Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/711

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By S. AUSTEN PEARCE, Mus. Doc, Oxon.[1]

MUSICAL instruments with manuals or key-boards, and fixed tones, occupy a most important position in the annals of modern art. All the greatest composers have been skilled performers on such instruments, and especially on the piano-forte. They are very greatly indebted to it; not that their works have been produced by its aid, or that it has been allowed to exercise a formative influence over their imaginings, but because of its companionship and sympathy. The creator of new musical forms, while engaged in his silent work—in the comparatively slow process of writing the individual parts for all the instruments employed in the orchestra—not only exercises the faculty of expression, but also the power to withhold. This power—this muscular strength of the brain, to grasp and retain whatever has been conceived, notwithstanding the perplexity as to means of expression, which commonly attends a crowd of ideas and feelings—is sometimes in danger of being overtaxed. On these occasions great relief is found by opening the piano-forte, and throwing off the piece at full speed on this plastic instrument. After realizing his ideals in this immediate and satisfactory manner, the composer returns refreshed to his patient labor—to the detailed record on paper of those emotions which fill him with such passionate energy. Or, should he wish merely to find relief in utterance—to commune with himself, and obtain recreation by driving temporarily from his thoughts the work in hand—then this comprehensive instrument, this miniature orchestra, enables him to extemporize elaborate contrapuntal forms, clashing cyclopean harmonies, or highly-involved melodic strains. The sounds thus evoked fall back on his delighted ear, exhibiting to him, in audible form, his psychologic condition. During these fleeting moments he thus beholds his subjective state, as clearly and definitely as in a mirror he would see, similarly reflected in visible form, the expression of his countenance.

But the piano-forte, by making domestic music at all times easily and immediately attainable, without the preliminary adjustments required for the harp or other stringed instruments, has become universally popular. Its literature is larger than that of any other, and whatever musical forms have found favor with the public are immediately adapted and rearranged for reproduction on it.

The piano-forte appears in four principal forms: as grand, square, upright, and curved, the latter being a newly-designed model, by Mr. J. W. Otto, of St. Louis, Missouri. The American grand piano-forte

  1. Lecturer on Harmony and the Science of Music, at the General Theological Seminary, New York; Musical Director of Columbia College Glee-Club, etc.