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instrument: Piano

The piano is often called the "King of Instruments", due to its vast tonal and dynamic range, its rich expressive powers, and its versatility - having the rare ability to play both melodic and harmonic material. Indeed, the piano, more than any other single instrument, has been an initial gateway to musical exploration for most composers, since its rise to fame in the mid-18th century - when it gradually replaced the harpsichord and organ as the keyboard instrument of choice. The word "piano" is in fact short for "pianoforte" (literally "soft and loud") and stems from the capability of a "new harpsichord", built in the 1720s by Bartolomeo Cristofori, to sound at varying dynamics based on how the keys were struck. A steady series of technological innovations, culminating perhaps in Henry Steinway's design of the "overstrung grand" in the 1860s, has maintained the stature of the piano as a preeminent vehicle of solo music composition and performance. The modern Grand Piano - the term "grand" originates from 1777, when Robert Stoddard patented his horizontal wing-shaped Harpsichord-Grand Piano - consists of six principal elements: the strings, the metal frames, the soundboard, the action, the wooden case, and the pedals; the strength of the frame is such that it can support the combined string tension of 18 tons!

Since at least the time of the High Classical masters Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, most major composers have dedicated a sizable amount of their output to the piano, either as a solo instrument (especially piano sonatas and concertos) or in consort with other instruments (various chamber genres) or voices (songs, etc.) – with too many masterworks and genres to call out individual works here. Among those leading figures for whom solo piano music became a major part of their oeuvre include Romantic and late-Romantic era composers Ludwig van Beethoven, Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Frédéric Chopin, Johannes Brahms, Franz Liszt, Modest Mussorgsky, and Sergey Rachmaninov; Impressionist composers Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel; Modern era composers Béla Bartók, Sergey Prokofiev, and Dmitri Shostakovich, and Contemporary era composers John Cage and Luciano Berio – among many others in every era.

Although J.S. Bach and Domenico Scarlatti wrote vast amounts of music for the harpsichord, their works are often heard performed on the modern piano - whether on recording, in concert, or at a local youth piano recital. The piano's preeminence shows no sign of receding, as composers of all styles continue to explore its potential for beauty, lyricism, power, virtuosity, and expression.

Nolan Gasser, PhD
Artistic Director
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