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Piano and the Development of Human Society

People perceive reality through stable forms that change depending on the development of human society. In fact, people reorganize physical world according to their needs that appear as the result of current social relationships and the level of technical organization of a society. Musical instruments also belong to the technical devices that help to adapt the natural world to some human needs and desires. Music, first of all, satisfies human need of artificial beauty and harmony, as opposed to the natural one, which can be understood through observation of nature and discovering its laws. Likewise, while the relationships between the nature and human society change, either technical devices (musical instrument among them), or those forms through which society understands the world, receive new forms of organization. In such a way, the problem of piano’s relation to clavichord and harpsichord, as its predecessors and synthesizer as its developed form, have to be understood through the prism of the history of piano as the part of human relations with the world. The philosophical analysis of art and techniques can be a key to understanding the specific place of piano in the history of musical instruments, as the technical devices by which humans produce art.

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Keyboard instruments are easy to play in comparison with string instruments because the keyboard allows a soloist to perform music more precisely, with smaller possibility of making a mistake. Each separate key concerns another string and, in such a way, keyboard instruments such as clavichord or harpsichord were the results of wide popularity of music between rich people in the Medieval epoch. It is important to note that each of them had some weaknesses that did not allow producing the full and colorful sounds that could satisfy people of the Modern time. Certainly, very important historic details that helped piano to appear were the technological development after the 17th century and the revolution in the European worldview – the invention of Cartesian Rationalism, the philosophical movement that embodied the intention to interpret the whole world by reason (Russell). Piano, in some respect, reflects this rationalist position with partiular negation of the sensual world: piano with its keyboard provides preciousness of performance, as clavichord and harpsichord did. Furthermore, it provides music with a deeper variance of sound intensity (as string instruments did) because of its sophisticated construction: the hammers that connect with strings directly, instead of tangents or quills, as it was in a construction of piano’s medieval predecessors (Rimbault).

In the beginning of the 18th century when technological and philosophical revolutions became integral parts of social life in Europe, Bartolomeo Cristophori created the first pianoforte which became one of the most important inventions in the history of music. Since its first forms, piano passed through some changes and innovations, but its main principle – the connection of string sensual power and keyboard rational preciousness remained unchanged (Rimbault). That is why piano is still an easy to play instrument that attracts many performers. Through the history of music, the great composers and performers such as J. S. Bach, W. A. Mozart, F. Chopin, F. List and others tempted the potential of piano and added some relevant innovations to its construction during their music practice according to their demands and needs. In such a way, piano did not have any stable form but came to the 21th century through the process of development.

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Today the world society also came into the new epoch of postindustrial culture with postmodern philosophy. In such a way, the contemporary civilization bases its development of the digital form of information on the electronic energy which reorganizes the social relationships and replaces the traditional mechanisms and instrumental devices of the Modern epoch. Piano, with all its advantages, also belongs to the instruments of the previous epoch when today more people use synthesizers that are more portable and allow not only to perform the piano sounds but to make some operations with sound itself (Kettlewell 154). Without any doubts, such digital instruments embody the new epoch when big and immovable piano is under the thread of clavichord’s and harpsichord’s destiny.

Here is a difficult dillemma because since its invention, piano became the symbol of elegant culture of the Modern European world. With all its vices, such as big size and inability to connect with the sphere of digital information as its direct branch, piano remains very important and expressive detail of the Western world. Besides, the development of musical instruments is a positive process, which helps to understand new specifics of the world around through the new way of music performance. Various thinkers understand the development in different ways. For example, the ancient poet Hesiod claimed there is only a regression from the golden age to the iron one (Hesiod 10).

German philosopher Martin Heidegger who wrote many treatises concerning art and technical progress, proposes to differ all artificial things into the equipment and the artworks. According to his approach, the base of such differences is the relation of a thing’s creator to the material. Equipment appears where the material disappears, when every artwork’s destination is to reveal the essence of its material and of the world in general (Heidegger 91). Both piano and synthesizer belong more to equipment than to artwork because they are only instruments by which the performer can reveal the truth about the world through the sound. Additionally, the position of musical instruments in Heidegger’s classification is not certain because they have a direct concern to the process of creating and realizing artwork. The question here is: which of these two instruments reveal the truth through beauty better. According to Heidegger, there is no way to recognize truth and beauty through the artwork, except through the personal feeling of the totality of Being (96).

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In other words, the functionality of a synthesizer is not better or worse than piano; as well as the functionality of piano does not mean that it is better or worse than clavichord or harpsichord. The only way for one to understand it lays in the human practice, the use of both instruments and intuitive understanding of their potential to reveal the truth about the human being. In such a way, each of these four instruments is the best for people who feel intuitive connection with it.

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