Essay about The Evolution of the Piano

Submitted By la7167
Words: 5055
Pages: 21

“The latter half of the 18th century saw a greater diversity of stringed keyboard instruments in general use than at any other time in history.”[1] This time of diversity happens to coincide with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s short life from 1756 to 1791. He was known to play and compose for the clavichord and harpsichord, and later, for the fortepiano, which became his favorite. Mozart wrote an astonishing number of great compositions by any standard but his achievement is particularly impressive because he died at the young age of 35. During his lifetime, Mozart wrote over 600 compositions, including around 100 surviving solo piano works. Among these are: eighteen sonatas, seventeen sets of variations, works for four hands, Fantasies, and many easier works including Minuets. Musicologists agree that the works from Mozart’s childhood and adolescence seem to have been written for clavichord or harpsichord, and works written after 1777 were intended for fortepiano. There are some differences in each of the keyboard instruments which had an effect on the style of the music. In order for today’s pianist to interpret this music on the modern piano, it is necessary to understand how these differences among the three keyboard instruments, such as dynamics, distinct timbres, and sustaining power, affected the music written for them. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was born on January 27, 1756 in Salzburg, Austria, during the time in which the classical style was growing and developing. This time of development, known as the Pre-Classical period, lasted from around 1730 to around 1770. During this early classical period, many musical characteristics were developing which reached their peak during the years from around 1770 to around 1820, which are known as the high classical period. The music of the classical period was a reaction to the formalism, rigidity and seriousness of the Baroque. Seriousness was avoided and polyphony of the Baroque was replaced by a homophonic texture. During the early classical period, the basso continuo of the Baroque gradually declined, and the fortepiano, which doesn’t gain in popularity until the 1770’s, was only occasionally used. The dynamics of this early period were terraced as well as gradual. During the classical period, composers wrote pieces with contrasting mood changes within the same movement resulting in more variety. There are contrasting themes and contrasts within the theme itself. Rhythm is also flexible and may vary suddenly or gradually throughout the piece. The texture of the music during this period is mostly homophonic, but this too is subject to variety. A piece may change from homophonic to a polyphonic texture within a single movement. The melodies of the classical period are short, clearly defined and easy to remember. They are often made up of two phrases equal in length. There is a greater range of dynamics in the high classical period and the use of crescendo and decrescendo emerges. The pianoforte replaced the harpsichord around 1775 due to the gradual dynamic changes and the desire to have a more expressive instrument than the harpsichord. The size of the orchestra increased and evolved as a standard group of four sections: string, woodwinds, brass, and percussion. A new emphasis was given to tone color of individual instruments, resulting in variety and rapid changes of tone color. During the Classical Period, several new forms became widely used. They are Theme and Variations, Minuet and Trio, Rondo, and Sonata form, also called Sonata-allegro form. In a Theme and Variations, the theme or basic musical idea, is repeated and changed each time. The Minuet is in ABA form and originated as a dance in ¾ during the Baroque period. The Trio originally was intended for three instruments in the Baroque, but in the Classical, more than three could be used. A Rondo has a main theme which alternates with other themes. For example,…