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Thread: Piano as being integral to the orchestra?

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    Default Piano as being integral to the orchestra?

    Normally, when I see a piano and an orchestra, it is a piano concerto because the piano is right by the conductor. But I have seen charts where the pianist sits to the right of the harpist such as this one:



    I think some Mahler symphonies have this arrangement, having the piano at the back of the orchestra. But there are only 2 things that I think of when I see a piano either in or with an orchestra.

    First, I wonder if it is a piano concerto. If the pianist is not right by the conductor, there is only 1 other possibility I think of.

    That is a Jazz orchestra. Yes, I know this is a forum about classical music but a jazz orchestra is the only possibility I think of when the piano is at the back of the orchestra until I look and see the piece's name. That either confirms or disproves that it is a jazz orchestra. Also, hearing for saxophones clues me in to whether or not it is a Jazz orchestra but not as easily.

    But why would somebody write a symphony that includes the piano as an instrument? Yes, the piano can sound orchestral because it is the jack of all trades when it comes to instruments. When I hear a piano solo transcription of Beethoven's 5th or the piano scores of The Planets, I certainly hear an orchestral sound even though it is only from 1 or 2 pianos.

    And yes, there is a lot of orchestral music that includes the piano but most of this is piano concertos. However, Mahler's 8th symphony has the piano as part of the orchestra. But why would a composer decide to write a symphony with a piano as an instrument? I can sort of understand why some symphonies have a celesta. It gives an almost bell like quality to the notes and it is reserved for quiet sections. The organ, I don't really understand why it is in any orchestral works. I mean a solo organ can be as loud as an entire orchestra. It is like writing fortissimo for piccolo, it can easily be overpowering. Plus, the organ takes up so much space compared to other keyboard instruments.

    The piano has less of a chance of being overpowering. But I have seen piano pieces where there are areas of ffff. When I see that for orchestra I'm like "Fine, you wanted this super loud". When I see that same dynamic for solo piano, I'm like "How am I supposed to get that loud without breaking the piano?" or "So do I play the forte sections at mezzo piano if ffff is the loudest? Because that makes no sense." or "I can't get any louder than fortissimo, do I just get rid of the extra f's and have a longer fortissimo section?"

    It isn't as confusing for pppp because there I basically do what I would for finger pedaling, press the key so softly the note is inaudible.

    But anyway, why is the piano part of the orchestra in some symphonies?

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    Senior Member Becca's Avatar
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    Listen to most Martinu symphonies

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    Senior Member Robert Pickett's Avatar
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    All of Martinu's symphonies, with the honourable exception of No.6, have a piano part. It's a prominent feature of so many of his orchestral pieces. Why? Well, it sounds good! Martinu was a very fine orchestrator, so why not? It's a great percussion instrument, anyway!

    Well done, Becca, beat me to it!!
    Last edited by Robert Pickett; Oct-12-2018 at 19:55.

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    Senior Member D Smith's Avatar
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    The piano parts in Saint-Saens' Symphony No. 3 provide a sparkling magic. Those moments certainly wouldn't be the same with the pianos' contributions.

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    Senior Member joen_cph's Avatar
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    Last edited by joen_cph; Oct-12-2018 at 19:59.

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    Senior Member KenOC's Avatar
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    There's particularly fine use of the piano in Shostakovich's Symphony No. 1.


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    Senior Member Bulldog's Avatar
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    Given that the piano is a popular instrument, I see nothing odd or unusual about it playing a part in a symphony.

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    Senior Member Larkenfield's Avatar
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    The piano is also considered a percussion instrument because it has hammers that strike its strings. Stravinsky’s Petrushka has an important piano part that adds to the percussive effects and tonal color, and that’s why the piano is usually near the percussion section if it’s not a piano concerto.
    Last edited by Larkenfield; Oct-12-2018 at 20:40.
    ”Art is how we decorate space; Music is how we decorate time.”

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    Then there are cases where the composer has a brother-in-law who is an orchestral pianist, so he wites in a few piano notes so his in-law can earn an evening's fee.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Larkenfield View Post
    The piano is also considered a percussion instrument because it has hammers that strike its strings. Stravinsky’s Petrushka has an important piano part that adds to the percussive effects and tonal color, and that’s why the piano is usually near the percussion section if it’s not a piano concerto.
    This is right. Prokofiev 5 and Shostakovich 7 has a piano as well.

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    Senior Member techniquest's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by derin684 View Post
    This is right. Prokofiev 5 and Shostakovich 7 has a piano as well.
    Yes, the piano part in Prokofiev's 5th is particularly fine. You should also add that there's a piano part in Shostakovich's 5th too.
    There may come a time when Youtube won't let us do this...

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    Senior Member EdwardBast's Avatar
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    In addition to the points made above, piano adds edge and focus to bass lines. Prokofiev used it this way.

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