Give me random / fun / interesting piano facts!
September 4, 2014 1:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm managing a piano Twitter account. That is, I'm a piano. It would be fun to tweet piano-related facts. So the basic information should ideally fit in 140 chars (tho can be teaser + link of course). Can be useless factoids or actually interesting stuff/research/history. It's a piano at a train station so even better if it's about piano + transport/commuting (or music + trains etc). THANK YOU!
posted by ClarissaWAM to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Piano is short for pianoforte and dates back to 1709, invented by an Italian harpsichord maker.
posted by beccaj at 1:47 PM on September 4, 2014

I read somewhere that Rachmaninoff and Van Cliburn's hands could span a thirteenth.
posted by Melismata at 1:56 PM on September 4, 2014

Paul Hindemith, 20th century composer, was a rail fanatic who did a lot of composing on trains, including his Sonata for Viola.

(source: the comment on this video, this page)
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:56 PM on September 4, 2014

Even though it has strings, a piano is a percussion instrument.
posted by Gilbert at 2:03 PM on September 4, 2014

And doesn't pianoforte also mean "soft" (piano)/ "loud" (forte) ?? I remember hearing that sometime ago, if I remember correctly.
posted by foxhat10 at 2:05 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not exactly a single fact, but Yamaha is doing some cool experiments with creating hybrid pianos.
posted by alex1965 at 2:24 PM on September 4, 2014

Legendary pianist Vladimir Horowitz was so enamored with his Steinway Model D that he made it his exclusive touring instrument, bringing it to all of his performances in the last four years of his life, including a tour which included the Soviet Union in 1986.
posted by iNeas at 2:38 PM on September 4, 2014

In the vein of pianists with superhuman reach, above: Charles Ives wrote a cluster chord in his Concord Sonata that's so big that it's unplayable by human hands alone - the pianist is supposed to have a 14 3/4" board on hand to play it with.
posted by dr. boludo at 2:44 PM on September 4, 2014

If I'm a bit sharp with you today, blame the weather. It's raining outside.


Ooh, that passing locomotive has a whistle from Nathan of New York - I can tell from the bright G-major 6th chord (GBDEG)

Ugh! That tank-engine has such a tin ear! I always know the temperature outside by how far off-key his whistle is!
posted by anonymisc at 3:10 PM on September 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

Opperknockity only tunes once.
posted by freshwater at 3:24 PM on September 4, 2014

The Beatles' "Hey Jude", Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody", David Bowie's "Life on Mars?", Elton John's "Tiny Dancer", and Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" were all recorded using the same piano, a century-old Bechstein Grand from Trident Studios.
posted by Rhaomi at 3:48 PM on September 4, 2014 [3 favorites]

The first piano on the Canadian prairie arrived in 1830! and its transport thither by canoe is the subject of a cute very short animation.
posted by Erasmouse at 3:59 PM on September 4, 2014

You could link to some funny piano-related clips such as Victor Borge and Igudesman and Joo. One related to a previous comment: Rachmaninoff had big hands!
posted by Madamina at 4:41 PM on September 4, 2014

Yeah, the fortepiano (loud/soft - and to this day 'piano' is really shorthand for pianoforte) came about because, unlike its predecessors, the piano has dynamic-responsive keys (it can play at different volumes depending on how hard you hit it).

The piano is actually both a string and percussion instrument.

I think the most interesting thing about the piano is probably that it's well-tempered. Early versions of piano-like instruments were not well-tempered, which made it impossible to do that very neat trick of the modern piano, where you can play a tune in any key with relative ease. The octave on the piano is divided into 12 equal steps, so the octaves are tuned to each other, but this means that, for example, the fifth is never perfectly tuned to the tonic. It's close, but not quite in tune. So you are never really, truly playing 'in tune' on a piano (though you can't really hear it).

"middle C" is actually just below the middle of the piano - the true middle is between e and f above middle C.

How the actual physical response of the keys is called the 'action.'

Tickling the ivories of course refers to how all piano keys used to have ivory keys, but haven't now for about 70 years.
posted by Lutoslawski at 5:29 PM on September 4, 2014

(An) interesting feature about strung keyboard instruments is that they can be tuned in any kind of temperament, not only in (whatever may at any point in time be called) well temperament. Or in quarter tone steps...or prepared with all sorts of tone-modifying gadgets. Or drowned in a mountain lake, as the French pianist Francois René Duchable has demonstrated.

(Talking as someone who's doing research on historical keyboard instruments, and specifically early pianos, can we help the OP in not letting this deteriorate into chat-filter by at least keeping answers within Wikipedia range-of-accuracy please? Bartolomeo Crisofori's first piano was described in 1700, and there may even have been earlier ones...)
posted by Namlit at 7:32 PM on September 4, 2014

Or, to be more concrete and less cryptic, ANY kind of stringed instrument with a chromatic keyboard can be tuned in any kind of temperament, so a modern piano can be tuned in quarter comma meantone just as a harpsichord from the sixteenhundreds can be tuned in modern equal temperament if one wishes so. (And whether a so-called j.s.bachian "well-tempered" tuning means that the instrument is to be tuned in actual modern equal temperament is still a matter of dispute).
posted by Namlit at 7:44 PM on September 4, 2014

Schumann had a promising career as a concert pianist ahead of him until he damaged his hand with an ill-advised mechanical finger-strengthener. Or maybe he just had syphilis.

This is the one thing I remember from piano lessons.
posted by hydrophonic at 9:36 PM on September 4, 2014

Wow, such a wealth of knowledge, how wonderful! Thank you everyone, I both have material for my piano AND have learned enormously. I love Mefites so much.

(And yes, I remembered Victor Borge yesterday and will for sure look up some of his performances!)
posted by ClarissaWAM at 6:45 AM on September 5, 2014

Tho I'll add upon further research that Bohemian Rhapsody wasn't actually recorded at the Trident Studios, since that was after Queen switched to EMI. Killer Queen will have to do for that piece of trivia.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 7:04 AM on September 5, 2014

ANY kind of stringed instrument with a chromatic keyboard can be tuned in any kind of temperament, so a modern piano can be tuned in quarter comma meantone just as a harpsichord from the sixteenhundreds can be tuned in modern equal temperament if one wishes so.

Err...obviously, it's just that they aren't. Which makes modern pianos interesting, as they are the ubiquitous proponent of temperament. The sort of commonality of the home piano in modern times has been THE big thrust of tempered tuning, which is a great bit of piano trivia. Certainly 'piano' may refer to a great many things, but insofar as we mean it as that upright Yamaha business you've got in your living room that your kids sort of played, that thing is tempered. In my conservatory days, we used to tune pianos in all sorts of funky ways for fun. But people tend to get testy when you tune their pianos in quarter steps (I found).

Another interesting thing I wanted to mention is that, in many respects, Queens, NY is pretty much a direct result of Steinway pianos. Not so much these days, as the Steinway operation there is much smaller than it once was, but back in the day, the Steinway factory pretty much built up Queens. The whole borough would be completely different if it hadn't been for Steinway pianos.
posted by Lutoslawski at 7:35 PM on September 5, 2014

I don't know how to get it into 140 characters, but you need to include the story of Mozart challenging Haydn to play an impossible piece of music which resulted in hands at both ends of the piano and a note to be played in the middle, which Haydn could not do by Mozart triumphantly bobbed down and used his nose to strike the key.
posted by CathyG at 9:09 AM on September 6, 2014

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