Eighty-Eight Keys, Three Hundred Years

Episode #301 First Aired: November 1, 2009

There are some 30 million pianos in the United States alone, ranging from petite spinets tucked into small apartments to imposing concert grands that take center stage at performance halls. Nearly one in 20 people plays—including about 18 million nonprofessional players in the U.S. This versatile instrument has been a hit with musicians and music fans since its introduction in 1709.

Dr. Diane EarleTo celebrate the 300th anniversary of this popular instrument, Kentuckian Dr. Diane Earle, Professor of Music at Kentucky Wesleyan College, created a performance concert telling the piano’s story through words, images, and music. Highlights of that performance make up the Kentucky Muse documentary “Eighty-Eight Keys, Three Hundred Years.”

There are some 30 million pianos in the United States alone, ranging from petite spinets tucked into small apartments to imposing concert grands that take center stage at performance halls. Nearly one in 20 people plays—including about 18 million nonprofessional players in the U.S. This versatile instrument has been a hit with musicians and music fans since its introduction in 1709.

To celebrate the 300th anniversary of this popular instrument, Kentuckian Dr. Diane Earle, Professor of Music at Kentucky Wesleyan College, created a performance concert telling the piano’s story through words, images, and music. Highlights of that performance make up the Kentucky Muse documentary “Eighty-Eight Keys, Three Hundred Years.”

Along the way Earle relates the importance of the instrument in her life. “From the time I was 6-years-old and my fingers first touched the keys, I have been in love with the piano,” she says. “It’s been my best friend.”

The piano has also been at the heart of Earle’s studies and career. A Timken Scholar, Earle received a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance, magna cum laude, from University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Piano Performance and Literature were from The Ohio State University, with additional doctoral and post-doctoral study at Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, Music Academy of the West, and Blossom Festival School.

Earle has performed in seven countries and in 27 states, including at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Kaufman Center in New York. In 2008 she performed nine concerts in China and returned in 2009 to give ten performances of her program on the history of the piano.

As a teacher at Kentucky Wesleyan College for 25 years, the education consultant for the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, and a music instructor for RiverPark Center’s “Arts in the A.M.” program, she shares her passion for the piano with students of all ages. “As I think about the evolution of the piano and piano performance in the past, I also wonder what innovations my students will add to this wonderful instrument,” she says.

Diane EarleDr. Diane Earle, performing with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra

About Dr. Diane Earle

Dr Diane EarleDr. Diane Earle is a Professor of Music and Chair of the Department of Communication and Fine Arts at Kentucky Wesleyan College. She has performed in seven countries and twenty-seven states, including at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center. Earle gave many performances celebrating the piano’s 300th birthday in 2009, culminating with the piano program produced by KET for Kentucky Muse. In January of 2010, she will return as piano soloist with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, and in March, she will perform at the Glema Mahr Center for the Arts in Madisonville, Kentucky.

In 2008, she performed nine concerts in China, and then returned for 10 engagements in 2009. A writer for the China newspaper in Wuxi wrote, “When the beautiful music notes cascaded from her fingertips, all the people in the audience were mesmerized.” Earle also taught and performed at Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Guangxi Arts Institute, Shaoyang University, Jiangnan University, and Concordia International School, as well as several public schools in Shanghai and Wuxi.

Earle has been honored with a Kentucky Music Educators Association “College/University Teacher of the Year” Award and “Friend of Music” Award. She received the Kentucky Wesleyan College President’s Award for Teaching Excellence and Campus Leadership in 2009. As education consultant for the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, Diane presents many programs for area schools. She is a music instructor for RiverPark Center’s “Arts in the A.M” and is featured in the KET Music Arts Toolkit.

Earle enjoys collaborating with Kentucky Wesleyan College’s Visiting Artist in Violin, Alfred Abel. In addition to being chorus director and accompanist for the Owensboro Symphony Chorus, she is also Accompanist for the Kentucky Wesleyan Singers and a Kentucky Performing Arts on Tour Directory Artist.

Diane Earle with StudentA Timken Scholar, Earle received a Bachelor of Music degree in Piano Performance, magna cum laude, from University of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music. Her Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts degrees in Piano Performance and Literature were from The Ohio State University. While a doctoral student there, Earle received the Outstanding Teaching Associate Award and won the doctoral concerto competition. She did additional doctoral and post-doctoral study at Eastman School of Music, Indiana University, Music Academy of the West, and Blossom Festival School. Earle has also done extensive study in organ and voice.

