Piano

Piano

[pee-an-oh, pyan-oh]
Piano, Renzo, 1937-, Italian architect, b. Genoa. Piano attended architecture school at Milan Polytechnic, graduating in 1964. He worked with architects Louis I. Kahn and Z. S. Makowsky from 1965 to 1970. Piano came to worldwide attention when he and Richard Rogers designed the Pompidou Centre (1977), Paris. The Beaubourg, as it is popularly known, is an "urban machine" that reveals its engineering basis by having brightly colored pipes, escalators, and other service elements on the outside of the structure. The prolific Piano has been lauded for responding to the needs of each building site rather than cleaving to a single architectural style and has also been praised for his command of engineering technology.

Piano's other buildings include the Menil Museum, Houston (1981-86), known particularly for the leaflike ferroconcrete louvers that filter the light from its transparent roof; the vast Kansai Air Terminal, Osaka (1994); the long, low, and elegantly simple Beyeler Foundation museum, Riehen, Switzerland (1997); and the Tjibaou Cultural Center, Nouméa, New Caledonia (1998), featuring wooden staves reminiscent of local Kanak huts. His 21st-century projects include the complex of concert halls that make up the Parco della Musica, Rome, Italy (2002); the naturally illuminated Nasher Sculpture Center, Dallas, Tex. (2003); the innovative Padre Pio Church, San Giovanni Rotondo, Italy (2004); the undulating Paul Klee Center, Bern, Switzerland (2005); the addition to the Pierpont Morgan Library, New York City (2006); the sharp-edged 52-story New York Times Building, also in Manhattan (2007); the Broad Contemporary Art Museum, an addition to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2008); the California Academy of Sciences, San Francisco (2008), capped by an earth-covered roof with mounds of plants and dozens of round skylights; and the glass-roofed modern wing of the Art Institute of Chicago (2009). Piano was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1998.

See his On Tour with Renzo Piano (2004); P. Buchanan, Renzo Piano Building Workshop (4 vol., 1999-2003); studies by A. Cuito, ed. (1989), P. Jodidio (2005), F. Irace (2007), and V. Newhouse (2007).

piano or pianoforte, musical instrument whose sound is produced by vibrating strings struck by felt hammers that are controlled from a keyboard.

The piano's earliest predecessor was the dulcimer. The first piano was made c.1709 by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731), a Florentine maker of harpsichords, who called his instrument gravicembalo col piano e forte. (One of the two existing Cristofori pianos is in the Metropolitan Mus. of Art., N.Y.C.) It differed from the harpsichord in that by varying the touch one could vary the volume and duration of tone. This expressive quality was shared by the clavichord, but the latter was far more delicate in tone.

During the 18th cent. changes in musical taste gradually favored the piano's greater volume and expressiveness, and the instrument had largely supplanted the harpsichord and clavichord by 1800. C. P. E. Bach, Mozart, Haydn, and Clementi were the first major composers to write for the piano. The main body of its enormous literature, from the 19th cent., includes the works of Beethoven, Czerny, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Franck, Tchaikovsky, and Liszt. Debussy and Ravel used the special effects peculiar to the piano in highly original ways. In the 20th cent. some composers, notably Bartók, have emphasized the instrument's percussive qualities.

The piano was originally built in the shape of a harpsichord, and this style, the grand piano, has always been the standard form. It was greatly improved by the 19th-century innovation of an iron framework, best applied by the Steinways of New York City. The square piano, with strings parallel to the keys, was the most popular domestic piano until the early-19th-century perfection, in Philadelphia, of the upright piano. The English piano maker John Broadwood (1732-1812) was the first to develop the present heavier, more sonorous instrument. In 1810 the double-action striking mechanism, which permits rapid repetition of a tone, was perfected.

In the late 19th cent. a mechanical player piano was developed. A perforated paper roll was passed over a cylinder containing apertures connected to tubes that were in turn connected to the piano action. When a hole in the paper passed over an aperture, a current of air passed through a tube and caused the corresponding hammer to strike the string. The electric piano was developed in the 1930s. In the 1980s computer and compact-disc technology made possible the invention of a "reproducing piano," an instrument designed to recreate a pianist's playing, accurately capturing the nuances of the performance. Innovative developments of the 1990s include the disklavier, a computerized grand piano that uses optical sensors to produce sound, and the two-lid piano, which opens from the top and bottom to better project sound.

