All kinds of groupings of instruments are possible, but some, for reasons that may not be obvious, stick around. The string quartet is one of these, and the string trio. Another, introduced more recently, is the mixed sextet that includes two string instruments (violin and cello), two woodwinds (flute and clarinet), a pianist and a percussion player. Arnold Schoenberg, one of the great composers of the first half of the twentieth century, led the way, but without the percussionist, who was added by Peter Maxwell Davies and others in the 1960s. By now, so much music has been written for this sextet that there are groups specializing in it-though of course, these groups can also play pieces for smaller selections of the available instruments. Psappha is one of the leading groups of this kind.


The piano is classical music's default instrument. Far more has been composed for it than for any other instrument, by nearly all the great composers of the last three centuries. Yet still people find new possibilities in it, performers as well as composers.

This might seem strange, because the piano is much more like a machine than most instruments. The pianist presses down the 'keys', white and black, and each key makes a little wooden hammer hit a particular length of stretched wire. These wires are tuned to the right notes-a job that needs an expert, a 'piano tuner'. Then the vibration of the wire, amplified by the piano's wooden frame, makes the sound.

These days a lot of pianos are electronic. Instead of hammers and wires they have circuits that produce the sound, and it may be quite difficult to tell you're not hearing an old-fashioned piano. Even so, classical pianists always prefer the older kind, because of the subtle effects they can get by how they touch the keys-gently or sharply-and also by using the piano's pedals. All pianos have at least two pedals. One of these-the most useful-keeps the wires vibrating and so prolongs the sound.