Piano Music Performed in “Eighty-Eight Keys, 300 Years”

In this Kentucky Muse program, Diane Earle performs a wide range of pieces from throughout the piano’s 300-year of history. Here they are, in order performed and with comments by Earle:

Piano Concerto No. 1, Op. 23, first movement, by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)

“This is one of the most dramatic openings of any piano concerto, and a very beloved, gorgeous, Romantic period melody,” Earle says. “Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is one of the favorites in all piano and orchestra repertoire. It shows the range, power, and emotion of the piano.”

Pyramid Piano

“Giga” from Sonata in D Major by Baldassare Galuppi (1706 – 1785) (performed on harpsichord)

“Since the piano was invented in Italy, I wanted to begin telling its story with a composition by an Italian composer. Galuppi was an early composer who loved writing for harpsichord, and his compositions may also be played on the piano. I love the lively spirit of his music.”

“Eine Kleine Gigue” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

“Since Galuppi’s piece is a dance movement, also a ‘gigue’ I wanted the listener to compare and contrast a gigue by Mozart that was designed to be played on the piano. Also fast and exciting, this piece shows off the newly created dynamics that the new piano was able to create.”

Piano Concerto No. 20 in D Minor, K. 466, second movement by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 – 1791)

“Beethoven said that Mozart ‘taught the instruments how to sing,’ and this piece demonstrates that very well. Mozart loved to compose concerti for piano and orchestra, and enjoyed the dialogue between the two forces, as portrayed in this concerto movement. There is a simplicity, yet emotional depth to Mozart’s compositions that makes them so special, moving, and beloved.”

“Moonlight” Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2: first movement, by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)

“This is one of the most famous, often-requested pieces in all of piano literature. Students long to play it, and many continue their piano lessons just so they will be able to play this piece. It has much emotion and passion, is in a minor key, and is quite moving. Beethoven loved to compose music with fire, drama, and passion, and this piece shows his emotion, as well as the fact that the piano was evolving in tandem with the emotional demands composers were asking at the time.”

Scherzo, B Minor, Op. 20, by Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849)

“A scherzo is a piece that has some tongue-in-cheek humor. The ‘scherzo’ aspect of this piece is that the opening fortissimo chords that begin the ‘A’ section return at the end of the pianissimo lullaby ‘B’ section, startling the listener. The piece is in ABA form, like an Oreo cookie, with outer showy, virtuosic sections, and a middle lullaby section that shows Chopin’s lyrical writing. True to Chopin’s compositional style, there is a virtuosic coda to conclude the piece, showing off the pianist and exciting the audience.”

“La cathedrale engloutie” by Claude Debussy (1862 – 1918)

“Debussy was an ‘Impressionist’ composer who loved to paint landscapes through his use of tone color, dynamics, and feelings. He also loved the sea, and this piece is about a legend of a cathedral that is engulfed in the sea due to the impiety of the people. Sometimes it rises from the ocean waves, church bells ring, and then it sinks back to the ocean. Debussy loved to utilize the many varied dynamics and colors of the piano in his music.”

Prelude, Op. 23, No. 4 by Sergei Rachmaninoff (1873 – 1943)

“Rachmaninoff was a piano performer who wrote music for himself to perform. He loved passion, and added even more drama and emotion than many composers heretofore. There is a sense of longing in his music that I find very special, and he also employs complex textures and rich harmonies to create more drama.”

“The Tides of Manaunaun” by Henry Cowell (1897 – 1965)

“Manaunaun was a mythological god of motion who created tides, back and forth, as the world was being created. The composer uses tone clusters, performed with the pianist’s forearm, to portray the tides or waves of the ocean. This shows some nontraditional ways of playing the piano, typical of some 20th century composers seeking new means of expression as society was rapidly changing.”

“Rhapsody in Blue” by George Gershwin (1898 – 1937)

“A favorite piece of classical and popular music alike, this famous work combines blues harmonies with classical elements. Emotional, jazzy, and fun, it shows American music at its best. The orchestra and piano enjoy their flirtatious banter back and forth, and the melodies are very romantic and beautiful. The harmonies are rich, powerful, and the rhythms syncopated and exciting. Gershwin wanted his music to appeal to all listeners, and this piece certainly accomplishes that goal.”