Bibliography

See O. Bie, History of the Pianoforte (2d ed. 1966); H. Westerby, History of Pianoforte Music (1924, repr. 1970); A. Dolge, Pianos and their Makers (1911, repr. 1972); C. Ehrlich, The Piano (1976); R. Harding, The Piano-forte (1933, repr. 1978); A. Loesser, Men, Women, and Pianos (1954, repr. 1990), J. Parakilas et al., Piano Roles (2000).

or thumb piano

African musical instrument consisting of a set of tuned metal or bamboo tongues attached to a board or resonator. The tongues are depressed and released with the thumbs and fingers to produce melodies and song accompaniments. The mbira dates to at least the 16th century in Africa, and it was imported to Latin America by slaves.

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Steinway-Welte player piano, 1910; in the British Piano and Musical Museum, Brentford, Middlesex, elipsis

Piano that mechanically plays music encoded as perforations on a paper roll. An early version, patented in 1897 by the American engineer E.S. Votey, was a cabinet placed in front of an ordinary piano, with wooden “fingers” projecting over the keyboard. A paper roll with perforations corresponding to the notes passed over a tracker bar to activate the release of air by pneumatic devices that set the fingers in motion; the user could control tempo and loudness by levers and pedals. Soon this mechanism was built into the piano itself. The later “reproducing piano” could reproduce the nuances of tempo and dynamics in great performances, the roll having been produced by the performance itself. After the 1920s the phonograph led to the instrument's quick decline. Modern versions, such as the Yamaha Disklavier, are operated by digital memory on a computer disk.

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(Italian: “noble floor”) In a Renaissance building, the first floor above ground level. In the typical palace erected by an Italian prince, the large, high-ceilinged reception rooms were in this upper, main story. Often a grand exterior staircase or pair of staircases led from ground level up to the piano nobile.

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or pianoforte

Each key of a piano actuates a complex mechanical system to strike a taut string and produce a elipsis

Keyboard instrument with wire strings that sound when struck by hammers operated by a keyboard. It was invented in Florence by Bartolomeo Cristofori before 1720, with the particular aim of permitting note-to-note dynamic variation (lacking in the harpsichord). It differs from the older clavichord in that its hammers (rather than tangents) are thrown at the strings and bounce back, permitting the struck string to vibrate loudly. A cast-iron frame is needed to withstand the strings' tremendous tension. Pianos have taken various shapes. The original harpsichord (or wing) shape has survived in the modern grand piano; the less-expensive square (actually rectangular) piano, standard in the early 19th century, was replaced by the upright piano, in which the strings are vertical. For at least 150 years the piano was the most important instrument in Western music.

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The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard that produces sound by striking steel strings with felt covered hammers. The hammers immediately rebound allowing the strings to continue vibrating at their resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a soundboard that amplifies them.

The piano is widely used in Western music for solo performance, ensemble use, chamber music, and accompaniment. It is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. Although not portable and often expensive, the piano's versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the most familiar musical instruments. It is sometimes classified as both a percussion and a stringed instrument. According to the Hornbostel-Sachs method of music classification, it is grouped with Chordophones.

The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte, which is seldom used except in formal language and derived from the original Italian name for the instrument, clavicembalo [or gravicembalo] col piano e forte (literally harpsichord with soft and loud). This refers to the instrument's responsiveness to keyboard touch, which allows the pianist to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the speed with which the hammers hit the strings.

History

Early history

Like many other inventions, the piano was founded on earlier technological innovations. The first string instruments with struck strings were the hammered dulcimers originating from the Persian traditional musical instrument santur. During the Middle Ages, there were several attempts at creating stringed keyboard instruments with struck strings, the earliest being the hurdy gurdy which has uncertain origins. By the 17th century, the mechanisms of keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord were well known. In a clavichord the strings are struck by tangents, while in a harpsichord they are plucked by quills. Centuries of work on the mechanism of the harpsichord in particular had shown the most effective ways to construct the case, soundboard, bridge, and keyboard.

