The expression fortepiano (sometimes called forte piano) is a sudden dynamic change used in a musical score, usually with the abbreviation fp, to designate a section of music in which the music should be played loudly (forte), then immediately softly (piano). It is not unusual for it to be followed by a crescendo, a gradual increase in dynamics. The word is of Italian etymology literally translated as 'loudsoft'.
A fortepiano [ˌfɔrteˈpjaːno], sometimes referred to as a pianoforte, is an early piano. In principle, the word "fortepiano" can designate any piano dating from the invention of the instrument by Bartolomeo Cristofori in 1698 up to the early 19th century. Most typically, however, it is used to refer to the mid-18th to early-19th century instruments for which composers of the Classical era, especially Haydn, Mozart, and the younger Beethoven wrote their piano music. Starting in Beethoven's time, the fortepiano began a period of steady evolution, culminating in the late 19th century with the modern grand. The earlier fortepiano became obsolete and was absent from the musical scene for many decades. In the 20th century the fortepiano was revived, following the rise of interest in historically informed performance. Fortepianos are built for this purpose in specialist workshops.
The fortepiano has leather-covered hammers and thin, harpsichord-like strings. It has a much lighter case construction than the modern piano and, except for later examples of the early nineteenth century (already evolving towards the modern piano), it has no metal frame or bracing. The action and hammers are lighter, giving rise to a much lighter touch, which in well-constructed fortepianos is also very expressive.
Like the modern piano, the fortepiano can vary the sound volume of each note, depending on the player's touch. The tone of the fortepiano is quite different from that of the modern piano, however, being softer with less sustain. Sforzando accents tend to stand out more than on the modern piano, as they differ from softer notes in timbre as well as volume, and decay rapidly.
Cristofori's invention soon attracted public attention as the result of a journal article written by Scipione Maffei and published 1711 in Giornale de'letterati d'Italia of Venice. The article included a diagram of the action, the core of Cristofori's invention. This article was republished 1719 in a volume of Maffei's work, and then in a German translation (1725) in Johann Mattheson's Critica Musica. The latter publication was perhaps the triggering event in the spread of the fortepiano to German-speaking countries (see below).
The first music specifically written for piano dates from this period, the Sonate da cimbalo di piano (1732) by Lodovico Giustini. This publication was an isolated phenomenon; James Parakilas conjectures that the publication was meant as an honor for the composer on the part of his royal patrons. Certainly there could have been no commercial market for fortepiano music while the instrument continued to be an exotic specimen.
It appears that the fortepiano did not achieve full popularity until the 1760s, from which time the first records of public performances on the instrument are dated, and when music described as being for the fortepiano was first widely published.
It was Gottfried Silbermann who brought the construction of fortepianos to the German-speaking nations. Silbermann, who worked in Freiberg in Germany, began to make pianos based on Cristofori's design around 1730. (His previous experience had been in building organs, harpsichords, and clavichords.) Like Cristofori, Silbermann had royal support, in his case from Frederick the Great of Prussia, who bought many of his instruments.
The fortepiano builders who followed Silbermann introduced actions that were simpler than the Cristofori action, even to the point of lacking an escapement (the device that permits the hammer to fall to rest position even when the key has been depressed). Such instruments were the subject of criticism (particularly, in a widely quoted 1777 letter from Mozart to his father), but were simple to make and were widely incorporated into square pianos.
One of the most distinguished fortepiano builders in the era following Silbermann was one of his pupils, Johann Andreas Stein, who worked in Augsburg, Germany. Stein's fortepianos had (what we, or Cristofori, would call) "backwards" hammers, with the striking end closer to the player than the hinged end. This action came to be called the "Viennese" action, and was widely used in Vienna, even on pianos up to the mid 19th century. The Viennese action was simpler than the Cristofori action, and very sensitive to the player's touch. According to Edwin M. Ripin (see references below), the force needed to depress a key on a Viennese fortepiano was only about a fourth of what it is on a modern piano, and the descent of the key only about half as much. Thus playing the Viennese fortepiano involved nothing like the athleticism exercised by modern piano virtuosos, but did require exquisite sensitivity of touch.
