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A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians--from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in Between [Kindle Edition]

Stuart Isacoff
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $17.95
Kindle Price: $11.84
You Save: $6.11 (34%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

A beautifully illustrated, totally engrossing celebration of the piano, and the composers and performers who have made it their own.
 
With honed sensitivity and unquestioned expertise, Stuart Isacoff—pianist, critic, teacher, and author of Temperament: How Music Became a Battleground for the Great Minds of Western Civilization—unfolds the ongoing history and evolution of the piano and all its myriad wonders: how its very sound provides the basis for emotional expression and individual style, and why it has so powerfully entertained generation upon generation of listeners. He illuminates the groundbreaking music of Mozart, Beethoven, Liszt, Schumann, and Debussy. He analyzes the breathtaking techniques of Glenn Gould, Oscar Peterson, Vladimir Ashkenazy, Arthur Rubinstein, and Van Cliburn, and he gives musicians including Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia, Menahem Pressler, and Vladimir Horowitz the opportunity to discuss their approaches. Isacoff delineates how classical music and jazz influenced each other as the uniquely American art form progressed from ragtime, novelty, stride, boogie, bebop, and beyond, through Scott Joplin, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor, and Bill Charlap.
 
A Natural History of the Piano distills a lifetime of research and passion into one brilliant narrative. We witness Mozart unveiling his monumental concertos in Vienna’s coffeehouses, using a special piano with one keyboard for the hands and another for the feet; European virtuoso Henri Herz entertaining rowdy miners during the California gold rush; Beethoven at his piano, conjuring healing angels to console a grieving mother who had lost her child; Liszt fainting in the arms of a page turner to spark an entire hall into hysterics. Here is the instrument in all its complexity and beauty. We learn of the incredible craftsmanship of a modern Steinway, the peculiarity of specialty pianos built for the Victorian household, the continuing innovation in keyboards including electronic ones. And most of all, we hear the music of the masters, from centuries ago and in our own age, brilliantly evoked and as marvelous as its most recent performance.
 
With this wide-ranging volume, Isacoff gives us a must-have for music lovers, pianists, and the armchair musician.


Editorial Reviews

Review

“Like listening to a fascinating raconteur who informs and entertains and really knows his stuff . . . Passion and unstoppable enthusiasm are palpable throughout this beautifully written and illustrated book . . . Isacoff’s heartfelt history of the piano will make you want to Stop! Read! and then go Listen!”
            -Eugenia Zukerman, The Washington Post
 
“That rarest of treats: a substantial book about music that’s actually easy to read . . . The book’s strongest passages are those in which Isacoff dwells on the instrument itself, relating several fascinating tales about its invention, metamorphosis and extra-musical developments . . . As a primer on the piano and music history . . . it executes the job with distinction.”
            -Zachary Lewis, Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Isacoff follows the piano into the honkytonk, the drawing room, the middle-class home and the jazz club, tracking the evolution of the physical instrument itself as well as the composers and performers who made the piano an emblem of cultural variety and a laboratory for musical form . . . His discussion of jazz piano reflects an intense affection for the music and its practitioners.”
            -James Penrose, The Wall Street Journal
 
“Compelling . . . Filled with entertaining anecdotes . . . Isacoff shows again and again that he has a deep grasp of music, and understands the technical and artistic aspects of his subject.”
            -Ted Gioia, San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Deft . . . In A Natural History of the Piano, Isacoff proves as fleet-fingered as any virtuoso.”
  &#...

Review

“Like listening to a fascinating raconteur who informs and entertains and really knows his stuff . . . Passion and unstoppable enthusiasm are palpable throughout this beautifully written and illustrated book . . . Isacoff’s heartfelt history of the piano will make you want to Stop! Read! and then go Listen!”
            -Eugenia Zukerman, The Washington Post
 