The invention of the modern piano is credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy, who was employed by Prince Ferdinand de Medici as the Keeper of the Instruments. He was an expert harpsichord maker and was well acquainted with the previous body of knowledge on stringed keyboard instruments. It is not known exactly when Cristofori first built a piano. An inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700; another document of doubtful authenticity indicates a date of 1698. The three Cristofori pianos that survive today date from the 1720s.

Cristofori's great success was in solving, without any prior example, the fundamental mechanical problem of piano design: the hammer must strike the string, but not remain in contact with it (as a tangent remains in contact with a clavichord string) because this would damp the sound. Moreover, the hammer must return to its rest position without bouncing violently, and it must be possible to repeat a note rapidly. Cristofori's piano action served as a model for the many different approaches to piano actions that followed. While Cristofori's early instruments were made with thin strings and were much quieter than the modern piano, compared to the clavichord (the only previous keyboard instrument capable of minutely controlled dynamic nuance through the keyboard) they were considerably louder and had more sustaining power.

Cristofori's new instrument remained relatively unknown until an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, wrote an enthusiastic article about it (1711), including a diagram of the mechanism. This article was widely distributed, and most of the next generation of piano builders started their work because of reading it. One of these builders was Gottfried Silbermann, better known as an organ builder. Silbermann's pianos were virtually direct copies of Cristofori's, with one important addition: Silbermann invented the forerunner of the modern damper pedal, which lifts all the dampers from the strings at once.

Silbermann showed Johann Sebastian Bach one of his early instruments in the 1730s, but Bach did not like it at that time, claiming that the higher notes were too soft to allow a full dynamic range. Although this earned him some animosity from Silbermann, the criticism was apparently heeded. Bach did approve of a later instrument he saw in 1747, and even served as an agent in selling Silbermann's pianos.

Piano making flourished during the late 18th century in the Viennese school, which included Johann Andreas Stein (who worked in Augsburg, Germany) and the Viennese makers Nannette Streicher (daughter of Johann Andreas Stein) and Anton Walter. Viennese-style pianos were built with wood frames, two strings per note, and had leather-covered hammers. Some of these Viennese pianos had the opposite coloring of modern-day pianos; the natural keys were black and the accidental keys white. It was for such instruments that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his concertos and sonatas, and replicas of them are built today for use in authentic-instrument performance of his music. The pianos of Mozart's day had a softer, clearer tone than today's pianos or English pianos, with less sustaining power. The term fortepiano is nowadays often used to distinguish the 18th-century instrument from later pianos.

Development of the modern piano

Comparison of piano sound
In the period lasting from about 1790 to 1860, the Mozart-era piano underwent tremendous changes that led to the modern form of the instrument. This revolution was in response to a consistent preference by composers and pianists for a more powerful, sustained piano sound, and made possible by the ongoing Industrial Revolution with technological resources such as high-quality steel, called piano wire, for strings, and precision casting for the production of iron frames. Over time, the tonal range of the piano was also increased from the five octaves of Mozart's day to the 7⅓ or more octaves found on modern pianos.

Early technological progress owed much to the English firm of Broadwood, who already had a reputation for the splendour and powerful tone of its harpsichords. Broadwood constructed instruments that were progressively larger, louder, and more robustly constructed. They sent pianos to both Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven, and were the first firm to build pianos with a range of more than five octaves: five octaves and a fifth during the 1790s, six octaves by 1810 (Beethoven used the extra notes in his later works), and seven octaves by 1820. The Viennese makers similarly followed these trends, however the two schools used different piano actions: Broadwoods were more robust, Viennese instruments were more sensitive.

By the 1820s, the center of innovation had shifted to Paris, where the Érard firm manufactured pianos used by Frédéric Chopin and Franz Liszt. In 1821, Sébastien Érard invented the double escapement action, which permitted a note to be repeated even if the key had not yet risen to its maximum vertical position. This facilitated rapid playing. When the invention became public, as revised by Henri Herz, the double escapement action gradually became standard in grand pianos, and is still incorporated into all grand pianos currently produced.

