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How much do you know about the piano?

By Alyssa Bender


In its three centuries of existence, the piano has become one of the most popular instruments in the world. In a quick poll of our music social media team here at Oxford University Press, nine out of eleven of us have had piano training. (Of course, we are the music social media team, so our results may be a bit skewed from other departments!) To celebrate National Piano Month in the USA, we’ve put together a short quiz about the piano and its history. Good luck, and be sure to leave any fun piano facts you know in the comments.

  1. Where did the name “piano” come from?
  2. Who constructed the first working piano, before any other maker was even experimenting in this field?
  3. True or false: On a piano, the naturals have always been white, and the sharps/flats have always been black.
  4. Invented in the 18th century, a “square piano” was a small piano in a horizontal, rectangular case (a descendant of the clavichord in its shape and design). When did Steinway produce its last square piano?
  5. What was the single most important development in the sound of the Romantic piano?
  6. Automatic piano players were first developed at the end of the 18th century. At the peak of its production in 1923, what was the percentage of automatic pianos out of the total American output of pianos?
  7. True or false: by 1969, Japanese production of pianos outstripped that of all other countries.
  8. True or False: Beethoven and Chopin approved of the pianist’s right in a performance to make changes to the composition.
  9. How much tension do the strings in a modern piano impose?
  10. How long is a concert grand?
  11. In the late 20th century, Fazioli made the largest grand in production. How long was it?
  12. Who was the performer believed to first turn the piano sideways on the stage, so the audience could see his profile?
  13. Who was the first performer to perform regularly in public from memory?


ANSWERS BELOW…

Steinway & Sons concert grand piano. Photo: © Copyright Steinway & Sons. Creative Commons License.

AND NOW THE ANSWERS:

Where did the name “piano” come from?
The instrument’s modern name is a shortened form from its first published description by Scipione Maffei in 1711—“gravecembalo col piano, e forte” (“harpsichord with soft and loud”)

Who constructed the first working piano, before any other maker was even experimenting in this field?
There seems to be no doubt that it was Bartolomeo Cristofori, a keeper of instruments at the Medici court in Florence. An inscription made by Federigo Meccoli (a court musician in Florence) in a copy of Gioseffo Zarlino’s Le istitutioni harmoniche states that the “arpi cimbalo del piano e forte” was invented by Cristofori in 1700.

True or false: On a piano, the naturals have always been white, and the sharps/flats have always been black.
False. On Johann Andreas Stein instruments from 1781 to 1783, the key slips for naturals were ebony and the sharps were made of dyed pearwood topped with bone or ivory.

Invented in the 18th century, a “square piano” was a small piano in a horizontal, rectangular case (a descendant of the clavichord in its shape and design). When did Steinway produce its last square piano?
Steinway, which had made its first uprights in 1862, produced its last square in 1888. Interesting fact: In 1904, the association of American piano manufacturers gathered together all the squares they could find at their meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and burnt them in a bonfire.

What was the single most important development in the sound of the Romantic piano?
The most important development in the sound of the Romantic piano was the new emphasis on the sustaining (or damper) pedal. Up to the first quarter of the 19th century, the damper pedal was mostly regarded as a special effect.

Automatic piano players were first developed at the end of the 18th century. At the peak of its production in 1923, what was the percentage of automatic pianos out of the total American output of pianos?
56%

True or false: by 1969, Japanese production of pianos outstripped that of all other countries.
True. In the late 1970s, Yamaha alone was making more pianos than all American companies combined, with an output of about 200,000 annually, sold mostly in Japan.

True or False: Beethoven and Chopin approved of the pianist’s right in a performance to make changes to the composition.
False. While some believed that the pianist reserved the right to introduce minor changes in a performance, it is known that both Beethoven and Chopin objected to such practices. These practices still flourished.

How much tension do the strings in a modern piano impose?
Approximately 18 tons or 16,400 kg.

How long is a concert grand?
The concert grand is about 275 cm long.

In the late 20th century, Fazioli made the largest grand in production. How long was it?
It was 308 cm long.

Who was the performer believed to first turn the piano sideways on the stage, so the audience could see his profile?
Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812)

Who was the first performer to perform regularly in public from memory?
Franz Liszt (1811-1886)

All the answers to this quiz come from Oxford Music Online.

Alyssa Bender joined Oxford University Press as a marketing assistant in July 2011. She works on academic/trade history, literature, and music titles, and tweets @OUPMusic.

Oxford Music Online is the gateway offering users the ability to access and cross-search multiple music reference resources in one location. With Grove Music Online as its cornerstone, Oxford Music Online also contains The Oxford Companion to Music, The Oxford Dictionary of Music, and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music.

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