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History Of Music:
George Frederic Handel
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Ludwig Van Beethoven
The Romantic Composers
Development Of The Piano
Famous Operas And Their Composers
Wagner And His Music Dramas
Tristan And Isolde
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
Before taking up the group of Romantic piano composers we may well consider briefly the kind of instrument for which they wrote.
The piano is of Italian origin, the invention of Christofori, and dates back to about the year 1710. It was the gradual outgrowth of the dulcimer and not of the clavichord or harpsi chord, as is sometimes supposed. About the only new feature that the inventor claimed for this instrument was its ability to play both soft and loud, and from this characteristic it takes its name-piano-forte. It did not, however, gain popular favor at once and was lost sight of for a time. When next it was heard of, about seven years later, it was as the invention of Silberman of Germany.
The principal mechanism of the early instruments was practically the same as in those in use today, but very many improvements have been added, until now the only apparent deficiency is its inability to increase the tone when once a key has been struck. The essential difference between the piano and the instruments just preceding it is that in the latter the keys were plucked instead of being struck by a hammer. In the earliest pianos these hammers were covered with leather, producing a tone that was harsh and more metallic than in those of modern make. The escapement, that causes the hammer to spring back, leaving the strings free to vibrate, is most important and did much to advance the general use of the instrument. The introduction of the pedal in 1775 marks an important stage in the history of piano-playing and greatly aided in establishing the piano in popular favor. The damper pedal, sometimes erroneously called "loud" pedal, by sustaining the note makes the overtones audible, thus producing a far richer and deeper effect than could be obtained by means of the harpsichord.
The change from the old to the new instruments was by no means sudden and unchecked. Bach thought the piano too hard to execute and its tone thin, though his judgment was passed on an instrument that we should consider far from perfect. Haydn wrote almost entirely for the clavier and he offered nothing new in the way of originality of execution. With Beethoven began a new epoch in the history of piano playing and piano music; his compositions necessitated an entirely new technique. Partly to meet the new demand, there arose new "schools" of pianists, virtuosos who, neglecting the study of the masters, undertook to procure for themselves marvellous technical ability, but who possessed little or no artistic merit. Greater strength of arm and wrist was required and more freedom in single finger technique. As a class they advanced piano playing very little, if at all, for they played their own works exclusively. Out of this class and above those of mediocre worth there arose a group who stand in the foremost ranks of technical players and composers. They understood the possibilities of the piano and sought a means to effect their expression. It was necessary for piano music to pass through this stage that the instrument itself could reach its best.
Schumann entered the field when piano music was growing monotonous in its lack of variety, and introduced the poetic element that was greatly needed. He was not exclusively a Romanticist, but his influence had a decided bearing on that school.