History of Pianos: The Classical Era

The history of pianos during the Classical era: The Fortepiano was a relatively small instrument with a small sound, but during the Classical era it became very popular and eventually replaced the Harpsichord and the Clavichord. 

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History of Pianos: The Classical Era (1750-1825)

What happened musically during the Classical era had a huge impact on the development and the rising popularity of the new instrument; The Pianoforte.

Some important developments were:

  • The use of "Basso Continuo" disappeared, and the use of the Harpsichord gradually faded away...
  • The orchestra expanded. The classical orchestra now had up to 40 members.
  • Together with other composers of the era, Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven wrote piano concertos. This meant that the Forte Piano had to be improved so it could be heard over the now larger orchestra.
Mozart FamilyNannerl, Wolfgang Amadeus and Leopold Mozart (Dad) at the piano.

W.A. Mozart (1756–1791) loved the new instrument, and wrote an enormous amount of piano music for it. (27 concertos, 18 sonatas and lots and lots of other solo piano pieces.)

The first pianos weren’t very large. The forte piano had a keyboard range of about four octaves at first, but gradually got more. (Modern pianos today have seven octaves plus a third)

Interesting Fact: Mozart wrote piano compositions for pianos with about five octaves.

Square PianSquare Piano 1760

The Square piano or "Tafelklavier" was invented by Johannes Zumpe in England in 1766. This was another important invention in the history of pianos.

The square piano was a popular instrument also because of its practicality - close the lid and you had a table; a real space saver! It paved the way for the first upright pianos during the 19th century.

The pianos had found their way into the homes of a rising middle class, and more and more pianos were built.

Beethoven at the pianBeethoven at the Piano

L.van Beethoven (1770–1827) wanted more.

He became infamous for breaking the strings all the time- probably because of his impending deafness.

But not only that, Beethoven craved big contrasts, louder sounds, and the poor Fortepiano, or "Hammerklavier" as he preferred to call it, just couldn't handle it.

It is said that when Beethoven no longer could hear,  he took off the legs of the piano and put his ear close to the piano on the floor to at least be able to hear the vibrations of the tones...

The piano works of Beethoven show us how the range of the piano keyboard kept expanding, since his last piano compositions have a range  about six octaves. 

With the piano, and especially with his 32 Piano sonatas, Beethoven explored and expanded the borders of what was possible- and not!

Some of his sonatas has a suggested range that is both higher and lower than what existed on most keyboards at that time! Talk about a visionary!

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