In History: ca1724-ca1816

EARLY EXTENSIONS (pp. 81-241 in the book)

Contrary to common thought, which positions extended piano techniques in the 20th century, the earliest detectable history goes back to about 1724 and is one of susprising adventurous attitude toward the piano.

The experimentation with the early clusters shows efforts to

  • integrate them in the tonal environment
  • develop a efficiently communicative notation
  • exploit characteristics of different keyboard instruments (the first real piano cluster – by Balbastre in 1777 – is crucially different from earlier clusters for the harpsichord, organ, or unspecified keyboard instruments

Nevertheless, the cluster did not yet manage move away from its typical tone painting function.

In an age that did not know the word “glissando” yet, it is not always easy to detect glissandi. From the middle of the century onwards, the technique is more clearly identifiable. Some instances can surprise present-day performers, e.g. the octave glissandi in Haydn’s piano trio in C, Hob. XV:27. The circumstantial evidence is considerable, however, including context (e.g. the octave glissando in Beethoven’s trio opus 1 nr.3; Haydn’s own concerto in G and his Fantasy), compositional form, instrumental technology, and performance practice.

Haydn piano trio in C Hob. XV:27, 1st movement, 2nd theme, exposition
Haydn piano trio in C, Hob. XV:27, 1st movement, 2nd theme, recapitulation


The most remarkable feat in the first century of extended techniques’ history is the forgotten work of Friedrich Wilhelm Rust and Israel Gottlieb Wernicke, exploring the inside of the instrument to a level not attained again until after Henry Cowell. See here for a separate article on one of Rusts’s sonatas.