Our studio field trips focused on historical keyboard instruments and their progression into the modern piano. On Saturday, June 14, we visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art to view the forerunners of the piano and toured the Steinway Factory on Saturday, June 21st to see how the modern piano is made.
Highlights from the MET Music Wing
Our MET tour guide told us the story of the beautiful sea nymph, Galatea, and the Cyclops from Greek Mythology. This myth inspired the design of the Italian harpsichord we saw. Cyclops was terrible and fearsome, but he wanted Galatea to love him so he tamed his manners and learned to play the bagpipes. You see him sitting on the left. In the end Galatea (right) rejected him for Acis. The spurned Cyclops saw them together and in his jealousy crushed him with a rock. Galatea cried for Acis and his body transformed into a river that mixed with the sea.
This Flemish Double Virginal creates sound by plucking strings. There are two keyboards. This instrument was perfect for playing duets. The inscription across the front reads SCIENCIA NON HABET INIMICUM NISI IGNORANTEM. It translates to “Knowledge (science) has no enemy but the ignorant”. ARS USU IVVANDA painted below the right keyboard says that “Art is improved by practice”. Timeless advice for music students!
The real reason we came was to see the oldest playable piano, made by its inventor, Bartolomeo Christofori.
The real reason I wanted to bring the students to the MET was to see the oldest surviving and yet functioning piano. It was made by Bartolomeo Christofori, the inventor of the piano. What made this instrument special was its ability to play loudly and softly based on the power of the keystroke. All the keyboard instruments up to that point in history could only play one volume more or less. Christofori called his creation “gravicembalo col piano e forte” (harpsichord that plays loud and soft). Later it was shortened to “piano”. I was really happy that we could listen to a recording of someone playing this remarkable instrument.
Our visit to the Steinway factory this year was fascinating as always. There are many brands of pianos we might have studied, but Steinway & Sons offers the best and latest evolution of the piano. Although their pianos are made with traditional, time-tested methods, their commitment to producing the best quality instruments drives them to continually evaluate and improve their craft.