The pianoforte was invented by Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731). Cristofori was unsatisfied by the lack of control that musicians had over the volume level of the harpsichord and is credited for switching out the plucking mechanism with a hammer to create the modern piano around the year 1700.
Importantly, the piano is polyphonic and therefore able to play all of the essential elements of music, i.e. melody, chords and bass lines – all at once if required. This makes the instrument a favourite with solo performers, including home musicians, as well as within all sorts of ensembles. Crucially, it is an ideal instrument for composers of every type of music. Only the guitar, which is also polyphonic, can get anywhere near the piano as a compositional tool.
Piano music is played with two hands: the left hand typically plays the bass line, but might also play chords or counterpoints; the right hand plays the melody, as well as harmonies and chords. Conventionally, the left-hand part is shown on the bass clef and the right-hand part on the treble clef.
I chose to write some pieces for the piano as a challenge for myself during a two-week holiday in which I had no access to musical instruments but did have an iPad with a notation app, in this case Steinberg’s Dorico. I set out to see whether I write anything worthwhile without first working it out on an instrument. Because I’m not fluent at scoring, this was hard work.
Of course, modern notation apps do incorporate sample players so that you can get a good idea what your composition will sound like as you go – a facility not available to Mozart! I cannot simply imagine what a piece will sound like, particularly in terms of harmony and, anyway, I’m pretty sure it’s not possible for humans to ‘think’ of more than one note simultaneously.
I didn’t start out with the idea of composing with a fairly conventional classical feel but that’s how the two pieces that I completed turned out. Have a listen:
Here’s the score for Cairanne:
Chemin de la Montagne
And here’s the score for Chemin de la Montagne:
In late 2023, I set out to write a piece for harpsichord, which pre-dates the piano as the keyboard instrument of choice. To stop myself from simply mimicking the style of the baroque composers, I decided to write a piece in 5/4 time. I called it Pentacordial and here it is:
Here is the score …