Why aren’t pianos frequently used in orchestras?



I have heard that historically composers didn’t frequently include it but, musically and sound wise, is it less suitable or just not needed?

In: Other

Part of the magic of the sound of an orchestra is the hability of the players to tune their instruments to get perfect harmonies on the fly by ear. Pianos nowadays are tuned with imperfect intervals (equal temperament) so while they can alternate passages of protagonism with the orchestra they may sound a bit out of tune in long shared passages. Same with guitars, harps etc.

Orchestra musician here – they ARE frequently used. Some orchestras even have a permanent position for a pianist. Mine doesn’t, but most of our concerts include piano in at least one work.

I’m a classical musician. What people are saying about pianos tuning differently is true but that’s not really the reason. The sound of a piano doesn’t blend well with an orchestra because it is a percussion instrument. Pianos were included in orchestras quite a bit starting around 1900 but they are used sparingly and only for solo-type passages. Listen to Stravinsky’s “Petroushka” for a good example.

Never played in an orchestra but pianos are used quite often, but here’s some reasons they may not be. Pianos are heavy, take forever to tune and most orchestral pieces were composed hundreds of years ago and may have not included one.

There are a bunch of pieces written for orchestra that feature the piano, both playing in the orchestra and as a concerto (piano being a solo instrument playing with the orchestra). You see the piano more in “pops” concerts- modern music, or, more famous works that are more palatable to the everyday person. If you look back in history to the composers that everyone thinks of as classical (Bach, Beethoven, Mozart for example) then you have to think about what instruments and settings they had at their disposal. We’re looking at a range from the late 1600s to the early 1800s. A lot of this music was composed to be performed in and for churches and small chambers, which are very different than modern concert halls (Acoustics, size, etc). You also want to look at the history of the piano. The first piano was invented in the early 1700s; it grew up with these composers. Early pianos, referred to as forte pianos, are not what we have today. They more resemble harpsichords and clavichords. They had a softer tone and couldn’t get as loud. Just like today, pianos were very expensive. They were very limited and began working their way in as they became more accessible, but they didn’t reach their current standing till after the three composers I mentioned had passed. Modern composers have fully embraced the piano and have even moved on to current keyboard instruments, laptops and synthesizers. We’ve come a long way since harpsichords and organs to pianos and synths.

It is important to note that these composers used pianos to do the actual composing. They used them to see how the notes and instruments worked together. You could actually play two parts on a piano, something you can’t do on a violin or oboe. The piano did prove itself in those settings and eventually moved to the stage too.

Musician here: They are used, and more often than not.

Historically, Pianos were not used because they were not suited for Orchestra. The pianos from 17th century were garbage. They weren’t loud enough, and the player didn’t had the huge array of dynamics options that a modern piano offers.
At the 18th century, there have been many improvements in the construction of pianos, and more composers started to adding it to their compositions.

tl;dr: It wasn’t a popular instrument before the 18th century, but nowadays is used frequently

Also: People saying that the problem is related to the tuning have no idea what they are talking about.

Ever noticed how difficult it is sometimes to record a piano only track? The lows and highs… piano is the instrument of champions but cellos are person are amazing. Feel the vibration.