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Piano Roles

Piano Roles: Three Hundred Years of Life with the Piano

James Parakilas
with E. Douglas Bomberger
Martha Dennis Burns
Michael Chanan
Charlotte N. Eyerman
Edwin M. Good
Atsuko Hirai
Cynthia Adams Hoover
Richard Leppert
Ivan Raykoff
Judith Tick
Marina Tsvetaeva
translated by Jane Costlow
Mark Tucker
Gretchen A. Wheelock
Stephen Zank
Copyright Date: 2001
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 480
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  • Book Info
    Piano Roles
    Book Description:

    The piano puts whole worlds of musical sound at the fingertips of one player, evoking the singing of a solo voice, the textural richness of an orchestra, and the rhythmic impetus of a dance band. It has been background or center stage in concertgoing, parlor singing, choir rehearsals, theatrical tryouts, and many other activities, forging a common bond among people of very different social spheres. This delightfully written and copiously illustrated book examines the place of the piano in classical and popular musical cultures and the piano's changing cultural roles over the past three centuries.Eminent authorities discuss the impetus for the invention of the piano; the innovations in its design, manufacturing, and marketing that promoted its growing significance in concert life and domestic life; and the importance of the piano lesson in the upbringing of the young-especially of girls. They explore the relationship between the piano on the public stage and the piano in the parlor; the spread of the piano to all parts of the world; and the images formed around the piano in literature, art, and movies. And they eloquently describe what the piano has meant to different eras, as it evolved from the plaything of European aristocrats to companion of people of all classes and cultures.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13082-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    In Irving Berlin’sStop! Look! Listen!—which opened on Broadway on Christmas Day, 1915—the song “I Love a Piano” was staged as a lavish production number: the singer Harry Fox and the chorus girls, accompanied by six pianists on six pianos, strutted in front of a giant keyboard that reached across the stage. Like Leporello in Mozart’s Catalog Aria, who declares Don Giovanni’s love for women “of every form, rank, and age,” the soloist here offers his own musical catalog of pianos and reasons why he adores them so:

    I love to stop right

    beside an Upright,

    Or a...

  5. One 1700 to 1770s: The Need for the Piano
    (pp. 7-25)

    In 1700, the year by which the first piano had been built, European musical life was full of stringed keyboard instruments—spinets, virginals, clavichords, and harpsichords, among others—some providing quiet pleasure in private chambers, others holding their own in crowded opera pits, church choirs, and court orchestras.¹ Why, then, was a new kind of stringed keyboard instrument needed? And once it was built, how did it come to displace its predecessors? Did the piano improve on what they did, or fulfill a different need?

    The violin likewise was born into a world full of other bowed instruments. But because...

  6. Two Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos
    (pp. 26-63)

    In the beginning, the clientele was wealthy and noble, the workshops small. From the start, it was important for piano makers to have influential clients, links with leading performers (who were often also composers), an understanding of technologies applicable to instrument building, and a savvy sense of both production techniques and marketing opportunities. In all the major developments in piano making to be considered here—starting with the invention—this same configuration of factors came into play.

    Who, then, drove the invention of the piano at the beginning of the eighteenth century? Was it the wealthy patron? The enterprising instrument...

  7. Three 1770s to 1820s: The Piano Revolution in the Age of Revolutions
    (pp. 64-109)

    Muzio Clementi did it all. By the age of fourteen, in 1766, he had been appointed to a position as a church organist in Rome, his native city, and was composing both keyboard and sacred vocal music. At that point he was scooped up by a rich Englishman, Peter Beckford, who paid Clementi’s father to let him bring the boy to his estate in Dorset, where in addition to providing musical entertainment, Clementi spent long hours, for seven years, turning himself into a keyboard virtuoso with unprecedented skills. Thereupon he set out for London, where he made a name and...

