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Origin of the piano and the most famous pianists in history

This new post from the Film Symphony Orchestra blog is dedicated to one of the most important and beautiful instruments that human beings have created to make music, the piano. We are going to review the history and origin of this instrument, thus reviewing the most recognized composers.

It is a harmonic musical instrument, classified as a percussion string instrument by the traditional classification system, and according to the Hornbostel-Sachs classification it is a simple cardophone. Its sound box has a keyboard added with which the steel strings are struck with felt-covered hammers, producing the sound. From there, the vibrations are transmitted through the bridges to the soundboard, which amplifies them. It is made up of a multi-string chromatic harp, powered by an indirect percussion mechanism, to which dampers have been added. Now that we celebrate the world piano day: meet the best pianists.

When is World Piano Day?

fso piano day

Why is World Piano Day celebrated on March 29?

This date hides an interesting story. It was from the 19th century onwards, when most pianos began to be manufactured with 88 keys in total – a figure that is maintained today, in modern pianos – and which has taken on a symbolic meaning.

To understand why World Piano Day is celebrated on March 29, in leap years, we only have to count day by day, to realize that this date is day number 88 on the calendar, precisely the number of instrument keys. This initiative was promoted by the German musician and composer Nils Frahm and has been celebrated since 2015.

Bartolomeo Cristofori and the history of the Piano

What does the piano symbolize?

The word piano derives from the original Italian word for the instrument, 'pianoforte' (piano: "soft" and forte: "strong"), assigned to its first builder, Bartolomeo Cristofori: harpsichord with piano and forte. Literally, "harpsichord with soft and loud sound».

The first piano in history

The piano we see in the photograph is the oldest in the world. It dates back to 1720, and you can still play it today. It is one of three instruments from the workshop of Bartolomeo Cristofori, who invented the piano around the year 1700 at the Florentine court of the Medici. This complex mechanism prefigures the modern piano, but the keyboard was shorter and lacked pedals to generate modal contrasts.

However, the extension includes three different registers: low, warm and sonorous tones; half octaves, more dynamic; and high tones, with a short and bright sound. Basically intended for accompaniment, Cristofori's invention was called, as we have pointed out, gravicembalo with piano and forte in reference to its innovative dynamic flexibility.

first piano in history
Image property of metmuseum.org

Importance of the piano in music

The piano is one of the instruments with the greatest polyphonic capacity, which is why it is the ideal instrument to perform a complementary function and is essential for the teacher's musical teaching. For this reason, it is used in most music theory classes in music schools and conservatories as the pedagogue's main instrument.

Many works, famous in their orchestral versions, have been initially written for piano. Some examples could be the Hungarian dances by Johannes Brahms, Pictures from an exhibition by Modest Musorgsi, Gymnopedias by Erik Satie or spring song by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Why is it good to play the piano?

Most people play the piano because they have fun. But there are reasons why touching it stimulates our brain. First of all, you exercise independent coordination, since you simultaneously perform independent movements with your hands, stimulates various areas of the brain, just like being able to read sheet music dramatically improves hand-eye coordination. In the same way, increase your hearing capacity. These auditory skills, enhanced by listening to music, as it should sound to play it, benefit verbal memory and allow better recognition of voices in a noisy environment.

On the other hand, playing the piano improve your reading ability, since the notes in a sheet of music are like the letters in a book. Both need to be “deciphered” and combined for the text or song to make sense. But also, improve our language skills because learning a foreign language is closely related to the reading and comprehension skills we just mentioned. There are many other benefits, but one of them is also that playing the piano improves our math skills. We must not forget that notes and rhythms, as well as musical theory, are based on them.

What is the most difficult song on piano?

It is complicated, if not impossible, to create a ranking of the works with the most technical difficulties to perform on the piano, but Opus Clavicembalisticum, by the English composer and pianist Sorabji, is usually chosen at number one in the rankings, for this four-hour work that requires prodigious technique. Other works that usually appear in the rankings are Islamey, by Balakirev, Iberia, by Albéniz; Chaconne, by Bach-Busoni or Gaspard of the night, by Ravel, as the pinnacle of French impressionist piano.

Most important pianists in the history of music

world piano day fso

Frédéric Chopin: know his best compositions

Polish composer Frederic Chopin, was one of the great masters of romantic music and wrote mainly for solo piano. He was the main promoter of the instrumental ballad and no other composer has contributed so many significant works to the piano repertoire. Among his best compositions we find Nocturnes, Op. 9, among which is his Opus nine, one of the three best known. We can also consider Study Op. 10 and No. 12 in C minor, the revolutionary study, Prelude, Op 28, No. 15, The Raindrop or the Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op. 21.

