The A-Z of the piano

We celebrate the world's most popular instrument with a look at 26 of its greatest features

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C is for Chamber and Concerto

Towards the end of the 18th century, as the piano replaced the harpsichord as keyboard instrument of choice, new chamber music combinations emerged reflecting the piano’s increasing power: the Piano Trio, Quartet and Quintet became popular means of expression in Europe. Strangely, though, many such works by Mozart, Beethoven and Mendelssohn were not heard in the US until the 1850s.

Mozart’s miraculous run of piano concertos showed for the first time the new expressive range of the piano when set against a full orchestra, and introduced the concept of a star soloist engaged in lively or intimate conversation with the orchestral players. As the modern piano developed further, so did the conversation become ever more strident and confrontational. Not every critic took to them immediately.

Reviewing Brahms’s two Piano Concertos, the Saturday Review wrote in 1898: ‘Of the two, the one in D minor is distinctly less abominable than the other, but neither contains much genuine music.’ And in 1918, the New York Times ripped Prokofiev’s First Piano Concerto apart… ‘There were moments when the piano and orchestra made sounds that evoked not only the downfall of empires, but also of fine crockery, the fragments flying in all directions.’

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