Musical Composition Altered by Invention of Piano
Some of the best music of all time was written by Johann Sebastian Bach, a composer of the early 1700s. Today’s pianists sometimes notice that much of Bach’s work was composed in the same three octaves, but what they don’t realize is that the piano as we know it today did not exist when he began composing. Bach’s compositions were created on organs and harpsichords. It was only in 1747, during a visit to King Frederick II, that Bach experimented with the piano.
The piano can actually be traced back to the mid-1600s, when musical instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco is believed to have begun experimenting with an instrument that would have the loudness of a harpsichord while providing the sound control of a clavichord. Cristofori made great strides in developing the mechanical functionality of a piano but the instrument remained largely unnoticed until 1711, when an Italian writer wrote about it, including a diagram of the construction. This served as a “how-to” manual for inventors, who each set out to be the first to get a piano on the market.
Organ builder Gottfried Silberman succeeded. Silberman’s versions were almost identical to what Cristofori had created, adding what is now the damper pedal. Silberman showed his piano to Bach, who stated his dislike for it due to the softness of the higher notes. In later years, Bach would embrace the piano and even helped sell Silberman’s pianos.
But with or without Bach’s support, the piano’s gradual influence over music began with Silberman’s introduction. The piano is credited with the beginning of dynamic markings, since it introduced the ability to control the softness and loudness of the music being played. The piano also brought the ability to play a wider range of notes, which allowed compositions to become more versatile, incorporating seven octaves. Concert pianos have twelve octaves, which is a long way from the three octaves Bach was forced to work with.
Interestingly, Bach’s compositions are almost exclusively played on piano today. This has led many modern-day classic music fans to envision Bach creating his masterpieces on a piano when, in actuality, he’d never even seen a piano during his early days of composing. Today, the piano brings a large amount of control to a performance, allowing a musician to play loudly for emphasis or softly for subtlety, shaping many of the compositions that music lovers enjoy. Due to its potentially large size, but even more importantly its range of expression, the piano has become the king of musical instruments.
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