The composer Ludwig Van Beethoven and his great contribution to music

The musician of German origin Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) is one of the most recognized composers and musicians in the world and one of the most important in history. His great contribution to music is the break with classicism. His works were freer and more energetic, something that influenced the composers of romanticism, who sought to express more subjective feelings. One of his most important contributions was the development of great compositions from a brief musical structure, known as a melodic motif, which he developed throughout the piece. Among his most notable works are the Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Op. 55, Für Elise, wave Symphony N.5 in C minor, Op. 67, also called The call of destiny.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: the child prodigy of classical music

Another of the great and unrepeatable pianists that cannot be missing from this list is Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. He was one of the most influential classical composers in the history of Western music. Born in Austria on January 27, 1756 into a wealthy family, he was a student of his father, Leopold Mozart, a famous violinist of the time who worked as an instrumentalist and composer at the court of the Archbishop of Salzburg. Legend has it that at just four years old, Mozart replaced a violinist in his father's orchestra and, it is said, that he performed the piece from beginning to end without the slightest error. Among his great compositions stand out Ave Verum Corpus, Kv. 618, Requiem Mass in D minor, Kv. 626  and the Clarinet Concerto in A major, Kv. 622, all composed in 1791.

Johann Sebastian Bach and his most recognized works

For its part, Johann Sebastian Bach, another of the legends of classical music, began working at the age of 18 as an organist in Arnstadt and Mühlhausen. Between 1708 and 1717 he worked for Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar, first as organist, and after 1714 as concertmaster. In 1723 he was appointed cantor in the Church of Saint Thomas, and Director of Music in Leipzig. His three most relevant works are Passion according to Saint Matthew BWV 244, the Brandenburg Concerts BWV 1046-1051 and the Orchestral Suites BWV 1066-1069, which follow the classic schemes of the musical baroque suite form.

Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn: pianist and composer of Romanticism

Fanny Cäcilie Mendelssohn, born in Hamburg in 1805, is our woman on the list, thanks to her contribution as a composer and pianist to early Romanticism. His compositions include a piano trio, a piano quartet, an orchestral overture, four cantatas, more than 125 piano pieces, and more than 250 lieder, most published posthumously. She was highly praised for her piano playing skills, although she rarely gave public concerts.

In his work, we find four essential compositions for the history of music: Gartenlieder, Op. 3; Cantata Hiob; Nocturnal in G minor and the String Quartet in E sharp major, Allegro molto vivace. The first of them includes six songs for soprano, alto, tenor and bass, published in 1847 and based on a series of texts by different German poets.

Louis Lortie: one of the most popular current pianists

Leaving history behind and traveling to the present, we find in Louis Lortie to one of the most sought-after pianists today. Of French-Canadian origins although based in Berlin, he is an international pianist who has recorded more than 30 times for Chandos Records. He is also known for being one of the best interpreters of pieces by Beethoven, Chopin and Ravel.

Lortie debuted at age 13 with the Montreal Symphony Orchestra and a couple of years later, he played with the Toronto Symphony and toured Japan and China. In 1984 he won first place in a piano competition and came fourth in Leeds. In addition to his great performance, Lortie was also named a knight of the National Order of Quebec and received an honorary doctorate for his contribution to Canadian cultural heritage. In 2017 and 2018 he was a guest artist of the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra.

world piano day fso louis lortie
Image owned by @ST_LifeTweets

Javier Perianes: the most recognized Spanish pianist

Finally, if we stay in our country we find Javier Perianes, born in Huelva in 1978, and considered one of the leaders in the current Spanish and international musical scene. His name is common in the programming of prestigious concert halls around the world, such as the Carnegie in New York or the Theater des Champs-Élysées in Paris. He collaborates with important national and international orchestras and conductors and in 2012, his album recorded live with the BBC Symphony Orchestra and the conductor Josep Pons, in which he performs music by Falla, has been applauded by international critics and nominated for the Latin Grammys. That same year, he received the National Music Award. He has also won other awards such as Third Prize at the Greta Erikson European Piano Competition or First Prize at the 'Premio Jaén' International Piano Competition.

Image property of @Martin_Leopoldo

Importance of the piano in the symphony orchestra

The piano is one of the most important instruments in the symphony orchestra, and is used in many genres and styles of music. Their role in the orchestra is very varied and depends largely on the repertoire being performed. In classical music, the piano often used as a soloist in concertos for piano and orchestra, in which the piano is the main instrument that interacts with the rest of the musicians. These works are some of the most popular and famous in the classical music repertoire, and are an example of the virtuosity and technique required to play the piano.

On the other hand, the piano is also a widely used instrument in chamber music, where it is combined with others such as the violin, viola, cello, clarinet or flute, among others. In that context, as in its roots, the piano is an accompaniment instrument and often used to provide harmony and rhythm.

In the symphonic Orchestra, the piano often has an accompaniment role in the string section or percussion section. In addition, it is also used on many occasions, to add sound effects, such as bells or strings, to the orchestra. In short, it stands out for its versatility and is essential along with the symphony orchestra, for its ability to adapt to different styles and genres, also becoming an indispensable instrument in classical music and other musical styles.

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