The Eighteenth-Century Fortepiano Grand and Its Patrons from Scarlatti to Beethoven

The Eighteenth-Century Fortepiano Grand and Its Patrons from Scarlatti to Beethoven

The Eighteenth-Century Fortepiano Grand and Its Patrons from Scarlatti to Beethoven

The Eighteenth-Century Fortepiano Grand and Its Patrons from Scarlatti to Beethoven


In the late 17th century, Italian musician and inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori developed a new musical instrument--his cembalo che fa il piano e forte, which allowed keyboard players flexible dynamic gradation. This innovation, which came to be known as the hammer-harpsichord or fortepiano grand, was slow to catch on in musical circles. However, as renowned piano historian Eva Badura-Skoda demonstrates, the instrument inspired new keyboard techniques and performance practices and was eagerly adopted by virtuosos of the age, including Scarlatti, J. S. Bach, Clementi, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. Presenting a rich array of archival evidence, Badura-Skoda traces the construction and use of the fortepiano grand across the musical cultures of 18th-century Europe, providing a valuable resource for music historians, organologists, and performers.


One purpose of this book is to draw the attention of musicians and music historians to the implications and consequences of misunderstandings of terms and some other misperceptions. Another is to present historical insights that are results of my lifelong interest in eighteenth-century music and its performance and of my care for a collection of historical keyboard instruments. This book, however, is not intended to become a “History of the Piano-Forte in the Eighteenth Century.” a reader should not expect therefore to find here such a comprehensive history—the book does not pretend such completeness. in addition, I should mention that my historiographical approach is not a mere positivistic one; my intention has always been to question the plausibility of various assumed but somehow odd research results as presented in some books or articles. Documents can be sometimes misleading if taken too literally or misunderstood in another way. Problems stemming from terminological ambiguities caused by incomplete source survival are sometimes difficult to understand and to explain; it needed a repeated careful study of all known sources as well as considerations of plausibility to explain the proposed solutions for obvious riddles not yet generally considered solved. Some of those riddles require a new discussion.

This book was planned many years ago. in an article that appeared in 1980, “Prolegomena to a History of the Viennese Fortepiano,” I spoke of my discovery that during most of the eighteenth century the meanings of the terms harpsichord, cembalo, and clavecin differed from the way these terms have been generally perceived by many musicians in the twentieth century. the opinion that the terms meant in the twentieth century the same as in the

1. the positivistic approach when judging documents is still fashionable and sometimes indeed misleading. As an example one could mention Ralph Kirkpatrick’s contention that Scarlatti composed most of his discussed 555 sonatas in his last years because the sources tell us that they were written during the 1740s and 1750s. But is the conclusion that they were composed that late realistic and plausible? Certainly not, and the general agreement today is that Scarlatti’s earliest known sonatas were probably composed already in Naples, Rome, or Venice, the essercizi anyway in Lisbon, and thus composition dates were often earlier.

2. Israel Studies in Musicology 2 (1980): 77–99.

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