“That rarest of treats: a substantial book about music that’s actually easy to read . . . The book’s strongest passages are those in which Isacoff dwells on the instrument itself, relating several fascinating tales about its invention, metamorphosis and extra-musical developments . . . As a primer on the piano and music history . . . it executes the job with distinction.”
            -Zachary Lewis, Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“Isacoff follows the piano into the honkytonk, the drawing room, the middle-class home and the jazz club, tracking the evolution of the physical instrument itself as well as the composers and performers who made the piano an emblem of cultural variety and a laboratory for musical form . . . His discussion of jazz piano reflects an intense affection for the music and its practitioners.”
            -James Penrose, The Wall Street Journal
 
“Deft . . . In A Natural History of the Piano, Isacoff proves as fleet-fingered as any virtuoso.”
            -Peter Monaghan, The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
“A history written by a pianist and historian with a lively touch and a reach that spans octaves of science, culture and politics . . . A generous, welcoming book, full of oddities and insights.”
            -Bill Marvel, The Dallas Morning News
 
“On every page we sense Isacoff’s enthusiasm and lifelong dedication to the art of the piano . . . A Natural History of the Piano contains a wealth of information, lavish illustrations, thought-provoking comments, and, most of all, it is a pleasure to read.”
            -Susan Geffen, Clavier Companion
 
“An exhaustive and entertaining cultural history of the piano . . . ‘Sparkling discourse’ is his aim, and he succeeds . . . An enjoyable read.”
            -Susan E. Saltus, Newark Star-Ledger
 
“Entertaining . . . Crammed with great anecdotes and mini-essays.”
            -Melinda Bargreen, The Seattle Times
 
“Informative, comprehensive, and conversational . . . Refreshing . . . A deft rendering.”
            -Choice
 
 “The perfect gift book . . . A Natural History of the Piano, so layered with anecdote that it reads like a novel or a good biography, explores the story of the piano: its players, composers, and inventors, teachers and students, patrons, critics, and performers . . . Wonderful.”
            -Ann La Farge, Hudson Valley News
 
“A lively, virtually all-inclusive survey of all things pianistic . . . Isacoff’s ability to convey his formidable erudition in the most engaging terms, coupled with his infectious enthusiasm for music of all kinds, make this a charming and highly readable potpourri. Informative fun for every variety of music lover.”
            -Kirkus
 
“Engrossing . . . Witty . . . Pianists at all levels, music history buffs, and academics will appreciate Isacoff’s insights and clever way with words; this is an enjoyable and informative book.”
            -Library Journal
 
“An encyclopedic and argumentative overview of all things piano . . . [Isacoff’s stylistic] groups—combustibles, alchemists, rhythmizers, and melodists—shape a piano gestalt through which readers will be impressed . . . by the depth and diversity of Isacoff’s research and references.”
            -Publishers Weekly
 
“Dizzy Gillespie used to tell his musicians, whatever their instruments, to come to the piano with him as he said, ‘The music is all there.’ In Stuart Isacoff’s A Natural History of the Piano, never before have I learned and enjoyed so much about the instrument and its most distinctive practitioners—transcending so many categories of music. Whether the subject is jazz or classical music, the writing is unfailingly engaging and revealing.”
            -Nat Hentoff
 
“Anybody who cares about the piano—past, present and future—will find this book irresistible reading. I always learn so much from Stuart Isacoff and have a good time in the process.”
            -Tim Page
 
“Stuart Isacoff’s A Natural History of the Piano is a dazzling structural juxtaposition from Mozart, Liszt and Horowitz to Joplin, Tatum and Jerry Lee Lewis, written with verve and sensitivity. Piano lovers will eat it up!”
            -David Dubal, author of The Art of the Piano
 
“Every page of this book is filled with the poetry of Isacoff’s writing as he outlines the fascinating development of the piano and its effect on music tradition throughout the centuries. The research is of great depth: how Isacoff weaves what he has discovered into a gripping and entertaining narrative is sheer magic. Essential reading for anyone who embraces not only the piano, but music, history, and culture. Bravo, Maestro Isacoff!” 
            -Frank Brady, author of Endgame
 
“I loved this book. Isacoff tells the story of the piano through every conceivable device and viewpoint: profiles of the jazz and classical masters of the instrument, technical details, social history, anecdotal sidebars, interviews and unexpected digressions. And he never forgets that piano lore includes the highest of high culture as well as the pop-est of pop. It’s a terrifically enjoyable read.”
            -Sara Fishko, Producer/Host, WNYC (New York Public Radio)
 
