Instruments | Fortepiano | Classical Era | Classical

When the player’s fingers press down its keys, the lever mechanism of the fortepiano (meaning ‘loud-soft’) causes the string to be struck once by a covered hammer, rather than plucked as in a harpsichord. The mechanism allowed it to play variously loudly or softly, and in an age producing music of increasing emotional diversity the dynamic range of the fortepiano quickly became essential.

In their experiments with the new instrument, many eighteenth-century fortepiano makers used knee levers and other devices to alter the sound. In addition to the ‘damper’ effect, which modern pianos preserve (nicknamed the ‘soft pedal’), there were pedals or stops to operate drums, triangles, bells and cymbals, and there were even bassoon, harpsichord and buzzer stops. Later makers abandoned these and concentrated instead on producing fortepianos that possessed two qualities: a wider compass and greater dynamic breadth.

The fortepiano was found to be more versatile than the harpsichord, which was the instrument most composers used at the time when writing for keyboard. While Haydn’s early keyboard pieces can be performed on a harpsichord, thelater sonatas cannot. They include markings such as sforzando (‘accented, forced’) and crescendo (‘gradually getting louder’), effects which were impossible on a harpsichord. Certainly, Haydn would have been pleased with the developing fortepiano.

Styles & Forms | Classical Era | Classical
Instruments | Glass Armonica | Classical Era | Classical


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