GRAND PIANO

"Royal" - translated from French, means 'relating to a king or queen'. Of course this doesn't mean that royalty was particularly devoted to, or talented players of, this instrument; rather the use of the name recognises the piano's abilities, its special qualities distinguish it from other instruments.
The grand piano is the most versatile, sound-wise, of all the instruments: from a simple bass to a swelling harmony of chords. The power of its sound, its virtuoso variety and depth of expression enable it to hold its own with even a large orchestra.
The grand piano is the only instrument able to hold an audience through lengthy solo passages. This means it can play unaided through a concert; it is rightly called the orchestra instrument. One other reason to ennoble the piano is its ability to give depth to music of different styles such as bravura-virtuoso, gentle & intimate or outright attack with the same success.



Although the grand piano is regarded as a relatively young instrument, the history of its development goes back a long way, we can date its origins from the first use of string as an instrument; without strings there would be no grand piano. However strange it seems, the huge grand is a distant relative of the violin.
Musical historians believe the grand's earliest ancestor was the now largely-forgotten monochord - a word from the ancient Greek, meaning 'one string'.
I suppose you know about the experiments conducted with strings by Pythagoras - he made a monochord especially for these experiments. The monochord is not a true instrument, it was constructed for experiment. It would be difficult to play for any length of time on an instrument consisting of one string pulled tightly across a rectangular box. The construction of the monochord was very simple: below the string, which was fixed along the length of the box, was a moveable block or 'stop'. Pythagoras stopped the block at different points along the string, dividing the string into two lengths: sometimes equal, sometimes into different lengths. When the stop was in the centre of the string, the same pitch was heard from both halves. When the block was moved to create unequal lengths, then one length emitted a higher pitch than the other.
It is not known who added further strings to convert the monochord into a genuine musical instrument, but while Pythagoras was conducting his experiments some inventive musicians added more strings to create instruments they called polychords ie. multi-stringed instruments.
This is when the real ancestry of the grand piano begins. Polychords were constructed and played in different ways: some musicians played their instrument by plucking the strings like a harp, some used sticks to strike the strings like a cymbal and others used a plectrum to play the strings like a mandolin. Sometime later instruments with keyboards were invented; when the player depressed a key, a wooden peg was moved against a string. Tied to the end of the peg was a quill and this plucked a string to make a sound. This kind of instrumental mechanism was called a clavichord or harpsichord.



The clavichord had a dry but crisp, crystal-like sound. Its main limitation was that it always produced the same volume of sound, just as an electric light has the same brightness no matter how hard you flick the switch; the keys on the clavichord merely acted as switches for the sound. It is worth noting that the Latin 'clavis' means 'key'.
Naturally musicians were frustrated by the limitations of an immutable volume output and they experimented in vain with ways to vary the volume; it always seemed that the keys could only operate as 'on/off' switches.
About 250 years ago in Florence, Duke Cosimo de Medici built a collection of musical


instruments. The curator of the collection was a craftsman named Bartolomeo Cristofori, whose duties included the care and repair of the collection; in his free time he developed and built new instruments. One day he added a strange, new instrument to the collection; at first sight very similar to the clavichord, it had a similar keyboard and mechanism. There was, however, an innovation: the strength of the stroke on the keyboard determined the volume of sound produced. Hammers covered in leather, rather than quills, were connected to the mechanism.
We dare say that Bartolomeo Cristofori was the inventor of the grand piano.
The first grand piano was called the 'pianoforte' or 'fortepiano'. The word 'forte' means a 'loud' sound and piano a 'soft' sound. The ability to alter the volume of sound by varying the force applied to the keyboard was a significant breakthrough for musicians, which is why they called it the 'fortepiano'.
Thus, Bartolomeo Cristofori's invention was the great grandfather of today's grand piano.
The piano's fine qualities were not instantly accepted; the original clavichord remained a close competitor for a long time. This is hardly surprising as, while the piano was taking its first steps, the clavichord was already at the height of its popularity. Composers were accustomed to the limitations of the clavichord and wrote within those bounds. Musicians and audiences, too, were used to its weaker sound; the sound produced by the hammer action of the piano seemed crude at first. Even the great Johann Sebastian Bach refused at first to accept 'the hammer' of the fortepiano. Some years later, after further improvements to its construction, the maestro played the fortepiano with great pleasure and even praised its sound. It took a hundred years to fully wean musicians and musical enthusiasts away from the clavichord and onto the piano - a hundred years! In his youth Mozart played only on the harpsichord but later he also conceded the advantages of the piano and wrote music to exploit its versatility. He was in fact the first of the great musicians to play a concert on the fortepiano.
The eventual surrender of the clavichord was achieved during Beethoven's lifetime and his music was finally responsible: this soft-voiced instrument was not equal to the demands of his strong and powerful compositions. Beethoven once offered his advice to the master piano builder Streicher for improvements to the construction of the grand piano. He suggested increasing the number of keys and, in order to achieve a stronger, clearer sound, to use an elastic steel for the strings.
Today the grand piano and its younger brother the piano are the most popular of musical instruments. The multi-coloured tones of the piano have made it a favourite of most composers, none of whom have failed to compose for this instrument. Most of the great composers of the past: Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Chopin, Rubenstein, Rachmaninov and others, were also great pianists. They performed before audiences as pianists and the works they composed revealed the full range of the grand piano.



A great deal of music has been written for the instrument but composers are even now drawing out yet more of its resources; new shades and sounds in music are unearthed. In short the piano's potential is unlimited.
Today it seems strange to us that when the piano was first invented, it appeared to have a fragile and uncertain future. Like the violin, it took some time for the piano to establish its position in the world of music.

From the book,
"Why?"In the Concert Hall".
By A. Klyonov