One of the major technical innovations that helped to create the sound of the modern piano was the use of a strong iron frame. Also called the "plate", the iron frame sits atop the soundboard, and serves as the primary bulwark against the force of string tension. The increased structural integrity of the iron frame allowed the use of thicker, tenser, and more numerous strings. In a modern grand the total string tension can exceed 20 tons. The single piece cast iron frame was patented in 1825 in Boston by Alpheus Babcock, combining the metal hitch pin plate (1821, claimed by Broadwood on behalf of Samuel Hervé) and resisting bars (Thom and Allen, 1820, but also claimed by Broadwood and Érard). Babcock later worked for the Chickering & Mackays firm who patented the first full iron frame for grand pianos in 1843. Composite forged metal frames were preferred by many European makers until the American system was fully adopted by the early 20th century.

Other innovations for the mechanism included the use of felt hammer coverings instead of layered leather hammers. Felt hammers, which were first introduced by Henri Pape in 1826, were a more consistent material, permitting wider dynamic ranges as hammer weights and string tension increased. The sostenuto pedal (see below), invented in 1844 by Jean Louis Boisselot and improved by the Steinway firm in 1874, allowed a wider range of effects.

Other important technical innovations of this era included changes to the way the piano was strung, such as the use of a "choir" of three strings rather than two for all but the lower notes, and the use of different stringing methods. With the over strung scale, also called "cross-stringing", the strings are placed in a vertically overlapping slanted arrangement, with two heights of bridges on the soundboard instead of just one. This permits larger, but not necessarily longer, strings to fit within the case of the piano. Over stringing was invented by Jean-Henri Pape during the 1820s, and first patented for use in grand pianos in the United States by Henry Steinway Jr. in 1859. With duplexes or aliquot scales, which was patented in 1872 by Theodore Steinway, the different components of string vibrations are controlled by tuning their secondary parts in octave relationships with the sounding lengths. Similar systems developed by Blüthner (1872), as well as Taskin (1788), and Collard (1821) used more distinctly ringing undamped vibrations to modify tone.

Some early pianos had shapes and designs that are no longer in use. The square piano had horizontal strings arranged diagonally across the rectangular case above the hammers and with the keyboard set in the long side. This design is attributed to Gottfried Silbermann or Christian Ernst Friderici on the continent, and Johannes Zumpe or Harman Vietor in England and it was improved by changes first introduced by Guillaume-Lebrecht Petzold in France and Alpheus Babcock in the United States. Square pianos were built in great numbers through the 1840s in Europe and the 1890s in America, and saw the most visible changes of any type of piano: the celebrated iron framed over strung squares manufactured by Steinway & Sons were more than two and a half times the size of Zumpe's wood framed instruments from a century before. Their overwhelming popularity was due to inexpensive construction and price, although their performance and tone were often limited by simple actions and closely spaced strings.

The tall, vertically strung upright grand was arranged like a grand set on end, with the soundboard and bridges above the keys, and tuning pins below them. The term was later revived by many manufacturers for advertising purposes. Giraffe, pyramid and lyre pianos were arranged in a somewhat similar fashion in evocatively shaped cases.

The very tall cabinet piano was introduced about 1805 and was built through the 1840s. It had strings arranged vertically on a continuous frame with bridges extended nearly to the floor, behind the keyboard and very large sticker action. The short cottage upright or pianino with vertical stringing, made popular by Robert Wornum around 1815, was built into the 20th century. They are informally called birdcage pianos because of their prominent damper mechanism. Pianinos were distinguished from the oblique, or diagonally strung upright made popular in France by Roller & Blanchet during the late 1820s. The tiny spinet upright was manufactured from the mid-1930s until recent times. The low position of the hammers required the use of a "drop action" to preserve a reasonable keyboard height.

Modern upright and grand pianos attained their present forms by the end of the 19th century. Improvements have been made in manufacturing processes, and many individual details of the instrument continue to receive attention.

