the characteristics of the music written to be played upon it. Beethoven modified his style to suit the heavier Erard piano, while the delicacy and nuances of Chopin’s work could only be played on a lighter, more sensitive piano like the Pleyel.
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