The fortepiano vs, the pianoforte
The fortepiano was the precursor of the modern piano, and was invented by the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700. He called his instrument “gravecembalo col piano e forte” (harpsichord with soft and loud).
Visually, the instrument looks like a harpsichord in scale. Mozart’s fortepiano has 61 notes as compared to the modern piano’s 88 keys.
The keyboard is reverse color, meaning that the naturals are black and the sharps and flats are white. In historic times, this was done for economic reasons — it took less ivory for the sharps and flats.
The fortepiano has a wooden frame while the modern piano has a metal one.
There are only two strings per note instead of the three on the modern piano.
The hammers are covered by leather instead of hard felt.
The damper pedal is not operated by the foot, but by a knee lever. The rate of decay is greater on a fortepiano (sound dies away faster).
Tonally, the fortepiano varies from bass to treble — the bass notes have a slightly “buzzy” quality while the treble notes are more “tinkly.” The modern piano has a more even tonal quality from top to bottom.
This was done at the first Salon – though a different recording. Tonight we used recordings with a modern piano, and also a Mozart fortepiano. Here is the link to that other salon’s notes!