History and musical performance

Much of the most widely admired piano repertoire, for example, that of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, was composed for a type of instrument that is rather different from the modern instruments on which this music is normally performed today. Even the music of the Romantics, including Liszt, Chopin, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, was written for pianos substantially different from ours.

Modern piano

Types

Modern pianos come in two basic configurations (with subcategories): the grand piano and the upright piano.

Grand

Grand pianos have the frame and strings placed horizontally, with the strings extending away from the keyboard. This makes the grand piano a large instrument, for which the ideal setting is a spacious room with high ceilings for proper resonance. There are several sizes of grand piano. Manufacturers and models vary, but a rough generalization distinguishes the "concert grand" (between about 2.2 m to 3 m long) from the "parlor grand" (about 1.7 m to 2.2 m) and the smaller "baby grand" (which may be shorter than it is wide).

All else being equal, longer pianos with longer strings have better sound and lower inharmonicity of the strings. Inharmonicity is the degree to which the frequencies of overtones (known as partials, partial tones, or harmonics) depart from whole multiples of the fundamental frequency. Pianos with shorter, thicker, and stiffer strings (e.g., baby grands) have more inharmonicity. The longer strings on a concert grand can vibrate more freely than the shorter, thicker strings on a baby grand, which means that a concert grand's strings will have truer overtones. This is partly because the strings will be tuned closer to equal temperament in relation to the standard pitch with less "stretching" in the piano tuning (See: Piano tuning). Full-size grands are usually used for public concerts, whereas smaller grands, introduced by Sohmer & Co. in 1884, are often chosen for domestic use where space and cost are considerations.

Upright

Upright pianos, also called vertical pianos, are more compact because the frame and strings are vertical, extending in both directions from the keyboard and hammers. It is considered harder to produce a sensitive piano action when the hammers move horizontally, as the vertical hammer return is dependent on springs which are prone to wear and tear. The grand piano hammers return by gravity, hence they will always return more consistently than the vertical hammers, thus giving pianists better control of their playing. However, a well-regulated vertical piano will probably play more smoothly than a grand piano that has not been regulated for years, and the very best upright pianos now approach the level of some grand pianos of the same size in tone quality and responsiveness.

One noticeable advantage that the grand piano action has over the vertical action is that all grand pianos have a special repetition lever in the playing action that is absent in all verticals. This repetition lever, a separate one for every key, catches the hammer close to the strings as long as the keys are played repeatedly and fairly quickly. In this position, with the hammer resting on the lever, a pianist can play repeated notes, staccato, and trills with much more speed and control than is possible on a vertical piano.

Other types

Toy pianos began to be manufactured in the 19th century. In 1863, Henri Fourneaux invented the player piano, which "plays itself" from a piano roll without the need for a pianist. The player piano is a piano that records a performance using rolls of paper with perforations, and then replays the performance using pneumatic devices. A modern equivalent for the player piano is the Yamaha Disklavier system, which uses solenoids and midi instead of pneumatics and rolls. Silent pianos, which allow a regular piano to be used converted to a digital instrument, are a recent innovation and are becoming more popular.

Irving Berlin played a special piano called the transposing piano, which was invented in 1801 by Edward Ryley. It had a lever under the keyboard used to alter the music to any key. One of Berlin's pianos is in the Smithsonian Museum. For much of his career, Berlin only knew how to play the black keys. But with his 'trick piano' he was no longer limited to the key of F-sharp.

A relatively recent development is the prepared piano, which is used in contemporary art music. A prepared piano is a standard grand piano which has had objects placed inside it before a performance in order to alter its sound, or which has had its mechanism changed in some way. The scores for music for prepared piano often instruct the pianist to insert pieces of rubber or small pieces of metal (screws or washers) in between the strings. These added items either mute the strings or create unusual vibrating sounds.

