Friday, 17 April 2009

A Very Brief History of the Piano

If the history of the development of the piano up to the Nineteenth century is a narrative of its increasing technical perfection, the expansion of its dynamic range and the richness of its sonorities, then the continuation of this story into the Twentieth century mirrors a scene in the Marx Brothers’ film A Day at the Races in which Harpo’s piano playing causes keys to fly off and the body to break down, until he is left with just the strings and their frame - which he proceeds to play upright, as a harp. Throughout the last century, the history of the piano, as ultimate symbol of cosy Victorian domesticity, is a history of its progressive abuse and mutilation. After the ‘preparations’ of Cowell and Cage, the abuses and invasions of the Fluxus school, finally, the Radiophonic Workshop’s disembodied frame, struck by Brian Hodgson’s house keys to make the sound of the Tardis lifting off, and the single plucked string, autonomous partial object, from which Delia Derbyshire constructed the bass line of the Dr Who theme.