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Jason Crews

MTC 205
10:00 AM MWF

Ever since its conception, “The sound of the piano has been wedded to

our psyche”, and “has become as important to music as the printing press was to

literature.” If you were to visit any one home at random it is likely that you would

find a piano, and as such its presence in society has become taken for granted,

but society hasn’t always accepted the piano. Quite the contrary, shortly after its

development Voltaire said “The newcomer pianos will never replace the

harpsichord.” Even Bach said he didn’t like “newfangled piano” at first, though he

later learned to love the instrument and compose several different works

specifically for piano.

The piano isn’t the first of the keyboard instruments to gain popularity

throughout the ages. In fact, its immediate predecessor, the harpsichord,

enjoyed much musical success. The harpsichord produced a musical tone by

plucking the string with a hook, while the modern piano strikes the string with a

felt hammer. The plucking could only produce one dynamic volume level when

plucking the strings, and so the many harpsichords would contain many different

sets of string to provide some dynamic variety. It wasn’t until Cristofori invented

a mechanism to strike the keys that would allow a keyboard instrument to

produce many different dynamic levels with only a single set of strings. While

this did make one aspect of the piano simpler, the piano was “a product of the

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industrial age” comprised of thousands of different parts and often taking a very

long time to assemble.

Their have been many famous composers and performers on the piano

throughout the ages most leaving an everlasting impression not only on the

piano, but on the wider world of music. Beethoven was, perhaps, one of the first

creating “powerful emotions, never heard before on the piano.” Beethoven

created peaces such as “Fur Elise”, Sonata in G, and Sonata Pathetique.

Later Dusek was taught on the harpsichord in Vienna by Georg Christoph

Wagenseil and established himself around 1770 in Prague as a successful

keyboard teacher. Mozart was his guest in his Villa Bertramka in Kosire, and

finished at least two of his major works there: in 1787 the opera Don Giovanni

and probably also La clemenza di Tito in 1791.1

Dusek's wife Josepha Hambacher had been taught by him and was a

famous pianist and soprano. She sang important soprano roles in Mozart operas

in early performances, and Mozart's concert aria Bella mia fiamma was written

for her. Dusek composed sonatas, variations and concertos for harpsichord and

piano and several symphonies and string quartets.2 It was during his lifetime that

he became “the piano became the most popular instrument in the home.”

Franz Liszt was a Hungarian virtuoso pianist and composer. He was a

renowned performer throughout Europe during the 19th century, noted especially

for his showmanship and great skill with the keyboard. Today, he is generally

1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frantisek_Xaver_Dusek
2
Ibid

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considered to be one of the greatest pianists who ever lived, despite the fact that

no recordings of his playing exist.3

Liszt studied and played at Vienna and Paris and for most of his early

adulthood toured throughout Europe giving concerts. He is credited with

inventing the modern piano recital, where his virtuosity won him approval by

composers and performers alike. His great generosity with both time and money

benefited the lives of many people: victims of disasters, orphans and the many

students he taught for free.4

Clara Schumann considered herself a performing artist rather than a

composer and no longer composed after age thirty-six. It is suggested that this

may have been the consequence of the then prevalent negative opinions of

women's ability to compose, which she largely believed as her statements show:

"I once believed that I possessed creative talent, but I have given up this idea; a

woman must not desire to compose --there has never yet been one able to do it.

Should I expect to be the one?" This belief influenced her composing, as well as,

perhaps, the intimidating geniuses of Brahms and her husband, and, without

doubt, the stress her fame placed on her marriage. She was considered an

impressive composer in her own right5, and considered by many to be “the most

influential female pianist.”

Chickering and Sons was an American piano manufacturer located in

Boston, known for producing award-winning instruments of superb quality and

design. The company was founded in 1823 by Jonas Chickering and produced

3
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Franz_Liszt
4
Ibid
5
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clara_Schumann

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its first piano that year. Chickering pianos continued to be made until 1983. Jonas

Chickering made several major contributions to the development of piano

technology, most notably by introducing a one-piece, cast-iron plate to support

the greater string tension of larger grand pianos. By the mid-1800s, the

Chickering piano was second in American sales only to Steinway.6

These are but a few of the influential composers and performers that have

graced the piano since is conception, but their have been, and their undoubtedly

will be too many more to mention in any one single publication. The piano has

proven, despite initial public resistance, to be a powerful and versatile instrument

that will most likely remain firmly engrained in society for years to come.

6
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chickering