Brief History of Piano Music

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A Brief History of Piano MusicThe Baroque Period1600-1750The painting, architecture and music of this period are characterized by grandiose design, elaborate decorations and theatricalism. The harpsichord, with two keyboards, and the clavichord are the most important instruments. One type of music written in this period is the dance suite. It consists of stylized dances called sarabande, courante, gigue and allemande. Fugues, variations and freer types of music such as preludes and programmed pieces are found along with figured bass accompaniments. Bach and Handel are two well-known German composers of the period, but other countries are represented as well: Purcell, Byrd, Bull and Gibbons in England; Frescobaldi in Italy; Rameau and Couperin in France. The music has robust rhythm, is major and minor scale oriented, uses motifs in a more or less polyphonic structure and is highly ornamented.

The Classical Period1750-1825The new style developing from the Baroque period involves simplicity, dignity, lucidity, symmetry, restraint, refinement and objectivity. The polyphonic forms are the sonata allegro, concertos, rondos, duets, variations and fantasies. The melody is more folk-like and simple with broken chords and/or single accompaniment such as the Alberti bass. Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven are usually thought of in this period. Others are Clementi and Hummel.

The Romantic Period1800-1925The romantic period is one of contrast and contradictions. Nationalism and program music abound. Rhapsody, fantasy and fantasy sonata, arabesque, romanza, nocturnes and ballade are new free forms. Two-piano works, etudes and new stylized dances such as mazurka and polonaise make their appearance. Virtuoso playing, particularly violin and piano, is typical. The piano has become enlarged, the pedals perfected. Chromatic harmony and wide variation in dynamics from bombastic to poetic delicacy comes in a romantic spirit of imagination and sentiment. The logic of the Classical period is disappearing. Composers of this period are Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, Mendelssohn, MacDowell, Liszt, Brahms, Grieg, Tschaikovsky, Rachmaninoff and Faure. Beethoven spanned both the Classical and Romantic periods.

The Modern Period1890 to presentAn early part of this period is the impressionistic era. Debussy and Ravel of France are the two most important composers of this period. These men were strongly influenced by the painting and literature of the times. Their music is delicate and refined with a vagueness of tonality resulting from an overall fusing of harmonies. Schoenberg has been associated with the twelve tone row and the drawing away from tonality to atonality. Hindemith, Bartok, Milhaud, Scriabin, Prokofiev, Kabalevsky, Khatchaturian, Villa Lobos, Chavez, Bloch and Copland are contributors to the Modern period. This is the age of experiments in harmony, tonality and sonority. Complexity of rhythm, harmony and line have been pushed to new limits. Percussive ideas, the return of polyphonic music and the neo-classic style of writing are part of the new music. Electronics and electronic devices are being experimented with in producing new sounds and ways of making music.