Keyboard Music

Bruce Gustafson

in Music

ISBN: 9780199757824
Published online June 2011 | | DOI:
Keyboard Music

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  • Applied Music
  • Ethnomusicology
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  • Music Education and Pedagogy



Keyboard music can be categorized broadly as music for harpsichord, piano, or organ. Each category represents a family of related instruments, and considerable overlap exists in the repertory for each family: harpsichord music was and is played on clavichords, spinets, and virginals of various types; piano music began, in the last third of the 18th century, as stylistically indistinguishable from harpsichord music; and organ music includes music played on various types of positives, harmoniums, and electronic instruments intended to replicate the sound of a pipe organ. Before about 1700, considerable overlap existed between music intended for harpsichord or organ, although some national schools, most notably the French, developed distinct styles for the two instruments early in the 17th century. Although the clavichord produces its sound in a distinctly different way from either the harpsichord or the piano, the instrument only rarely acquired its own repertory. Throughout the history of keyboard music, arrangements (“transcriptions”) of music originally composed for voices or other instruments have formed a large portion of keyboard repertory. A small but significant repertory for more than one player at a keyboard instrument or for multiple keyboard instruments is also found. Music that couples keyboards with other instruments or voices falls into the categories of chamber music, orchestral music, or music for voices or melody instruments. There is potential confusion in the terminology used for keyboard instruments and thus the same can be true for the music itself. In England, “virginal” was used by the Elizabethans generically to mean “harpsichord.” In France, “spinet” (épinette) was similarly used as the preferred term for harpsichord until late in the 17th century when clavecin was preferred as the generic term. In Germany, “keyboard” (clavier, klavier) came to mean “piano” by the end of the 18th century, no longer encompassing the organ; this caused some modern authors writing in English to consider “keyboard music” to be distinct from “organ music” or even to use “clavier” as an English word that excludes organ. Finally, “pianoforte” and “fortepiano” were used interchangeably in the early history of the piano, but a modern convention has evolved to use “fortepiano” for instruments in the style of those built before the second third of the 19th century.

Article.  7578 words. 

Subjects: Music ; Applied Music ; Ethnomusicology ; Music Theory and Analysis ; Musicology and Music History ; Music Education and Pedagogy

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