Piano has become an integral part of music. Many musical notes do not seem possible without it. And many notes would not sound as good as they can do on a piano. Everyone must have listened with relish to Beethoven’s fifth, Gershwin’s Rhapsody, rock and roll of little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis. The piano can be played solo or with other instruments. It would hold its own nonetheless.
In fact it is the change in volume that was the last piano innovation to be perfected, and the hardest for piano builders. Experts aren’t in complete agreement, but the first modern-style piano was probably that built by the Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1709. It was at the time described as a harpsichord with both soft and loud!
The difference between the harpsichords that came before and the piano (or pianoforte) was the way the strings were sounded. Inside each piano the strings are tightened into tune – a grand piano looks a little like a harp on its side – and somehow or other these strings need to be plucked to make music. All that early harpsichords did was to use a mechanism to pluck the string instead of the players own fingers. This meant that you touched a keyboard to make the sounds but that you had no control over the volume – the string was plucked at the same volume however you hit the keys.
The modern style piano uses a different idea, and instead of plucking the string with by passing a plectrum by it, modern pianos use hammers to bang the string. This sounds pretty unsubtle, but in fact it is what really released the potential of the instrument by allowing the weight of your touch on the keyboard to affect the sound of the note. Gentle stroking of the keys will give you soft music, whereas hammering away can give you ear-drum shattering noise!
Not everyone was initially convinced by the new instrument, and even JS Bach, who went on to write the beautifully nuanced Goldberg Variations for the piano, didn’t like the instrument at first – however he became conviced and he gave the instrument his official approval in 1747. But by the time Mozart was born in 1756 or Beethoven in 1770, the piano had become an accepted favorite.
It is the piano’s ability to shine as a solo instrument, so wonderfully exploited by the great classical composers, that has made it such a popular instrument. It is also what has ensured that it has found a home in every kind of music since. Jazz, blues, gospel, swing, rock all feature the piano in a starring role. In many ways, it’s the perfect instrument.
Sica Delenius is the administrator of B Factory Music, your premier source fall of your music needs