Shopping For The Right Piano

Remember back when you were a kid you would go to Grandma's house and she had that little upright piano sitting against the wall? Most likely it was a spinet, and we got to bang on the keys and it was probably pretty out of tune.

Well today the selections are a lot better starting with vertical pianos of different sizes going up to the horizontal grand piano. Starting with the vertical types there is the tallest, fifty two inches tall, called a professional upright. Fortunately all vertical pianos measure in width approximately the same within about three inches. So if you have five feet of wall space, you have plenty of room for a vertical piano. The taller pianos are referred to as "professional uprights" because professional piano players demand better sounding instruments. Most piano buyers in the world buy vertical pianos becase of space limitations. Here in the United States we enjoy larger homes, so we can have the larger "grand piano" sizes. The professional uprights also have the same pedal functions you have on a grand piano, where the smaller uprights have limited usage.

If your question is why people prefer the taller pianos, the answer is quite simple. Every piano is equipped with a sounding board, usually made from spruce, and that is what is referred to as the speaker in the piano. So you realize that the more square inches of sound board we have, the bigger the sound will be. The other factor is the string length. Obviously, the taller the piano, the longer the strings. This means that the bass section of the piano gets fatter, and therefore produces a bassier sound. This provides more depth and warmth to the music.

The shorter the piano, the brighter and more tinkely the sound. Some people refer to it as tinny. So if you can afford the taller types of pianos, you'll enjoy the sound much better. The taller the piano, the more raw materials are in it, and the more expensive it becomes.

Now let's move on the other professional uprights. The forty eight inch upright is generally the preferred size used by most piano teachers and their students. When we were in school, most were equipped with what is called a studio piano which stands forty five inches high.

Lastly we have what is called a console piano. These pianos range from forty to forty four inches in height, and are available in a huge variety of furniture styles. These pianos are generally used for entry level students and are most affordable.

Quadratura and the Baroque

I am very excited because I am leaving next week to travel around Italy for two weeks.  One of the works I am looking forward to seeing again when I am in Rome is Andrea Pozzo's ceiling fresco: The Triumph of Sant' Ignazio in the church dedicated to the Saint.  In fact Art History Blogger readers may notice that I have used this work as the image behind my blog header for the reason that it is such a dynamic painting.

Pozzo (1642-1709) was an Italian Baroque painter and architect as well as a lay brother in the Jesuit order.  Due to this he was commission to create art for several Jesuit churches, both in Italy and in Vienna.  The Triumph of Sant' Ignazio is an enormous fresco, which covers the ceiling of the entire nave and perhaps the best known example of quadratura.

Andrea Pozzo,Triumph of Sant' Ignazio of Loyola, 1691-94
(Allegory of the Missionary Work of the Jesuits)
Ceiling fresco, Chiesa di Sant' Ignazio, Rome

Quadratura is a specific style of trompe-l'oeil painting which incorporates architectural elements into the work to create a convincing illusion of the expansion of the actual space into an imagined space.  In this case the painter used the actual clerestory windows (see bottom image) and painted around them.  Of course the viewer does know that the church ceiling isn't open to heaven above, but it is hard to gauge the depth of the ceiling in person or to know if the ceiling is curved.  In fact the nave ceiling of Sant' Iganizio is completely flat, but Pozzo does a very good job at creating the illusion of great depth.

Oculus from the Camera degli Sposi (wedding chamber)
Andrea Mantegna, 1465-74
fresco, Palazzo Ducale, Mantua, Italy

Quadratura had been used in a few early examples, but reached its height of popularity during the Baroque, particularly in Italy but also elsewhere in Europe.  A well known earlier example is this ceiling fresco by Mantegna created in the 15th century.  However unlike the Pozzo work, this is small and playful rather than dramatic. 

Quadratura was the perfect style of painting to tie in with the qualities in art that are associated with the Baroque: drama, theatricality, dynamic, full of excess and grandeur. 

