TPO 16. Lecture 2 Music History

TPO 16. Lecture 2. Music History

Narrator: Listen to part of a lecture in a music history class.

Up until now in our discussions and readings about the broken early classical periods, we’ve been talking about the development of musical styles and genres within the relatively narrow social context of its patronage by the upper classes. Composers, after all, had to earn a living and those who were employed in the services of a specific patron, well, I don’t have to spell it out for you, the likes and dislikes of that patron, this would’ve had an effect on what was being composed and performed. Now, of course, there were many other influences on composers, um, such as the technical advances we’ve seen in the development of some of the instruments, uh, you remember the transverse flute, the clarinet and so on.

But I think if I were asked to identify a single crucial development in European music of this time, it would be the invention of the piano, which, interestingly enough also had a significant effect on European society of that time. And I’ll get to that in a minute. Now, as we know, keyboard instruments existed long before the piano – the organ, which dates back to the Middle Ages, as do other keyboard instruments, such as the harpsichord which is still popular today with some musicians. But none of these has had as profound an impact as the piano.
Um, the piano was invented in Italy in 1709. The word piano is short for pianoforte, a combination of the Italian words for soft and loud. Now, unlike the harpsichord which came before it, the piano is a percussion instrument. You see, the harpsichord is actually classified as a string instrument, since pressing a key of a harpsichord causes a tiny quill that’s connected to the key to pluck the strings that are inside the instrument, much the same as a guitar pick plucks the strings of a guitar But pressing the keys of a piano causes tiny felt-covered hammers to strike the strings inside the instrument, like drumsticks striking the head of a drum. This striking action is why the piano is a percussion instrument instead of a string instrument.
Okay, so why is this so important? Well, the percussive effect of those little hammers means that the pianist, unlike the harpsichordist, can control the dynamics of the sound – how softly or loudly each note is struck, hence the name, pianoforte, soft and loud. Now artistically for both composers and performers this was a major turning point. This brand new instrument, capable of producing loud and soft tones, greatly expanded the possibilities for conveying emotion. This capacity for increased expressiveness, in fact, was essential to the Romantic style that dominated 19th century music. But I’m getting ahead of myself

Um, before we get back to the musical impact of this development, I wanna take a look at the social impact that I mentioned earlier. Now, in the late 1 7005 and the earlier 1 800s, the development of the piano coincided with the growth of the middle class in Western Europe. Of course folk music, traditional songs and dances had always been part of everyday life. But as mass production techniques were refined in the 19th century, the price of pianos dropped to the point that a larger proportion of the population could afford to own them. As pianos became more available, they brought classical music, the music which previously had been composed only for the upper classes, into the lives of the middle class people as well.
One way in particular that we can see the social impact of this instrument is its role in the lives of women of the time. Previously, it was quite rare for a woman to perform on anything, but maybe a harp or maybe she sang. But suddenly in the 19th century it became quite acceptable, even, to some extent, almost expected for a middle-class European woman to be able to play the piano, partly because among upper-middle class women it was a sign of refinement. But it was also an excellent way for some women to earn money by giving piano lessons. And some women, those few who had exceptional talent and the opportunity to develop it, their lives were dramatically affected. Later we’ll be listening to works by a composer named Robert Schumann. But let’s now talk about his wife Clara Schumann. Clara Schumann was born in Germany in 1819. She grew up surrounded by pianos. Her father sold pianos and both her parents were respected piano teachers. She learned to play the instrument when she was a small child and gave her first public recital at age 9. Clara grew up to become a well-known and respected piano virtuoso, a performer of extraordinary skill who not only gave concerts across Europe, but also was one of the first important female composers for the instrument.

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