of MUSIC for the PIANO

The story of the great classical composers of piano music actually begins before the invention of the piano itself. We will start ours with Johann Sebastian Bach.

Prior to Bach and his contemporaries, music for keyboard instruments (harpsichord, clavichord and organ) often does not work very well when played on the modern piano. It was written for the specific characteristics and capabilities of those instruments. Played on the piano, keyboard music of the pre-Bach era generally frequently just sounds wrong. The richness of the organ or harpsichord that is essential to the music is gone, and the much more expressive and dynamic nature of the piano are, of course, not exploited in the music. The result is music that seems at the same time finicky and devoid of emotional content.

Bach's music for keyboard, while indeed written to be performed on the keyboard instruments of his day, does not rely on the qualities of those instruments as the basis of its artistic genesis. Bach was a genius of the highest order and his keyboard music seems to have been created outside the limiting context of contemporary instruments. Certainly he did not compose pieces that could not be played on those instruments, but the music appears to evolve in a pure musical ether rather than as a slave to the performance conventions of the time. The result is that when performed on a modern piano capable of a range of expression unimagined at the time, Bach's keyboard music finds a vehicle appropriate to its richness and can be considered to be true piano music.

Though Bach did hear and play on the very early pianos built by those following in the footsteps of Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732) (who is given credit for inventing the piano) , he was initially not particularly enthusiastic. After some of his criticisms were subsequently addressed by the piano makers, he did in fact become an advocate for the further development of the piano. He must have sensed that the ultimate communicative capabilities of such an instrument went far beyond anything that had come before.

But it was Bach's son Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach, who must be given credit for being the first of the true great classical composers of music written specifically for the Piano and for developing a keyboard technique suited to the capabilities of the new instrument.

We will explore the evolution of classical composers of piano music who concentrated on or devoted a significant portion of their genius to writing music for the piano. A good many of these were composer-pianists who wrote music for their own use and to show off their technical prowess.

I will, of course, include Bach and his contemporaries as they laid the foundation for everything that came after.

I will also include a few who were primarily organists whose output included music for the piano. One such is a recent discovery of mine, Elfrida Andrée, a Swedish composer and student of Niels Gade who wrote marvelous music and would be much better known had she not been a woman.

Rameau, Jean-Philippe (1683-1764)

Bach, Johann Sebastian (1685-1750)

Scarlatti, Domenico (1685-1757)

Clementi, Muzio (1752-1832)

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791)

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827)

Hummel, Johann Nepomuk (1778-1837)

Field, John (1783-1837)

Szymanowska, Maria (1789-1831)

Czerny, Carl (1791-1857)

Moscheles, Ignaz (1794-1870)

Schubert, Franz (1797-1828)

Mendelssohn, Felix (1809-1847)

Schumann, Robert (1810-1856)

Chopin, Frédéric (1810-1849)

Liszt, Franz (1811-1886)

von Henselt, Adolf (1814-1889)

Andrée. Elfrida (1841-1929)

Jaëll, Marie (1846-1925)

Tausig, Carl (1841-1871)

Sgambati, Giovanni (1841-1914)

Here is my new book, a murder mystery with a musical polemic

and the audiobook version

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