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Interesting Facts about Piano History: Baroque Era


The Baroque Era lasted from 1600 to 1750. It was a period of tremendous growth in music and the use of musical instruments. Understanding the significance of this era is impossible without knowing what preceded it. In other words, you have to appreciate the state of music during the Renaissance period before you can truly appreciate piano history in this Era.


The Renaissance lasted from the 1400s to 1600. It succeeded the Medieval Era. During the Renaissance era, music was mostly vocal. However, the use of certain instruments such as the keyboard, violin, and the guitar became commonplace. These instruments presented composers and musicians with new exploration ideas. Influences during this period included the artistic heritage of ancient Greece, the Protestant Reformation, and literary materials that survived the fall of Rome.


The Precursor to Pianos

The late medieval era, the Renaissance, the Baroque period, and the classical era saw the use of a keyboard-like stringed instrument known as the clavichord. Although it was invented in the fourteenth century, its popularity in Europe rose in the 16th to 18th century. It was especially popular among German-speaking lands, in the Iberian Peninsula and the Scandinavia. The use of clavichord declined sharply in the 1850’s, but in the 1890’s, Arnold Dolmetsch revived its construction while Violet Gordon Woodhouse assisted in popularizing its use. Today, the use of clavichord is limited to Renaissance, Baroque, and Classical music enthusiasts.


The Harpsichord

The harpsichord was a most commonly used instrument during the Baroque period. Musicians used it as a choral accompaniment and for basso continuo. The instrument was mostly used in small chamber music ensembles, opera orchestra, and Baroque orchestra. Moreover, the harpsichord was used as a solo instrument to play virtuoso concertos in the same era.


Harpsichords are string instruments. Some of them use one string per note while the more elaborate ones can use two or more strings for each note. Harpsichords that have more strings are better compared to one-string-per-note harps since you can easily vary their tone and volume. These benefits are enhanced by including different choirs of strings with varying tonal qualities.


The Fortepiano

The fortepiano is a stringed instrument just like the harpsichord, but it has strings that are thin and it has leather-covered hammers unlike the latter. This instrument is much lighter than the modern piano and is usually very responsive. During its invention, the fortepiano had a range of four octaves, but they increased as the instrument was improved. Mozart used a piano with five octaves but this still, gradually advanced to six and by the nineteenth century, it had reached seven & a half octaves.


Early fortepianos are similar to some modern day pianos i.e. the ones that have pedals. The only difference is that these were not always pedals but sometimes they could be knee levers. These pianos gave the player the freedom to determine the volume of each note. Each fortepiano register also produced a different tone quality such as bass slightly buzzed, high treble ‘tinkling,’ and more rounded mid-range. These variations made them differ from the modern day pianos, which produce more uniform sound through their range.


Cristofori’s fortepianos are the most admired among all fortepiano as they are more subtle and effective than others are. He used double strings in his instruments, which made the hammer strike more than one string while playing the instrument. His fortepianos were also the first to have a soft pedal incorporated, and it is speculated the modern pedal could have arisen from this invention.


Uses of the Fortepiano during the Baroque Era

Cristofori’s version of the piano was meant to solve the problems of the harpsichord and the clavichord. Instead of striking or plucking strings with tangents and quails, his piano used hammers to strike the strings and fall back immediately after striking. The idea was a genius one since it allowed a player to play several notes repeatedly and produce varying tones.


Notable Piano Makers during Baroque Era

Bartolommeo Cristofori, a musical instrument maker from Italy, is credited as being the inventor of the piano. At age 33, Ferdinando de Medici recruited Cristofori. He was to work as an inventor and restoration of valuable harpsichords. Even after the Prince’s death, Cristofori continued working for the Medicis. Although it is not known how many pianos he made throughout his lifetime, three of his pianos survive to date.


In German-speaking nations, fortepianos were introduced by Gottfried Silbermann in 1730s. He used Cristofori’s designs, and he got royal support from Fredrick the Great. Johann Andres Stein was another notable builder during Silbermann’s era. Silbermann was his teacher. His pianos however, had a backward hammer, and the striking end was closer to the hammer.


Notable Piano Players of Baroque Music


Francois Couperin

He was a French-born in a musically talented Couperin family and lived between November 1668 and September 1773. He was commonly known as ‘Couperin the Great’ to distinguish him from his other family members. Among his many works, he introduced the works of Italian composer Corelli, in the French form. In this work, he married the Italian and French styles of music and he called it ‘Styles Reunited.’

Couperin also wrote four volumes of harpsichord music, which contained 230 individual pieces. The publication of these volumes took place in 1713, 1717, 1722, and 1730. Unlike other pieces, which were divided into suites, Couperin’s pieces were grouped into orders, which were his personal form of suites and contained descriptive and traditional pieces.


Domenico Scarlatti

He was an Italian composer, and he spent most of his time in the service of Spanish and Portuguese royal families. He got his first music education from his father who was a composer and a teacher. He also received training from other music teachers who had a lot of influence in Scarlatti’s music style. These included Francesco Gasparini, Gaetano Greco, and Bernardo Pasquini.

Although only a few of Scarlatti’s collections were published during his lifetime, he oversaw the publishing of the collection ‘Exercises’ and it was well received throughout Europe. Many of his unpublished sonatas have appeared in print irregularly, two and a half centuries later.


Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann was a Baroque era composer from Germany. He had strong abilities with the organ, and through his skills in counterpoint, rhythm adaptation, and harmonic motivic organization and textures from abroad, he managed to create German style. During his lifetime, Bach received a lot of public recognition. He is remembered as an influential composer of his time.


George F. Handel

He was born in 1685. He is mostly remembered for his operas, anthems, organ concertos, and oratorios, all of which he performed in London. He is revered as a distinguished composer of this era. He composed over forty operas in a period of thirty years, and with the re-emergence of baroque music in the 1960’s, Handel’s music became popular again.



Cristofori Bartolommeo gave the piano a new purpose when he modified the harpsichord. With the new design, many other inventors worked on his model, and although their models were still accepted, none of them beat Cristofori’s model. Additionally, the fortepiano is significant in piano history because it gave musicians the additional freedom they required to explore different notes and harmonies. Conclusively, one can say that baroque era piano changed the history of music composition.


Keep reading: “Interesting Facts About The Piano That You May Not Know”>>

Read on: “Inspiration from the Life of Ludwig van Beethoven”>>

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