Most of the musical instruments we play today are man-made inventions that originated hundreds of years ago. When learning how to play a musical instrument, I think it should be interesting to also learn the history of the instrument, whether there are special events or people associated with the instrument or just knowing the beginning and development. How is the piano in the historical context? What could make the piano special compared to other musical instruments?
By means of general piano knowledge and fun facts I will attempt to highlight what makes the piano stand out from other musical instruments and why I think it should be called “King of all musical instruments”.
I will break down the contents into the following parts:
- Legato Possibilities & Smooth Dynamics
- Piano Fun Facts
- Strength, Depth & Versatility
- Pitch vs Expression
- King Of All The Musical Instruments
So how is the piano? According to encyclopedia piano is an abbreviation for the Italian pianoforte or fortepiano, an instrument where you can play both piano (weak) and forte (strong). The piano belongs to the category called keyboard instruments and is divided into three main types according to how the strings are set in oscillations. Today, the upright piano and the grand piano are the most common types, the other two types are harpsichord and spinet.
Legato Possibilities & Smooth Dynamics
The Italian harpsichord builder Bartolomeo Cristofori (born May 4, 1655, in Padova, the Republic of Venice; dead January 27, 1731, in Florence) is considered the inventor of the hammer piano. Cristofori’s very first piano did not play strongly, but it could sound floating legato, and with the characteristic dynamics from weak to strong.
The musicians at this time did not start using the new instrument immediately, they were accustomed to the harpsichord’s short tones and terassic dynamics, and it took time before they adopted the piano’s legato possibilities and smooth dynamics. Even Mozart played the first time in the established way without legato. The very first pianist is said to be Johann Christian Bach, the son of Johann Sebastian, also called London-Bach. When he played the instrument in London, people were crazy and often sold their Stradivarius violin to get a piano.
Mozart eventually became a pioneer who spread the piano’s fame and should be considered the second pianist in the way that he wrote and used the possibilities of the piano as a composer. The piano’s most important composers are Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and Liszt who all added their own dimension to the instrument.
The name pianoforte (or fortepiano) was retained but eventually became simplified to the piano. The Germans, the Austrians and later and the Americans built on Cristofori’s work and developed the instrument even more. They also created an upright model for use where space is limited. Manufacturers such as Bechstein (Germany), Broadwood (England) and Steinway (United States) are all associated with beauty, craftsmanship and a rich, rich tone.
The Upright & Grand Piano
The upright piano has vertically positioned strings stretched in a rigid framework. The grand piano, very closely related to the piano has the strings placed horizontally.
The sound is created when the keys are pressed, causing small file hammers to strike the strings. By changing the power of the keystroke, the volume can be varied within a wide range to make the music more dynamic.
The Harpsichord & Spinet
The strings of the harpsichord are set in oscillations by means of plectrums moving over them when played.
The spinet sound is created by metal pins at the ends of the keys being struck against the strings.
Piano Fun Facts
A piano has approx. 230 strings and since there is an average tension of approx. 75 kg in each of the strings, a regular piano has a total string tension of approx. 18 tons! It is even worse for the big concert grands which can have a string tension of approx. 30 tons!
The world’s largest grand piano is 5.7 meters long and was built by New Zealand piano tuner Adrian Mann. He spent four years on the construction and the piano weighed 1400 kg. Adrian Mann was only 25 years old when he finished the construction.
A pre-1950 concert grand piano often had ivory keys but this was banned because of the elephant’s status as an endangered species. In English, the term “tickle the ivory” was previously said about playing piano or grand piano and it describes very well the movement you make with your fingers when playing.
A concert grand piano responds much faster than an upright piano. This is due to the built-in repetition mechanism, which means that you do not have to release the key completely before you can replay the same tone.
There are more than ten million pianos – in the US only!
The world’s most expensive grand piano cost $ 3.22 million, which is the Canadian “crystal piano” designed by the Canadian firm Heinzman Pianos. The grand piano was part of the opening ceremony at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, where star pianist Lang Lang dedicated it.
As early as the 1920s, the search for the electric piano began. Around 1960 we got the first electric pianos, which at that time were mostly smaller piano with built-in pickup or microphone.
Not until 1980 did we get the first digital piano.
Strength, Depth & Versatility
In the orchestral context, a piano is a percussion instrument, because the sound occurs when the strings are hit by hammers that fall on them. The piano is both a keyboard, a percussion instrument and a string instrument that can be played alone or as a substitute for an entire orchestra. In many people’s opinion, these are features that make the piano absolutely deserve to be named king of the instruments. If we disregard the church organ, the piano is the largest instrument you can play. The piano is possibly the most versatile of all instruments because it is played in almost every genre and can be accompanied or played solo. Although there are exceptions, most pianos have a total of 88 keys, of which 52 are white and 36 are black, often referred to as grand piano. There are also simpler variants of the piano such as electric pianos or keyboards that may have a smaller number of keys.
With a tone range spread over more than seven octaves, no other instrument can claim the strength, depth and versatility of the piano. From delicate melodies to complex and virtuoso, whatever your age and skill, the piano can turn you into a musician from the first key pressed. No other instrument has so many tones to offer as the piano. It plays lower tones than a double bassoon and higher tones than a piccolo.
The piano is the only instrument with 88 separate keys, where the lowest and highest tones can all be played at the same time, a trick that few other instruments can perform. The range of tones that can be played on a piano is staggering, even a simple scale from the lowest A to the highest C will take an army of other instruments to accomplish.
Pitch vs Expression
It is a fact that the pitch of a pipe organ easily outperforms the reach of a piano. The lowest note heard on the organ is C-1, which is 8 Hz below the human hearing range. The highest note of the organ is C9, while the note C8 is the highest note of an 88 piano which means that the organ reaches beyond the piano by more than one octave in both directions.
But the piano wins in so many more areas. As mentioned earlier, the piano is actually a percussion and a string instrument which makes it unbeatable in musical expression, in sound characteristics, dynamics and much more. The sound of the piano can easily be adapted to any type of music and musical styles. Mention all the world’s music genres or styles and you will hardly find a single one where the piano cannot contribute. The piano holds most of the qualities and properties of all other musical instruments played together.
King Of All The Musical Instruments
Mozart once praised the pipe organ by writing “In my eyes and ears … the king of the instruments.” How is the piano’s status in relation to the pipe organ? And how can two musical instruments that almost only have a common playing on keys be compared?
The pipe organ is an impressive and powerful instrument, and it is understandable that it was regarded as the king of the instruments, especially at Mozart’s time when the piano was a relatively new instrument.
Previously in this post I have highlighted the piano as the King because of the qualities that none or few can match. Compared to the organ’s qualities, which are also incredibly impressive, it may eventually become a matter of taste in music, which instrument you like or even play. Aspects such as accessibility and usability, sound and characteristics, the composers and the music written for the instrument, etc. are important factors for different views.
The piano is called “The King of All Musical Instruments”, because in the orchestral context there is no instrument that can surpass it within the tone range. It can play as deeply as the darkest instruments in the symphony orchestra and just as bright as the brightest. In my opinion, this is the main argument for saying that the piano is the King of all the musical instruments. There are really no competitors.
How is the piano – King of all the musical instruments could certainly have been discussed more and there are plenty of pros and cons for other views. Anyway, I think the piano is the most versatile, flexible and inspiring musical instrument of all, and I would like to call it the King of all the musical instruments.
Thank you for reading my considerations. If you have any questions on the subject, please leave a comment below and I will be more than happy to answer.