If you love music, especially that of the piano, then you should definitely make room on your musical bookshelf for this wonderful and comprehensive book. The author, Arthur Loesser, was a well-known concert pianist who was also a gifted writer, critic and annotator--shades of that earlier duallist, Berlioz! This dandy, thick book, detailing the history of keyboards, also includes many of the personalities involved in music-making through the centuries. The hard-cover edition--originally published in 1954--is long out of print, making this trade-paper version even more welcome. Once it's yours, you'll be in possession of nearly everything you ever wanted to know about these keyboard instruments--and then some! And, once you begin reading, you'll find it difficult to put it aside, even for a moment. Each major country had its own beginnings with music and the keyboards that brought that music to life. This book is, therefore, a geographical as well as a musical tour. Beginning in about the mid-1500s and continuing to more recent times, Loesser informs us of the musical progression in Germany, Austria, England, France, and finally the US. Whether you begin with the English in the 1500s or the Germans in the 1600s or the French in the 1700s, you'll be intrigued by the variety of instruments unveiled in these pages for your delectation, as well as his humorous side trips into more human endeavors. (There's an entire chapter [Section Three, Chapter Eighteen] on the use of music in the novels of Jane Austen, for example.) Loesser skillfully utilizes his dry and frequently wry wit in detailing the history and usage of keyboard instruments, as well as those who merely were the players of them. It's quite obvious that, to Mr. Loesser, the instruments themselves were the more worthy, and he skillfully educates the reader in the evolution of today's piano, including the advantage gained by the availability of steel framing. There are many types of keyboard instruments, some more well-known than others, but none are slighted in this comprehensive retrospective. In addition, social history is also brought into prominence, as well as those artisans who have moved us with their performances. Another bravura performance from this noted musician.
This book can be tough going at times -- over 600 pages of text alone, densely written, finely detailed, full of endless descriptions of how early pianos were built in the great days of Cristoferi and Silbermann. Then why read this book? Because it is, simply, fascinating. There are chapters on the role of the piano in the works of Jane Austen, the piano as an aid to courtship, on Beethoven's paean to his Broadwood, on the quest for "brilliant but not difficult" music, long descriptions of 19th century mechanical devices of pianistic torture -- there is a great deal of interesting esoterica here, and much to learn. The book is a classic, and I'm glad it's on my bookshelf.
When it comes to the history of the piano, if it's not in this book, you don't need to know it. Loesser writes this "biography" of the piano with accuracy, detail, plenty of anecdotes, good judgment, and an abundance of humor. You'll be hooked after a few lively chapters--even if you thought you had only a passing interest the pianoforte.