Piano music

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Piano music is a collective term for musical forms of expression that are performed on a piano . As a rule, it refers to compositions and improvisations which in Europe were generally intended for keyboard instruments , especially for string pianos since the 16th century, and for fortepiano since the 18th century .

The history of piano music is closely linked to the structural development of stringed keyboard instruments, their tonal properties and technical possibilities. Since the piano allows a single player to play many tones, melodies and harmonies at the same time, many composers have dedicated special works to it; some have turned to this instrument in particular, others have used it for composing at all. There is also a great variety of playing styles and interpretations. Therefore, piano music is an independent strand of music history with its own characteristics, which at the same time reflects its broad lines.


The oldest record of specific music for clavier (keyboard instruments) is the English Robertsbridge Codex (created after 1314): the oldest known tablature in which note pitches were designated with letters. It contained three motets and three dance songs ( Estampes ), which were to be performed instrumentally.

The Codex Faenza 117 (created from 1420 to 1475 in Italy) contained hundreds of adaptations of popular motets by composers of the French-Italian Ars nova keyboard music in mensural . The coloratura-like decorations of the upper part indicate the beginning of virtuoso piano music, which could also be practiced outside of the sacred vocal and organ music reserved for the church .

English virginalists

Between 1520 and 1640 there was a heyday in England for special music for the virginal , which was independent from the organ , the name of which was also a generic term for stringed keyboard instruments. Composers such as Hugh Ashton , John Bull , William Byrd , Giles Farnaby , Orlando Gibbons , John Munday , Thomas Morley , Peter Philips and Thomas Tomkins wrote many dances - such as Galliards , Pavans and Grounds - as well as cycles of variations on well-known songs and programmatic character pieces for music-making amateurs .

Some of her pieces had very virtuoso, polyphonic passages for both hands, were collected by wealthy music lovers and published in print, for example the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book of 1610. They influenced continental piano music, for example that of the Dutchman Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck . 20th century pianists such as Glenn Gould have interpreted English virginal music on the modern grand piano.


In Baroque music , the beginnings of classical piano music developed. The works of Johann Sebastian Bach , especially his French and English suites, were decisive for this . A special example are the partitas for harpsichord from his keyboard practice . In addition to the Goldberg Variations , the preludes and fugues from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier as well as his Chromatic Fantasy and Fugue are among the foundations for further development. Even George Frideric Handel wrote several suites for harpsichord. In France, François Couperin and Jean-Philippe Rameau cultivated the tradition of the harpsichord suites; At the Spanish court, the Italian Domenico Scarlatti wrote over 500 one-movement, two-part sonatas .


From around 1775 Muzio Clementi , Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart no longer compose works that are expressly intended for the fortepiano for the harpsichord or clavichord. Since then, almost all of the major composers have devoted themselves to piano music.

In the Viennese classical period , around 1780, the piano sonata became particularly important; Numerous cycles of variations are mainly written by Haydn and Mozart for daily needs, but with Beethoven's Diabelli Variations they reach a new musical high point.


Franz Schubert stands at the transition from the classical to the romantic , who achieved an undreamt-of depth of expression in his last three sonatas and is also known as the author of Moments musicaux and the Wanderer-Fantasie . From around 1830 the character piece becomes significant for Schumann and Liszt . Chopin composed almost exclusively for the piano; His etudes , nocturnes , ballads , mazurkas and preludes are of particular importance .


In impressionism , from 1892, the traditional forms were dissolved; central names are Debussy and Ravel .

20th century

In new music , since 1909, experiment has played an increasingly important role; in extreme cases, the pianist does not press a single key, for example in a silent composition by John Cage , known as 4'33 ″ , and in the composition Guero by Helmut Lachenmann , in which the surface of the keyboard is brushed with fingernails. Further representatives: Adorno , Schönberg .

Genres such as the art song , the piano trio or the piano concerto belong to vocal, chamber and orchestral music.


Most of the piano music for two hands is notated on two staves connected by an accolade and bar lines. Often, but not always, there is a bass clef in the lower staff for the lower notes played by the left hand, and in the upper staff a treble clef for the higher notes played by the right hand.

A fingering (1 = thumb, 2 = forefinger, etc.) can be placed below the notes for the left hand and above the notes for the right hand, usually by an arranger. There are also examples of this by composers.

The use of the pedals is often left to the discretion of the musician, although original instructions from the composer take precedence. The sign Pedal Mark 1.svgcalls for all dampers to be raised so that the strings vibrate freely; the asterisk Music-pedalup.svgcalls for the end of this measure; what is meant is the right pedal. A more recent, also frequently used symbol is the horizontal square bracket. The sign u. c. ( una corda , Italian for “one string”) calls for the mechanics to be moved so that the hammers only strike one of two or two of three equally tuned strings; the character t. c. ( tre corde , Italian for "three strings") or t. l. c. ( tutte le corde , Italian for "all strings") calls for an end to this measure; So what is meant is the left pedal of the grand piano. There is no special symbol for the middle pedal of the grand piano; occasionally 3rd Ped. written.

Impressionist music often uses not just two, but three systems in order to accommodate the complex piano setting more clearly. In New Music, word problems or graphics sometimes take the place of traditional notation.

Typical for jazz is the lead sheet , on which only the text of a song and the associated chord symbols are noted, sometimes also the melody; Based on this information, a jazz pianist can both play solo and accompany.


Web links

Wiktionary: Piano music  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Werner Oehlmann, Christiane Bernstorff-Engelbrecht (ed.): Reclam's piano music guide Volume 1: Early, Baroque and Classical. Philipp Reclam junior, eighth edition, Stuttgart 2005, ISBN 3-15-010112-3 , pp. 6-10
  2. Werner Oehlmann, Christiane Bernstorff-Engelbrecht (ed.): Reclam's piano music guide Volume 1: Early, Baroque and Classical. Stuttgart 2005, p. 14f.
  3. This information and the following dates: Harvard Dictionary of Music . London 1970. Article Piano music and Impressionism .