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date: 17 October 2019

Pianoforte [piano]locked

  • Edwin M. Ripin,
  • Stewart Pollens,
  • Philip R. Belt,
  • Maribel Meisel,
  • Alfons Huber,
  • Michael Cole,
  • Gert Hecher,
  • Beryl Kenyon de Pascual,
  • Cynthia Adams Hoover,
  • Cyril Ehrlich,
  • Edwin M. Good,
  • Robert Winter
  •  and J. Bradford Robinson



A keyboard instrument distinguished by the fact that its strings are struck by rebounding hammers rather than plucked (as in the harpsichord) or struck by tangents that remain in contact with the strings (as in the clavichord).

The present article treats the history and technique of the instrument; for discussion of the repertory see Keyboard music, §III. Additional information on the contributions of particular makers is given in their individual articles.

In the Hornbostel-Sachs classification of instruments the piano is reckoned as a box zither.

Edwin M. Ripin and Stewart Pollens

The piano has occupied a central place in professional and domestic music-making since the third quarter of the 18th century. In addition to the great capacities inherent in the keyboard itself – the ability to sound simultaneously at least as many notes as one has fingers and therefore to be able to produce an approximation of any work in the entire literature of Western music – the piano’s capability of playing notes at widely varying degrees of loudness in response to changes in the force with which the keys are struck, permitting crescendos and decrescendos and a natural dynamic shaping of a musical phrase, gave the instrument an enormous advantage over its predecessors, the clavichord and the harpsichord. (Although the clavichord was also capable of dynamic expression in response to changes in touch, its tone was too small to permit it to be used in ensemble music; the harpsichord, on the other hand, had a louder sound but was incapable of producing significant changes in loudness in response to changes in touch.) The capabilities later acquired of sustaining notes at will after the fingers had left the keys (by means of pedals) and of playing far more loudly than was possible on the harpsichord made this advantage even greater....

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Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society
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