Category: Instruments

  • Liszt on the piano

    In its span of seven octaves [the piano] embraces the range of an orchestra; the ten fingers of a single man suffice to render the harmonies produced by the combined forces of more than 100 concerted instruments. We make arpeggios like the harp, prolonged notes like wind instruments, staccatos, and a thousand other effects which […]

  • Hough and Schnabel on piano rolls

    I want to believe in piano rolls. The idea that we can insert an object into a present-day piano and hear long-dead pianists and composers perform again as if they were in the same room is a tantalisingly attractive prospect. It has a magical aura about it. But, I’m afraid, it’s a conjuring trick, or […]

  • ‘Real’ instruments in popular music

    “We’re seeing a big evolution of production, of recording techniques, and of the actual sounds. Everything’s getting sampled and synthesized…. When we do have an acoustic instrument like a saxophone, it tends to get processed to where [it’s] almost unrecognizable.” Jeff Harrington, saxophonist. Cited in, Kelsey McKinney, “Where Did All the Saxophones Go?”,, accessed 29 […]

  • Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy

    One of the most magical passages in Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy. The featured instrument, the celeste, was a relatively new invention, having only been developed by a Parisian harmonium builder, Auguste Mustel, in 1886. The French word “céleste” translates to “heavenly”. Tchaikovsky first discovered the celeste while visiting Paris […]

  • The Jankó Keyboard

    The Hungarian mathematician, Paul von Jankó developed an alternate layout to the traditional piano keyboard. In July 1888, upon seeing a performance in London by John Carlowitz Ames, The Musical Times reported: The clever idea, which suggested itself to the inventor as a means for overcoming the difficulty of stretching long intervals on the pianoforte […]

  • The tone of the piano at the turn of the nineteenth century

    In 1796, the piano maker Johann Andreas Streicher sent Beethoven one of his pianos as a gift.  Beethoven's reply sheds some interesting light on the tone of the piano at this time: There is no doubt that so far as the manner of playing is concerned, the pianoforte is still the least studied and developed […]

  • After music from a bridge, why not a tower?

    To mark the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage up the Hudson river in New York, composer Joseph Bertolozzi sampled sounds of percussively hitting various parts of the bridge.  He now has his sights set on using the Eiffel Tower.  Wakin, Daniel, ""After Music from a Bridge, Why Not A Tower?"", Arts Beat, 8 July […]

  • Some curious devices

    In the late nineteenth-century, some quite curious mechanical inventions were created to deal with the body with relation to pianists and conductors.    The following is an account of a presentation by T. L. Southgate on The Physiology of Pianoforte Piano. The paper presented was written by W. Macdonald Smith.  This account appeared in the […]

  • A mystery instrument created

    Mozart’s Magic Flute uses a glass harmonica or keyed glockenspiel to represent a set of magic bells. “Mozart’s original score for the 1791 opera The Magic Flute called for a glass harmonica or keyed glockenspiel to represent a set of magic bells. The instruments were obscure even in Mozart’s day but more than 200 years after his […]

  • A $1.2 million piano

    “Spotlights dance down on 216 jewels of lead crystal, set in dazzling diamond patterns into the piano’s black lid, sides, legs, fallboard and bench. Each jewel features several hundred to several thousand intricately cut, ground and polished pieces of crystal — nearly a half-million in all.” Glass artist Jon Kuhn has collobarated with Bosendorfer to […]

  • The human voice

    O, how wonderful is the human voice! It is indeed the organ of the soul! The intellect of man sits enthroned visibly upon his forehead and in his eye; and the heart of man is written uponhis countenance. But the soul reveals itself in the voice only; as God revealed himself to the prophet of […]

  • How piano wires have changed throughout history

    While piano wire has changed over the centuries from iron to steel of varying qualities, researchers were surprised to find that the sound produced by the instruments’ wires has remained largely unchanged. “I thought as the wire evolved — as the tension evolved — harmonicity would also change over time,” Purdue University physics professor Nicholas […]

  • Shaw on the cello

    In the nineteenth century, the cello was regarded as an important solo instrument.  George Bernard Shaw wrote in 1890 “I am not fond of the violoncello: ordinarily I had as soon hear a bee buzzing in a stone jug.” Siblin, Eric (2009) The Cello Suites.  Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, p. 71.

  • Violoncello piccolo

    A violoncello piccolo is a violin-sized instrument tuned like a cello.  It is held horizontally, slung from a from a strap over the shoulder lika guitar.  Some of Bach’s cantatas specifically written for this instrument.  It is possible that Bach wrote the cello suites for the instruments (no instrument was specified on the manuscripts). Source: […]

  • Bach’s preferred instrument

    Johann Sebastian Bach’s preferred to play the viola when conducting an orchestra. Source: Siblin, Eric (2009) The Cello Suites.  Crows Nest: Allen and Unwin, p. 216.

  • Beethoven’s piano

    Franz Liszt owned Beethoven’s Broadwood piano.

  • A musical use for trash

    Favio Chávez, a technician at a Paraguayan landfill site, formed the the Cateura Orchestra of Recycled Instruments: an orchestra comprising of the children of landfill works. The orchestra was designed to encourage musical education in an low socio-economic area. A violin would hold more value than a landfill worker’s house. However, by creating instruments out […]

  • That’s a wrap

    Electronic music composer Jeff Bryant never imagined that learning to knit would be part of his graduate coursework at California Institute of the Arts. But when his interface design instructor challenged him to build a non-boring MIDI controller device last fall, Bryant found an unlikely musical ally: red yarn. By weaving conductive thread into the […]

  • Instrumental stereotypes

    Insider jokes are not just for White House Correspondents’ Assn. Dinners or ESPN kibitzers or Academy Awards emcees. They also crop up in discussions about symphony orchestra musicians — a society unto itself. There are jibes and even sober-minded studies that characterize personality types according to the instruments they play. Who are the string players? […]

  • The Brainy Baboon

    “There once was a brainy baboon who always breathed down a bassoon for he said, It appears that in billions of years I shall certainly hit on a tune.” -Ezra Pound – American poet, musician and critic Cited at: QuotationsBook  

  • Mozart’s piano returns to his home

    “The piano that Mozart used for the last 10 years of his life and which he used to compose much of his music was returned to his former home in Vienna for a performance of his music. ‘A big, positive shock was how good the instrument is,’ said Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov after the concert […]

  • A replacement conductor

    The following appeared in the Musical Times, August 1890: We read that “a Saxon engineer has invented an automatic machine, the object of which is to save conductors the physical part of their duties. By pressing a button the apparatus, which is provided with an arm holding a conducting-stick, can be made to beat with the […]

  • Warmed pianos

    There was soon to be no excuse for not practising in the chill of the winter. This excerpt is from The Musical Times, April 1869: WARMED PIANOS (G. Price’s Patent) – These Instruments invite playing in Winter, when the coldness of the keys of all others makes it unnecessarily uncomfortable, if not painful, to many, […]

  • The piano as furniture

    In the ninteenth century, the piano was not only regarded as a musical instrument but as a part of the decor a room. An article in The Musical Times in February 1893 describes some possible applications: Placed near a bay window, it shuts in the cosiest lovers’ next imaginable. Soft-cushioned window seats that have room […]

  • The art of whistling

    In mid-nineteenth century England, whistling was a common source of entertainment and as part of the general reception to a piece of music. An article in March 1854 in The Musical Times reported: We were sorry to hear the vile practice of whistling again carried on to some extent at the concert; were the well-meaning […]