Since the 1980s, digital pianos have been available, which use digital sampling technology to reproduce the sound of each piano note. The best digital pianos are sophisticated, with features including working pedals, weighted keys, multiple voices, and MIDI interfaces. However, with such technology, it was difficult to duplicate a crucial aspect of acoustic pianos, namely that when the damper pedal (see below) is depressed, the strings not struck vibrate sympathetically when other strings are struck, as well as the unique instrument-specific mathematical non-linearity of partials on any given unison. Since this sympathetic vibration is considered central to piano tone, many digital pianos do not sound the same as the best acoustic pianos. Progress is being made in this area by including physical models of sympathetic vibration in the synthesis software. Some higher end digital pianos, such as the Yamaha Clavinova series, produced in the last few years incorporate string resonance technology to overcome this limitation.

With the advent of powerful desktop computers, highly realistic sampled digital grand pianos have become available as affordable software modules. Some use multi-gigabyte piano sample sets with as many as 90 recordings, each lasting many seconds, for each of the 88 keys under different conditions, augmented by additional samples to emulate sympathetic resonance, key release, the drop of the dampers, and simulations of piano techniques like re-pedaling.

Keyboard

Almost every modern piano has 36 black keys and 52 white keys for a total of 88 keys (seven octaves plus a minor third, from A0 to C8). Many older pianos only have 85 keys (seven octaves from A0 to A7), while some manufacturers extend the range further in one or both directions.

Some Bösendorfer pianos extend the normal range downwards to F0, with one other model going as far as a bottom C0, making a full eight octave range. These extra keys are sometimes hidden under a small hinged lid that can be flipped down to cover the keys in order to avoid visual disorientation in a pianist unfamiliar with the extended keyboard. On others, the colours of the extra white keys are reversed (black instead of white).

The extra keys are added primarily for increased resonance from the associated strings; that is, they vibrate sympathetically with other strings whenever the damper pedal is depressed and thus give a fuller tone. Only a very small number of works composed for piano actually use these notes. More recently, the Stuart and Sons company has also manufactured extended-range pianos. On their instruments, the range is extended both down the bass to F0 and up the treble to F8 for a full eight octaves. The extra keys are the same as the other keys in appearance.

Small studio upright acoustical pianos with only 65 keys have been manufactured for use by roving pianists. Known as "gig" pianos and still containing a cast iron harp, these are comparatively lightweight and can be easily transported to and from engagements by only two men. As their harp is longer than that of a spinet or console piano, they have a stronger bass sound that to some pianists is well worth the trade-off in range that a reduced key-set offers.

Pedals

Standard pedals

Pianos have had pedals, or some close equivalent, since the earliest days. (In the 18th century, some pianos used levers pressed upward by the player's knee instead of pedals.) Most grand pianos have three pedals: soft pedal (una corda), sostenuto, and sustain pedal (from left to right, respectively). Most modern upright pianos, have three pedals: soft pedal, practice pedal and sustain pedal, though older or cheaper models may lack the practice pedal.

The sustain pedal (or, damper pedal) is often simply called "the pedal", since it is the most frequently used. It is placed as the rightmost pedal in the group. It lifts the dampers from all keys, sustaining all played notes, and altering the overall tone.

The soft pedal or una corda pedal is placed leftmost in the row of pedals. In grand pianos, it shifts the entire action, including the keyboard, to the right, so that the hammers hit only one of the three strings for each note (hence the name una corda, or 'one string'). The effect is to soften the note as well as to change the tone. In uprights, this action is not possible, and so the pedal moves the hammers closer to the strings, allowing the hammers to hit the strings with less force and produce a softer sound.

On grand pianos, the middle pedal is a sostenuto pedal. This pedal keeps raised any damper that was already raised at the moment the pedal is depressed. This makes it possible to sustain some notes (by depressing the sostenuto pedal before notes to be sustained are released) while the player's hands are free to play other notes. This can be useful for musical passages with pedal points and other otherwise tricky or impossible situations.

On many upright pianos, there is a middle pedal called the 'practice' or celeste pedal. This drops a piece of felt between the hammers and strings, greatly muting the sounds.

There are also non-standard variants. On vertical pianos, the middle pedal can be a bass sustain pedal: that is, when it is depressed, the dampers lift off the strings only in the bass section. This pedal would be used only when a pianist needs to sustain a single bass note or chord over many measures, while playing the melody in the treble section. On the largest Fazioli piano, there is a fourth pedal to the left of the principal three. This fourth pedal works in the same way as the soft pedal of an upright piano, moving the hammers closer to the strings.

