Keyboard Cavalcade
See if you can get full marks in this informative quiz.

Keyboard Cavalcade

Keyboard instruments are among some of the most remarkable and evocative devices ever developed, built, written for and performed upon by human beings: they (the instruments, that is) are intricate yet also intimate. How much do you know about them, their techniques and repertoire?

Which is the oldest type of keyboard-controlled musical instrument?
The piano
The harpsichord
The organ
The celesta
There have reportedly been proto-versions of the organ (essentially, with one or more ranks of wind-blown pipes controlled from a keyboard) since Roman times (i.e. somewhat over 2,000 years ago); keyboard instruments with plucked or hammered strings date back at most about a third as far as that, to the Middle Ages
How many keyboards are there on the biggest known organ ever built?
The organ with the most keyboards was built by Midmer-Losh at the Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City (see here): it has no fewer than seven manuals (so even a player 'thumbing-down' twice-over could still only be using barely half of them at once), plus the pedalier. A common-or-garden church or theatre instrument would have two or three manuals; a cathedral might have four or possibly five; there are plenty of chamber and continuo organs with only one manual and no pedals at all
In broader terms of technical and cultural history, back from when can we date the piano (pianoforte) or its distinctive forerunner instruments, ONE of these statements is false : which one?
Shakespeare does not mention the piano, so it can't have been known as early as the start of the 17th century
Johann Sebastian Bach wrote plenty of keyboard music, but nothing entitled 'Piano Concerto' as such, so by the time of his death in 1750 it seems he'd never yet had the chance to try one
Bartolommeo Cristofori was developing what we now know as the earliest pianos, at the very end of the 17th century
The 'fortepiano' ('plays loud as well as gently'), with a range of five octaves or so ~ comparable to a modern organ keyboard ~ was available to composers of the 'first Viennese school' in the latter half of the 18th century
It is known that Bach tried some early Silbermann pianos, made various positive technical suggestions and enjoyed playing such instruments in the mid-1730s. The first heyday of the Piano Sonata and Concerto were by then only a generation or so into the future; Mozart was dead by the end of that century, for instance
There is a family of free-reed keyboard instruments that usually do not have piano-style keyboards (with their distinctive alternation of groups of 2 and 3 shorter black keys). Which of the following instruments does NOT belong in this 'other keyboard' category?
The upper three instruments each have buttons (though a piano-accordion would have a short-compass piano-style keyboard at the treble end, and chord buttons at the bass); the harmonium (more or less the same thing as a Reed Organ) only has a piano-style 'interface'
The phrase 'jack-in-the-box' refers to the technology of which historical keyboard instrument?
The organ
The fortepiano
The harpsichord
The hammered dulcimer
The 'jacks' are/were the vertical wooden components which leap up when a key is pressed, and whose motion leads to the relevant string being plucked by a quill ~ hence that the timbre of such an instrument sounds somewhat similar to a plucked guitar or mandolin. Sometimes the vigorous player would put too much energy into it, and the jack would leap up and then fall back out of its proper place so that it would be stuck and not respond the next time that key were played
Which composer/performer was known as 'the Poet of the Piano'?
Robert Schumann
Heinrich Heine
Frederic Chopin
Artur Rubinstein
Chopin was widely referred to by this title: he was perhaps one of the best examples in musical history of someone who came along at the right time in the development of the technology. The pianos of his day were less powerful than ours now, but could still express both quiet soulfulness (as in his Nocturnes) and a roaring or playful energy; this range of emotions was emerging from the private salon into the concert hall, in a period when Europe had been convulsed by the Napoleonic Wars and the early stages of the Industrial Revolution
Most pianos have two pedals; some have three. What is the purpose of the middle pedal on a concert grand piano?
It mutes the strings
It sets the hammers to half-blow
It sustains only those notes which are currently being played, and thus have their dampers already raised
It makes the whole instrument louder
This is the true purpose of the 'sostenuto' pedal (as distinct from the common-or-garden Damper Pedal, always the rightmost of the cluster). You would be unlikely to find a third, middle pedal having a mute function on a concert grand piano, though this is far more likely on a modest upright (e.g. for quieter practice in a home or flat)
If the stop-knob (or tablet) on a pipe organ is labelled 'Trumpet 8', presumably it will produce a sound resembling a trumpet; but what does the '8' mean?
The longest pipe in the manual rank (for bass C) has a sounding length of 8 feet; tenor C would be 4 feet and middle C, 2 feet; so this 'stop' will sound at the pitch you expect, i.e. a middle C as played will sound at middle C, rather than an octave up or down
In terms of how pungent the sound is, this is 8 on a scale out of 10; a flute-toned stop would probably only rank 2 or 3 points
This stop sounds best played in music that does not move more quickly than 8 quavers to the bar (such as many of the classic baroque Trumpet Tunes and Marches by Purcell, Stanley and others)
This rank balances best if you have 8 stops drawn altogether (i.e. fewer other stops will be drowned by it, and more would obscure its sound)
The number on a stop control is usually a foot-length. If you consider it, many instruments that play upwards from middle C are indeed about 2ft long (such as the violin, clarinet or indeed the trumpet, where the whole instrument lies within arm's-length from the player's head or neck); lower-playing instruments are larger (e.g. the cello or trombone). This correlation between physical length and sounding pitch also explains the classic shape of instruments with many sounding parts such as the harp, piano and ranks of organ pipes, each with the deepest sounding components at one end and the shrillest at the other.
Some organ stops have other equivalent markings on them such as fractions or Roman numerals ... a tad too technical to go into here!
Which of the following is the odd one out, in keyboard instrument technology terms?
The Spoon is part of the action of a grand piano (so named because, at the back of the key lever, it raises ~ with a spoon-like, encouraging upward motion ~ the part of the mechanism that disengages the damper from the string while the hammer is on its way to hit it). All the other parts named here are components within the action of a mechanical pipe organ
Which sparkling-toned acoustic keyboard instrument takes the solo in the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite?
Ondes Martenot
The glockenspiel and xylophone, though laid out with their sounding parts to mimic the shape of a keyboard, are struck directly with sticks and therefore have no keyboard 'interface' as such; the Ondes Martenot does have a keyboard, but that's only part of its story!


Author:  Ian Miles

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