Annibale Carracci, Triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne, begun 1597
Farnese Gallery, Rome

In 16th century ceiling paintings, such as this example by Carracci in the Farnese Gallery, there were some elements of trompe-l'oeil such as the painted cornice as a frame and the four figurative "sculptures" in the corners.  However this is not considered quadratura as Carracci wasn't attempting to create the illusion of another space that didn't exist. Viewers were meant to be delighted and amused by his work rather than awed.  The viewer would instantly recognize a painting, the figures existing in their own space.

Pietro da Cortona, The Triumph of Divine Providence, 1633-39
 Palazzo Barberini, Rome

 Another example is Pietro da Cortona's The Triumph of Divine Providence (seen below) in the Palazzo Barberini in Rome.  The subject matter is the triumph of the reign of Pope Urban VIII.  Here the viewer could see the painting as an extension of their own space.  In person it is difficult to tell which architectural details are real and what are imagined.

 Triumph of Moderation, ceiling fresco (1731) Paul Troger 
Quadratura painting around the perimeter, Gaetano Fanti
Melk Abbey, Austria

One reason that the style spread was through a book on painting that Pozzo wrote in Latin which was later translated into German, Tractatus Perspectivae Pictorum et Architectorum.

Later versions of quadratura were used in the 18th century in Germany and Austria and began to use lighter and brighter palates more fitting to the new Rococo style.  One such example is the quadratura painting of Fanti in the Melk Abbey, Austria (above).  The painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-70) also created many ceiling frescos and paintings meant for ceilings, such as the example below.  

Allegory of Merit Accompanied by Nobility and Virtue, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
1757, ceiling fresco, Ca' Rezzonio, Venice

While Tiepolo did use quadratura in his enormous ceiling fresco in the Wurzburg Residenz in Germany, his typical use of quadratura was more like the earlier Renaissance style.  His paintings were created to amuse the viewer, the opulent style and dramatic compositions of the Baroque now replaced with the playfulness of the Rococo.

Learning About Steinway Grand Pianos

It can be hard to make choices. Some are easy, such as saying 'no' to drugs. Some are hard, such as choosing whether or not to put your dog down when he is sick. As we move through life, choices get more and more difficult as we become older and older. Once you buy your first house, the choices become even more difficult. Should you get this paint or that? Two bedroom or three? And what if you are trying to choose the musical instrument that your child will play? Well, that one has an easy answer. You should go with a grand piano.

And not just any regular one. You need to go for the best so that your child will push themselves to be number one as well. Even if you are just buying this for yourself or for a concert music hall, you want the best. That means you want a Steinway. There are several different types of Steinways that you should consider.

The biggest Steinway grand piano is a concert grand. It tops out at eight feet and eleven inches of pure beauty and rich tones. If you are on your way to being a concert pianist, this is the instrument for you. It is the favorite of musicians worldwide and will look impressive in any concert hall. A size down from the concert Steinway is the Music Room Steinway. This has often been given the title "the perfect piano." It measures at six feet eleven inches and is perfect for the room in your house that you have been meaning to turn into a music room. Also, if you are planning on providing piano lessons from your house, this is the perfect teaching piano. It provides the same rich tones as the concert, just on a smaller, more intimate scale.

If the Music Room Steinway is still a tad too big for you, you can always choose the Parlor Room Grand Piano. This one has the tried and true rich tones of a Steinway but the piano has been scaled down to offer the sound in a smaller container. It measures 6'2" and, since this instrument is smaller, it is perfect for the family who wants to buy it and put it in a small sitting room. Close in size to the Parlor Room Steinway is the Living Room Steinway. Measuring in at 5'10", this model produces rich bass tones that are far beyond what one would expect from such a small frame. It will easily fit into your house and still provide you with Steinway quality.

The last two types of Steinway grand pianos are the Medium Steinway and the Baby Steinway. The Medium tops out at 5'7" and can often be found in music schools and conservatories. There is nothing mediocre about its sound, though, and you will not be disappointed. The Baby tops out at five feet and is small enough to fit into nearly any room. It will still deliver the rich sounds you have come to expect from a Steinway and is easily the logical choice for anyone looking for an affordable, small but amazing Steinway.