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What is Fortepiano?

On 22nd April, Yoon Sen lee music presents wonderful concert of teachers playing amazing pieces on both fortepianos and pianoforte.

Today the term fortepiano is generally reserved for instruments made before 1830, or copies of them. Such instruments differ from the modern piano in their appearance, in their touch and in the resulting tone. The distinctive timbres of the 'fortepiano' arise from the following factors:

  • low string tensions (less than a quarter of the strain on modern pianos),

  • the absence of iron framing,

  • the use of soft leather covering to the hammers, rather than compressed felt as used in modern times. (Some eighteenth-century instruments had other covering materials or none, for example cork, or plain wooden hammers - a notable feature of the instruments of Spath of Regensburg).

Earliest fortepianos

Bartolomeo Cristofori, working for Prince Ferdinando dei Medici in Florence, is worthily credited with making the first example, which was recorded among Ferdinando's possessions in 1700. Cristofori named it gravicembalo col piano e forte, meaning 'harpsichord with soft and loud' — but unlike a conventional 'cembalo' it did not pluck the strings, but had small hammers striking them. This is confirmed in an inventory which described the instrument in detail. Many more examples followed, supplied to Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome, and other notables, including Scarlatti's most famous pupil Queen Maria Barbara in Spain.


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