Unusual pedals

The rare transposing piano, of which Irving Berlin possessed an example, had a middle pedal that functioned as a clutch which disengages the keyboard from the mechanism, enabling the keyboard to be moved to the left or right with a lever. The entire action of the piano is thus shifted to allow the pianist to play music written in one key so that it sounds in a different key. The pedalier piano, or pedal piano, is a rare type of piano that includes a pedalboard, enabling bass register notes to be played with the feet, as is standard on the organ. There are two types of pedal piano: the pedal board may be an integral part of the instrument, using the same strings and mechanism as the manual keyboard, or, less frequently, it may consist of two independent pianos (each with its separate mechanics and strings) which are placed one above the other, a regular piano played by the hands and a bass-register piano played by the feet.

Construction

Many parts of a piano are made of materials selected for extreme sturdiness. In quality pianos, the outer rim of the piano is made of a hardwood, normally maple or beech. According to Harold A. Conklin, the purpose of a sturdy rim is so that "the vibrational energy will stay as much as possible in the soundboard instead of dissipating uselessly in the case parts, which are inefficient radiators of sound."

The rim is normally made by laminating flexible strips of hardwood to the desired shape, a system that was developed by Theodore Steinway in 1880. The thick wooden braces at the bottom (grands) or back (uprights) of the piano are not as acoustically important as the rim, and are often made of a softwood, even in top-quality pianos, in order to save weight. The requirement of structural strength, fulfilled with stout hardwood and thick metal, makes a piano heavy; even a small upright can weigh 136 kg (300 lb), and the Steinway concert grand (Model D) weighs 480 kg (990 lb). The largest piano built, the Fazioli F308, weighs 691 kg (1520 lb).

The pinblock, which holds the tuning pins in place, is another area of the piano where toughness is important. It is made of hardwood, (often maple) and generally is laminated (built of multiple layers) for additional strength and gripping power. Piano strings (also called piano wire), which must endure years of extreme tension and hard blows, are made of high quality steel. They are manufactured to vary as little as possible in diameter, since all deviations from uniformity introduce tonal distortion. The bass strings of a piano are made of a steel core wrapped with copper wire, to increase their flexibility.

The plate, or metal frame, of a piano is usually made of cast iron. It is advantageous for the plate to be quite massive. Since the strings are attached to the plate at one end, any vibrations transmitted to the plate will result in loss of energy to the desired (efficient) channel of sound transmission, namely the bridge and the soundboard. Some manufacturers now use cast steel in their plates, for greater strength. The casting of the plate is a delicate art, since the dimensions are crucial and the iron shrinks by about one percent during cooling.

The inclusion in a piano of an extremely large piece of metal is potentially an aesthetic handicap, which piano makers overcome by polishing, painting and decorating the plate. Plates often include the manufacturer's ornamental medallion and can be strikingly attractive. In an effort to make pianos lighter, Alcoa worked with Winter and Company piano manufacturers to make pianos using an aluminum plate during the 1940s. The use of aluminum for piano plates, however, did not become widely accepted and was discontinued.

The numerous grand parts and upright parts of a piano action are generally hardwood (e.g. maple, beech. hornbeam). However, since World War II, plastics have become available. Early plastics were incorporated into some pianos in the late 1940s and 1950s, but proved disastrous because they crystallized and lost their strength after only a few decades of use. The Steinway firm once incorporated Teflon, a synthetic material developed by DuPont, for some grand action parts in place of cloth, but ultimately abandoned the experiment due to an inherent "clicking" which invariably developed over time. (Also Teflon is "humidity stable" whereas the wood adjacent to the Teflon will swell and shrink with humidity changes, causing problems.) More recently, the Kawai firm has built pianos with action parts made of more modern and effective plastics such as carbon fiber; these parts have held up better and have generally received the respect of piano technicians.

