With over 100 illustrations showing the history of the piano from Mozart to Glenn Gould
A beautifully illustrated, engrossing celebration of the piano, and the composers and performers who have made it their own.
Stuart Isacoff — pianist, critic and teacher — explores the history and evolution of the piano: how its sound provides the basis for emotional expression and individual style, why it has so powerfully entertained generation upon generation of listeners. A Natural History of the Piano distills a lifetime of research and passion into one brilliant narrative. We witness Mozart unveiling his monumental concertos in Vienna’s coffeehouses, using a special piano with one keyboard for the hands and another for the feet; European virtuoso Henri Herz entertaining rowdy miners during the California gold rush; Beethoven at his piano, conjuring healing angels to console a grieving mother who had lost her child; Liszt fainting in the arms of a page turner to spark an entire hall into hysterics
Ranging from the groundbreaking music of Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt and Debussy to the breathtaking techniques of Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Arthur Rubinstein and Van Cliburn, Isacoff delineates how classical music and jazz influenced each other as the uniquely American art form progressed from ragtime, novelty, boogie, bebop, and beyond, through Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Herbie Hancock and Bill Charlap.
Here is the instrument in all its complexity and beauty. We learn of the incredible craftsmanship of a modern Steinway, the peculiarity of specialty pianos built for the Victorian household, the continuing innovation in keyboards including electronic ones. And most of all, we hear the music of the masters, from centuries ago and in our own age, as brilliantly evoked as its most recent performance.
Stuart Isacoff is the founding editor of the magazine Piano Today (and edited it for almost thirty years). He currently teaches at the Purchase College Conservatory of Music and contributes regularly to The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization.
Praise for A Natural History of the Piano
“Passion and unstoppable enthusiasm are palpable throughout this beautifully written and illustrated book.”
“It’s almost like listening to the music as you read Isacoff’s relaxed, compelling prose.”
“Wide ranging, illustrated history of the instrument which spans three centuries”
“A treat for all pianists and pianophiles alike, one that leaves behind a rare glow of warmth”
BBC Music Magazine
“[A] richly informative book… [that] should inspire piano novices to investigate the world of what the author calls ‘the most important instrument ever created’”
“Vastly entertaining and wonderfully informative. Isacoff always seems to come up with that extra piece of background or a juicy anecdote. [A] comprehensive and quite brilliant book.”
Classical Music magazine
“A new history of the piano and pianists from Mozart to Jerry Lee Lewis makes entertaining reading… cast[s] fascinating lights on the origin of the instrument”
“Isacoff offers a history and appreciation of the ‘wondrous box’ and its players. He beefs up his tale with plenty of anecdotes and surprising facts… A diverting gift for piano lovers.”
“Illuminating and highly readable… Generously and helpfully illustrated.”
Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill blog
“The gathering together here of so much information is an achievement in itself but to place the material in such an informative and entertaining narrative will make all lovers of the piano and, indeed, lovers of music want this book.”
Bruce Reader, The Classical Reviewer blog
“This book will delight and enthrall pianists and pianophiles everywhere, and… is excellent value as a gift for the piano enthusiast.”
Frances Wilson, The Cross-Eyed Pianist blog
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