NPR Online


The Evolution of the Piano
with Charles Rosen

Our Milestones of the Millennium series continues as Performance Today host Martin Goldsmith joins eminent pianist and scholar Charles Rosen on location in the Hall of Musical Instruments at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History. Rosen samples the sounds of keyboard instruments from time of Bach to a "modern" concert grand of 1892.

Rosen explains that early pianos were more often played by women, whose smaller hands accommodated the thinner keys of these instruments. Pianos were gradually built for larger concerts and thus needed bigger soundboards and keys to fit. Fortunately, because the performance styles of later virtuosos were often more than the earlier pianos could withstand. Rosen tells us that Beethoven once cracked a piano from an earlier era in half with his power chords.

During the tour, Rosen demonstrates Bach on a harpsichord, Mozart on an early Dulcken piano, and Beethoven and Schubert on an early Broadwood piano. Next, Rosen plays the first movement of Beethoven's "Pathetique" Sonata on a beautifully-maintained 1832 Graf piano that also includes a bizarre percussion pedal.

Later, Rosen samples instruments that were products of the industrial revolution: pianos with steel frames. On an 1854 Erard piano--the kind Franz Liszt favored--Rosen plays a transcription Liszt made of a song by Frederic Chopin: "My Joys." He also plays Chopin's Nocturne in F-sharp before finishing with Intermezzos Nos. 1 and 3 from the Op. 119 set by Johannes Brahms on what is for all intents and purposes a modern concert grand, an 1892 Steinway.

Listen to Rosen's enlightening tour reuniting the works of great composers with the different pianos common to their eras. (This audio segment requires the free RealPlayer.)

Rosen's tour through the history of the piano marks the third installment of PT's new Milestones of the Millenium series.



back to PT Home Page

This page and all contents are Copyright © 1999 by National Public Radio, Washington, D.C.