The part of the piano where materials probably matter more than anywhere else is the soundboard. In quality pianos, this is made of solid spruce (that is, spruce boards glued together at their edges). Spruce is chosen for its high ratio of strength to weight. The best piano makers use close-grained, quarter-sawn, defect-free spruce, and make sure that it has been carefully dried over a long period of time before making it into soundboards. In cheap pianos, the soundboard is often made of plywood.

Piano keys are generally made of spruce or basswood, for lightness. Spruce is normally used in high-quality pianos. Traditionally, the black keys were made from ebony and the white keys were covered with strips of ivory, but since ivory-yielding species are now endangered and protected by treaty, plastics are now almost exclusively used. Also, ivory tends to chip more easily than plastic. Legal ivory can still be obtained in limited quantities. At one time, the Yamaha firm innovated a plastic called "Ivorine" or "Ivorite", since imitated by other makers, that mimics the look and feel of ivory.

Care and maintenance

Pianos need regular tuning to keep them up to pitch, which is usually the internationally recognized standard concert pitch of A4 = 440 Hz. The hammers of pianos are voiced to compensate for gradual hardening, and other parts also need periodic regulation. Aged and worn pianos can be rebuilt or reconditioned. Often, by replacing a great number of their parts, they can be made to perform as well as new pianos. It is often felt, however, that older pianos are more settled and produce a warmer tone.

Piano moving should be done by trained piano movers using adequate manpower and the correct equipment for any particular piano's size and weight. Pianos are heavy yet delicate instruments. Over the years, professional piano movers have developed special techniques for transporting both grands and uprights which prevent damage to the case and to the piano's mechanics.

Role

The piano is a crucial instrument in Western classical music, jazz, film, television, and most other complex western musical genres. Since a large number of composers are proficient pianists – and because the piano keyboard offers an easy means of complex melodic and harmonic interplay – the piano is often used as a tool for composition.

Pianos were, and still are, popular instruments for private household ownership. Hence, pianos have gained a place in the popular consciousness, and are sometimes referred to by nicknames including: "the ivories", "the joanna", "the eighty-eight", and "the black(s) and white(s)", "the little joe(s)". Playing the piano is sometimes referred to as "tickling the ivories".

See also

General

Related lists

Related instruments

Notes

References

  • The authoritative New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians (available online by subscription), contains a wealth of information. Main article: "Pianoforte".
  • The Encyclopædia Britannica (available online by subscription) also includes much information on the piano. In the 1988 edition, the primary article can be found in "Musical Instruments".
  • The Piano Book by Larry Fine (4th ed. Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts: Brookside Press, 2001; ISBN 1-929145-01-2) gives the basics of how pianos work, and a thorough evaluative survey of current pianos and their manufacturers. It also includes advice on buying and owning pianos.
  • Giraffes, black dragons, and other pianos: a technological history from Cristofori to the modern concert grand by Edwin M. Good (1982, second ed., 2001, Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press) is a standard reference on the history of the piano.
  • The Early Pianoforte by Stewart Pollens (1995, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press) is an authoritative work covering the ancestry of the piano, its invention by Cristofori, and the early stages of its subsequent evolution.

Further reading

  • Banowetz, Joseph; Elder, Dean (1985). The pianist's guide to pedaling. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0-253-34494-8.
  • Parakilas, James (1999). Piano roles : three hundred years of life with the piano. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-08055-7.
  • Reblitz, Arthur A. (1993). Piano Servicing, Tuning and Rebuilding: For the Professional, the Student, and the Hobbyist. Vestal, NY: Vestal Press. ISBN 1-879511-03-7.
  • Carhart, Thad (2002). The Piano Shop on the Left Bank. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-375-75862-3.
  • Loesser, Arthur (1991). Men, Women, and Pianos: A Social History. New York: Dover Publications.
  • Lelie, Christo (1995). Van Piano tot Forte (The History of the Early Piano). Kampen: Kok-Lyra.
  • Fine, Larry; Gilbert, Douglas R (2001). The Piano Book: Buying and Owning a New or Used Piano (4th edition). Jamaica Plain, MA: Brookside Press. ISBN 1-929145-01-2.

External links

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