  8. Four The Piano Lesson
    (pp. 110-149)

    The experience of learning the piano, or even of trying to learn, stays with people all their lives. It affects their posture and physical coordination, self-discipline and self-confidence; their relations with parents, siblings, and children; their capacity to learn from others and from their own mistakes, to listen, read, process, and think, to speak, move, and act—as well as play—in public. No matter how far they get in learning the piano, the experience affects what happens in their minds and bodies as they listen to Oscar Peterson or Alicia de Larrocha, and in subtler ways as they sing,...

  9. Five 1820s to 1870s: The Piano Calls the Tune
    (pp. 150-183)

    In 1842, Charles Dickens visited the boomtown of the American industrial revolution and was astonished by a piano. In the textile mills of Lowell, Massachusetts, he found that the work was done mostly by young, single women who had been recruited from the farms of northern New England; that in itself was different from the mills that Dickens had visited in England. But he was especially startled when he went to the company boardinghouses where these women lived and discovered how they spent their time after a gruelingly long workday.

    Firstly, there is a joint-stock piano in a great many...

  10. Six The Concert and the Virtuoso
    (pp. 184-223)

    What were piano concerts or “recitals” like in the past? It is difficult to know exactly, because histories of keyboard instruments and music do not always describe these performances, and it remains tempting to assume that such musical events were “variations upon a theme” of late-twentieth-century performing practice—that is, variants of the contemporary piano recital that audiences so often hear today. But the history of piano concerts is much richer than a simple extrapolation from today’s concert practices suggests. Although varying traditions developed within different national boundaries, the piano evolved the same set of performing roles—supportive, collaborative, competitive,...

  11. Seven 1870s to 1920s: The World’s the Limit
    (pp. 224-261)

    The 1870s to the 1920s were the heyday of the piano in Western musical culture. By 1870 production of pianos had grown to about 85,000 instruments a year in the four leading piano-producing nations—in order, Britain, the United States, France, and Germany. From then the number increased relentlessly, until by 1910 it had reached almost 600,000 a year in those four countries alone.¹ Given that pianos are long-lasting products, this growth represents an astonishingly steady rise in the number of first-time buyers during this fifty-year period. The music business in general—music publishing, concert giving, and music education—prospered...

  12. Eight Hollywood’s Embattled Icon
    (pp. 262-287)

    As Kurt Weill once said, the silent movie needed music the way dry cereal needs cream. Unable to provide it by mechanical means, the cinema gave the piano a great boost, at least as long as the screen was mute. We know that piano improvisation on popular tunes accompanied projection from the debut of the Lumière Cinématographe in Paris in 1895 onward (at the London debut it was a harmonium), and that the use of the phonograph to provide music was also an intermittent early practice (technically unsatisfactory, but people kept trying). In the music halls and the large purpose-built...

  13. Nine 1920s to 2000: New Voices from the Old Impersonator
    (pp. 288-320)

    The piano has always been an adaptable instrument: from the start, it has been used to adapt music from one setting to another, and its design has been continually updated to accommodate new musical tasks and styles. But at the end of World War I, a moment of cataclysmic suffering and disorienting social upheaval throughout the industrial world, things changed. For the first time in the history of the instrument, not only did sales of pianos begin a long-term decline; piano manufacturers stopped experimenting with their product and even discontinued recent innovations. For example, after sales of player pianos plummeted...

  14. Afterword: Making the Piano Historical
    (pp. 321-326)

    In the early nineteenth century, it was possible to dust a harpsichord off and play it, as an exercise in historical rediscovery, because the harpsichord was a dead instrument by then. It was much more complicated—and much less inviting—to dust off an eighteenth-century piano at that time and try to learn something about history from it. The piano was a living, developing creation, and it was impossible to take too great an interest in its past state without threatening its present. After all, the historical activity that most occupied nineteenth-century keyboard players was to perform the harpsichord music...

  15. Notes
    (pp. 327-362)
  16. Recommended Readings
    (pp. 363-368)
  17. Contributors
    (pp. 369-372)
  18. Index
    (pp. 373-404)