“Supremely informative as well as fascinating and entertaining—highly recommended.”
            -Vladimir Ashkenazy
 
“Stuart Isacoff’s great meditation on all piano-related matters is a delight, both informative and entertaining. To borrow the author’s categories, I find the writing both melodic and combustible.”
            -Dick Hyman
 
“Irresistible! Stuart Isacoff charts the three-century evolution of the world’s most popular instrument with insight, love, and wit, garnished with the wisdom of today’s foremost masters of classical and jazz.”
            -Sedgwick Clark, editor, Musical America International Directory of the Performing Arts  


Product Details

  • File Size: 9732 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0307266370
  • Publisher: Vintage (November 15, 2011)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004P8JPNG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #438,095 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive, Extensive, All-absorbing December 8, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Isacoff's, "A Natural History of the Piano," is an extraordinarily well researched and well written tribute to the instrument that has enriched Western Civilization for the past 300 years. No page has been left unturned (literally) as Isacoff weaves a poetic dance with his own flowing prose, reinforced by hundreds of resources and quotes from renowned artists, relative to the context.

I thank him for introducing me to artists that, once glorious stars, have all but vanished in the kaleidoscope of time: Hazel Scott (check her out on youtube!), Art Tatum, Emil Giles, Tatiana Nikolayeva, Menahem Pressler (still alive and well at age 88), to name only a few. If it were not for this book I would never have heard of them.

Isacoff tells us that Mozart didn't set eyes on a piano until he was in his mid-twenties (which bore only a remote resemblance to the piano of today) and that he played on a piano that had a pedal-board, much like the modern organ, whose soft, loud and sustain pedals were operated by the knees pushing appropriate levers. "For the first performance of the D minor Piano Concerto, Mozart played not with two limbs but with four!" Unfathomable!

As well as many comments by prominent performing artists, Isacoff inserts several "asides" into each chapter to educate the reader, ie: the first piano was a five-octave instrument, in the late 1700's it grew into a six and a half octave piano, by the end of Beethoven's life it was seven octaves. (The modern piano extends that by three notes.) We are told the weight of the cast iron plate (300 lbs. Approx) the string tension it holds, (20 tons), the patents that marked its evolution and the makers responsible for the patents: Erard, Pleyel, Broadwood, Chickering, Steinway, etc.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining and informative! January 6, 2012
Format:Hardcover
THE NATURAL HISTORY OF THE PIANO by Isacoff is one of the most readable, enjoyable and interesting musical histories I have come across in quite sometime. Witty and never boring, he is one of the few authors than can draw a line connecting Beethoven and Jerry Lee Lewis and make it make sense. A book for anyone who has been knocked out by a classical, jazz or rock piano performance and wondered at the magic of the instrument.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kudos! December 10, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Stuart Isacoff has a real gift for weaving scholarly information into a series of compelling, witty and engaging "storytelling" narratives. Innocent, hapless readers will inevitably get hopelessly hooked soon after cracking open the first page. - Arthur Houle, Professor of Music & Director of Keyboard Studies, Colorado Mesa University, Grand Junction, Colorado
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38 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Misleading Title January 3, 2012
Format:Hardcover
I settled in to enjoy a popular discourse on the history of the piano -- something the title would lead one to believe. From the beginning I was taken aback by the misinformation, misunderstanding, and outright foolishness that leapt off the page. Mr. Isacoff has apparently never seen, heard, or played a clavichord, harpsichord, or fortepiano. His description of each was nothing less than comical. Moving through time, he confuses anecdote, rumor, and gossip with history. He presents bizarre and singular incidents as commonplace, leaving his path strewn with false impressions (e.g. Mozart and his pedal piano). His non-chronological, attention-deficit organization obliterates many essential connections and influences. Beyond the most cursory mentions and tidbits, you will search in vain for meaningful stories about the men and women who actually created the piano. His magisterial opinions about anything prior to the modern Steinway sound like a pompous critic from the 1930's. Has he entirely missed the early music movement of the last 60 years? Mr. Isacoff is entitled to his own florid opinions, but when you call your book "A Natural History of the Piano" some scholarship is implied. Perhaps a better title would have been "Random Anecdotes About Some Musicians Loosely Associated with the Piano".
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thrilling natural history January 12, 2012
Format:Hardcover
Like a great dinner guest, Stuart Isacoff's beautifully written Natural History of the Piano charms, educates, provokes and entertains. His writing is skillful and supple, and his selection of anecdotes from the instrument's two-and-a-half-century history is nothing short of breath-taking. Isacoff treats jazz pianists with the same depth and warmth that he affords classical masters, which makes his history feel genuinely inclusive.

