Do you recognize any of these four composers that every piano teacher should know? They have shaped Western music and without them, our music today might be very different.
Not much is known about the life of this Benedictine monk from the late 10th century. What is known comes primarily from only two contemporary documents. Though our understanding of his life is limited, he played a tremendous role in the development of Western musical notation and practice. Guido d’Arezzo is widely regarded as the inventor of modern staff notation.
Guido has four compositions that historians can confidently credit to him. Though you probably wouldn’t recognize them by ear, the mnemonic devices he created to teach his compositions you are likely very familiar with. Solmization (which later became solfège) was developed along with Guido’s new staff notation to help train singers to “read” music (this was a groundbreaking concept). He also developed a technique known as the “guidonian hand” which was important in helping musicians sing and memorize long sections of music. Though his compositions may not be as well known as the composers that came after him, his contributions to Western music are undeniable.
The Renaissance was a time of rapid change and innovation. Both in the way people lived and in the way people thought. This unique period saw people approaching old systems with new inquiries on how to adapt them to this changing world. Enter Gioseffo Zarlino.
Before we standardized the familiar 12-tone temperament, Gioseffo described three temperaments he deemed “usable”. Temperament is a tuning system that approximates intervals by dividing an octave. Though he was not the first to describe this concept, he was the first to prioritize the triad instead of intervals when structuring harmony. Viewing harmony through triads instead of intervals marked a major shift in how music was composed and conceptualized. He is, in a sense, the grandfather of modern harmony. Without him who knows if terms like major, minor, augmented, and diminished chords would be as prevalent as they are today.
Credited with being the transitional figure that lead the music world out of the Renaissance and into the Baroque, Monteverdi's contributions mark the beginning of the reign of secular music that continues to this day. His works were, at the time, so different that many contemporaries wrote that his disregard for the rules of the Rennaissance counterpoint signaled “the end of the era of logic and sanity in music.”
Monteverdi was a pioneer in the development of opera, and his early operas, such as L'Orfeo (1607) and Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (1640), marked a significant departure from the traditional forms of music that had been prevalent in the Renaissance. He is a truly significant influence in music history.
Clara Schumann can be considered one of the most important pianists of the Romantic era and was one of the first female pianists to achieve worldwide recognition for her talents. Schumann's virtuosic playing style helped to establish the modern piano as a solo instrument capable of producing a wide range of expressive sounds. She also wrote a significant amount of music for the piano, including numerous solo pieces and works for piano and orchestra, which are still studied and performed by pianists today.
Schumann's legacy continues to inspire and influence pianists around the world. Her husband, Robert Schumann, is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Search for “Schumann” in the Piano Marvel Library where you can learn many of his greatest works. Together they changed the way the piano is played, performed, and regarded.
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