Portal:Piano

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A 19th-century grand piano

The piano is a musical instrument played using a keyboard. It is widely used in classical and jazz music for solo performances, ensemble use, chamber music and accompaniment and for composing and rehearsal. Although the piano is not portable and often expensive, its versatility and ubiquity have made it one of the world's most familiar musical instruments.

Pressing a key on the piano's keyboard causes a padded (often with felt) hammer to strike steel strings. The hammers rebound, and the strings continue to vibrate at their resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a sounding board that more efficiently couples the acoustic energy to the air. The sound would otherwise be no louder than that directly produced by the strings. When the key is released, a damper stops the string's vibration and the sound. In the Hornbostel-Sachs system of instrument classification, pianos are considered chordophones.

The word piano is a shortened form of pianoforte (PF), the Italian word for the instrument (which in turn derives from the previous terms gravicembalo col piano e forte and fortepiano). The Italian musical terms piano and forte indicate "soft" and "strong" respectively, in this context referring to the variations in sound volume the instrument produces in response to a pianist's touch on the keys: the greater the velocity of a key press, the greater the force of the hammer hitting the strings, and the louder the sound of the note produced. This is in contrast to the predecessor of the piano, the harpsichord, which cannot produce different dynamics depending on how hard the key is pressed.


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Vladimir Horowitz

Vladimir Horowitz (October 1, 1903 – November 5, 1989) was a Russian-American classical virtuoso pianist and minor composer. His technique and use of tone color and the excitement of his playing were and remain legendary. He is widely considered one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Despite rapturous receptions at recitals, Horowitz became increasingly unsure of his abilities as a pianist. On several occasions, the pianist had to be pushed onto the stage. Several times, he withdrew from public performances. After his comeback in 1965 he gave solo recitals only rarely.

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Chopin's Pleyel piano on Majorca

Pleyel et Cie ("Pleyel and Company") is a French piano manufacturing firm founded by the composer Ignace Pleyel in 1807. In 1815, he was joined by his son, Camille, as a business partner. The firm provided pianos to Frédéric Chopin, and also ran a concert hall, the Salle Pleyel, where Chopin performed his first — and last — Paris concerts. Pleyel's major contribution to piano development was the first use of a metal frame in a piano. Pleyel pianos were the choice of composers such as Debussy, Saint-Saëns, Ravel, de Falla, and Stravinsky.

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Schematic of a piano
Credit: Olek Remesz/Bechstein (latter not the company)
Schematic diagram of a grand piano


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Did you know…

… that the combined string tension in a grand piano is typically 15 to 20 tons and up to 30 tons in concert grands?

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