In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Keyboard Music

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Source Studies
  • Anthologies
  • Journals
  • Keyboard Music before 1800
  • Piano Music after 1800
  • Organ Music after 1800

Music Keyboard Music
Bruce Gustafson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 February 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 February 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0001


Keyboard music can be categorized broadly as music for harpsichord, piano, or organ. Each category represents a family of related instruments, and there is considerable overlap exists in the repertory for each family: harpsichord music was and is played on clavichords, spinets, and virginals of various types; piano music began, in the last third of the 18th century, as stylistically indistinguishable from harpsichord music; and organ music includes music played on various types of positives, harmoniums, and electronic instruments intended to replicate the sound of a pipe organ. Before about 1700, considerable overlap existed between music intended for harpsichord or organ, although some national schools, most notably the French, developed distinct styles for the two instruments early in the 17th century. Although the clavichord produces its sound in a distinctly different way from either the harpsichord or the piano, the instrument only rarely acquired its own repertory. Throughout the history of keyboard music, arrangements (“transcriptions”) of music originally composed for voices or other instruments have formed a large portion of keyboard repertory. A small but significant repertory for more than one player at a keyboard instrument or for multiple keyboard instruments is also found. Music that couples keyboards with other instruments or voices falls into the categories of chamber music, orchestral music, or music for voices or melody instruments. There is potential confusion in the terminology used for keyboard instruments and thus the same can be true for the music itself. In England, “virginal” was used by the Elizabethans generically to mean “harpsichord.” In France, “spinet” (épinette) was similarly used as the preferred term for harpsichord until late in the 17th century when clavecin was preferred as the generic term. In Germany, “keyboard” (clavier, klavier) came to mean “piano” by the end of the 18th century, no longer encompassing the organ; this caused some modern authors writing in English to consider “keyboard music” to be distinct from “organ music” or even to use “clavier” as an English word that excludes organ. Finally, “pianoforte” and “fortepiano” were used interchangeably in the early history of the piano, but a modern convention has evolved to use “fortepiano” for instruments in the style of those built before the second third of the 19th century.

General Overviews

Few works other than encyclopedia articles (see Reference Works) attempt to treat all keyboard music. A notable exception is the three-volume study, Edler and Mauser 1997–2004. There are, however, books that are broad overviews of a portion of the repertory, such as Kirby 1995 and Hollfelder 1999, which address everything except organ music and modern harpsichord music from the perspective of the modern pianist. More narrowly defined but still crossing chronological boundaries is a study of Spanish piano music, Powell 1980. Closely related to general overviews are works that are essentially annotated lists (see Guides to Literature and Repertory).

  • Edler, Arnfried, and Siegfried Mauser. Gattungen der Musik für Tasteninstrumente. 3 vols. Handbuch der musikalischen Gattungen 7/1–3. Laaber, Germany: Laaber, 1997–2004.

    A discussion of the entire keyboard repertory, largely organized by genre within its three large chronological divisions. Volume 1 stops at 1750, Volume 2 continues to 1830, and Volume 3 goes to the end of the 20th century. The prose is well documented, providing a guide to the secondary literature.

  • Hollfelder, Peter. Internationales chronologisches Lexikon: Klaviermusic: Geschichte, Komponisten, Werke, Literatur. Wilhelmshaven, Germany: F. Noetzel, 1999.

    A Supplement was published in 2005. Replaces the author’s Geschichte der Klaviermusik (Wilhelmshaven, Germany: F. Noetzel, 1988–1989). Each century, from the 16th to the 20th, is introduced by commentary that includes sources, modern anthologies, and some bibliography of the literature, followed by geographical subsections. Excludes organ music and modern harpsichord music.

  • Kirby, Frank E. Music for Piano: A Short History. Pompton Plains, NJ, and Cambridge, UK: Amadeus, 1995.

    Replaces the author’s A Short History of Keyboard Music (New York: Free Press, 1966). Kirby surveys the repertory for modern piano, with a brief discussion of harpsichord music to 1750. Concludes with a discussion of trends in the late 20th century. The categorized bibliography includes sections on specific composers.

  • Powell, Linton. A History of Spanish Piano Music. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980.

    The only scholarly survey of Spanish piano music, from the 18th to 20th centuries. Puts special emphasis on Joaquín Turina.

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