Stein's fortepiano business was carried on in Vienna with distinction by his daughter Nannette Streicher along with her husband Johann Andreas Streicher. The two were friends of Beethoven, and one of the composer's pianos was a Streicher. Later on in the early 19th century, more robust instruments with greater range were built in Vienna, by (for example) the Streicher firm, which continued through two more generations of Streichers. Composer Johannes Brahms had also preferred pianos by Streicher.
The English fortepiano had a humble origin in the work of Johannes Zumpe, a maker who had immigrated from Germany and worked for a while in the workshop of the great harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi. Starting in the middle to late 1760s, Zumpe made inexpensive square pianos that had a very simple action, lacking an escapement, (sometimes known as the "old man's head"). Although hardly a technological advancement in the fortepiano, Zumpe's instruments proved very popular (they were imitated outside England), and played a major role in the displacement of the harpsichord by the fortepiano. These square pianos were also the medium of the first public performances on the instrument in the 1760s, notably by Johann Christian Bach.
Americus Backers, with John Broadwood and Robert Stodart, two of Shudi's workmen, produced a more advanced action than Zumpe's. This English grand action with an escapement and check enabled a louder, more robust sound than the Viennese one, though it required deeper touch and was less sensitive. The early English grand pianos by these builders physically resembled Shudi harpsichords; which is to say, very imposing, with elegant, restrained veneer work on the exterior. Unlike contemporary Viennese instruments, English grand fortepianos had three strings rather than two per note.
John Broadwood married the master's daughter (Barbara Shudi, 1769) and ultimately took over and renamed the Shudi firm. The Broadwood company (which survives to this day) was an important innovator in the evolution of the fortepiano into the piano. Broadwood, in collaboration with Jan Ladislav Dussek, a noted piano virtuoso active in London in the 1790s, developed pianos that gradually increased the range to six octaves. Dussek was one of the first pianists to receive a 5 foot piano, and in 1793 he wrote the first work for piano "with extra keys", a piano concert (C 97). The firm shipped a piano to Beethoven in Vienna, which the composer evidently treasured.
From the late 18th century, the fortepiano underwent extensive technological development and thus evolved into the modern piano; for details, see Piano. The older type of instrument ceased to be made. In the late 19th century, the early music pioneer Arnold Dolmetsch built three fortepianos. However, this attempted revival of the fortepiano was evidently several decades ahead of its time, and did not lead to widespread adoption of the instrument.
In the second half of the 20th century, a great upsurge of interest occurred in period instruments, including a revival of interest in the fortepiano. Old instruments were restored, and many new ones were built along the lines of the old. Fortepiano kits also became available. This revival of the fortepiano closely resembled the revival of the harpsichord, though occurring somewhat later in time. Among the more prominent modern builders have been (in the United States) Philip Belt, Margaret F. Hood and Rodney Regier; and Paul McNulty.
The reintroduction of the fortepiano has permitted performance of 18th- and early 19th-century music on the instruments for which it was written, yielding new insights into this music; for detailed discussion, see Piano history and musical performance. More and more music schools start fortepiano study courses. There are several fortepiano competitions, including the MAfestival Brugge and the International Chopin Competition on Chopin era instruments, organized by the Warsaw Chopin Institute.
A number of modern harpsichordists and pianists have achieved distinction in fortepiano performance, including Susan Alexander-Max, Paul Badura-Skoda, Malcolm Bilson, Hendrik Bouman, Ronald Brautigam, Wolfgang Brunner, Gary Cooper, Jörg Demus, Ursula Dütschler. Richard Egarr, Richard Fuller, Tuija Hakkila, Christoph Hammer, Robert Hill, Knut Jacques, Jenny Soonjin Kim, Piet Kuijken, Geoffrey Lancaster, Gustav Leonhardt, Trudelies Leonhardt, Morgane Le Corre, Robert Levin, Alexei Lubimov, Steven Lubin, Yury Martynov, Costantino Mastroprimiano, Zvi Meniker, Bart van Oort, Olga Pashchenko, Trevor Pinnock, David Schrader, Viviana Sofronitsky, Andreas Staier, Melvyn Tan, Natalia Valentin, Jos van Immerseel, Andras Schiff, Kristian Bezuidenhout, Katia and Marielle Labèque, Duo Pégase, Vladimir Feltsman. 041b061a72