Having heard Isacoff perform on the piano (at Le Poisson Rouge) and on the harpsichord and fortepiano (at the Metropolitan Museum of Art), I can attest to his first-hand knowledge of, and deep passion for, these instruments. And his passion is contagious: it leaps out from every page and grabs the reader. This is a thrilling account of a remarkable history that rewards the reader's close and frequent involvement.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exciting and Informative! April 13, 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
When I spotted this book in 'The Review' section of the Sunday Morning Post, I knew immediately that I wanted to buy it. The title, though long, was instantly catchy. After all, Mozart and modern jazz are completely unrelated and the time in between could not have been further apart. Being a piano player and a music enthusiast, I thought that this book would be perfect for me.

But one does not have to be an expert on music to find this book interesting and useful, as I discovered after it arrived. This book tells you everything, and I mean everything, about the history of the piano. It touches on every composer worth listening to. It's detailed and interesting. Those without an interest in the composers will not be disappointed either. The book tells about pianos of different times and periods too. It tells about the early harpsichords, the ornamented pianos of the Romantic stage, the early and later player pianos and the electronic pianos that we are now so accustomed to listening to.

Those curious about any aspect of the piano will no doubt be satisfied and I definitely recommend it to everyone.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book that isn't quite what it makes itself out to be
Although I am going to say a few negative things about this book, I want to be clear that the four star appraisal is not a mistake. For the most part, I really enjoyed this book. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Eric C. Sedensky
1.0 out of 5 stars i hate this
why is this so expensive? What a rip off....who are you trying to fool? Good grief, Amazon! $13.99 - $430?
Repulsive
Published 3 months ago by peggy h. wilkenloh
5.0 out of 5 stars The writing seemed "snobby" to me like I had to "be there" to...
I am sure that some people will get a lot from this book. I just couldn't get into it. The writing seemed "snobby" to me like I had to "be there" to understand... Read more
Published 4 months ago by Sam Webber
2.0 out of 5 stars dull and ploding
A lot of the stuff I read here on classical composers can be found in greater details and better written here The Great Pianists: From Mozart to the Present. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Steve Rogers
4.0 out of 5 stars You want to know about pianos? Find it here.
Books about pianos, the music and the musicians are rather rare. This one has a lot of information, although grouping the players in the same volume could make the a much larger... Read more
Published 8 months ago by Janste
5.0 out of 5 stars LOVED it!
I read this book because I am a piano teacher and want to put together some information for my students on the history of the piano. Read more
Published 9 months ago by S.E.C.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great informative book
It traces the piano's history clearly and simply. It's a good read for both students and adults interested in the formation of musical instruments. Great book.
Published 11 months ago by WA Hillinger
4.0 out of 5 stars Well Done
Interesting anecdotal history of the piano that you can pick up and start anywhere. Colorful, though the integration of classical and jazz piano history is sometimes... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Bruce W. Moss
3.0 out of 5 stars A gift
This book was a gift to a son. He seemed to like it. I have not heard otherwise from him.
Published 16 months ago by Maxisback
5.0 out of 5 stars A Celebration of the Piano
Pianist and author Stuart Isacoff begins his new book, "A Natural History of the Piano: The Instrument, the Music, the Musicians -- from Mozart to Modern Jazz and Everything in... Read more
Published on March 31, 2012 by Robin Friedman
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