A History of Western Music

By Donald Jay Grout; Claude V. Palisca | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 17

SOLO, CHAMBER, AND VOCAL MUSIC
IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY

THE PIANO

The piano of the nineteenth century was quite different from the one in Mozart's day. Nor was it the same as our modern piano, with its iron frame, greater string tension, ringing and sustained sound, and big volume. By 1800 the piano had been reshaped, enlarged to seven octaves, provided with felt‐ covered hammers, and strengthened by metal plates and braces. It was capable of producing a full, firm tone at any dynamic level, of responding in every way to demands for both expressiveness and virtuosity. The piano was the quintessential instrument of the salon or living room and therefore it created a steady demand for music that amateurs and professionals could play in a domestic setting. This was particularly important to freelance composers like Schubert and Chopin.

At the beginning of the century there were two distinct schools of piano playing. One, represented by Mozart's talented pupil Johann Nepomuk Hummel (1778-1837), emphasized clear textures and fluent technique. The other school, to which Beethoven belonged, emphasized full tone, wide dynamic range, orchestral effects, dramatic execution, and an abundance of technical equipment. Both styles are present in the works of Muzio Clementi, influential Italian composer, pianist, teacher, and manufacturer of pianos. Clementi's famous Gradus ad Parnassum, published 1817-26, consists of one hundred études "in strict and free style," that is, contrapuntal exercises and virtuoso studies; his many sonatas were highly regarded by Beethoven. (See NAWM 102 and the discussion on pages 517-20. )

Performing styles

Later in the nineteenth century several more approaches to piano performance and composition emerged. Elegance, sentiment, brightness, and clarity

Composers and performers

-571-

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