A Brief History Of The Piano

If you are going to be playing the piano, it is recommended that you know a bit about the history of the piano. The history of the piano will help you understand the makeup of the instrument and give you a better understanding of the workings of the piano. The history of the piano can be dated back to the year 1700.

The Invention Of The Piano

The invention of the piano has been credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua in Italy. He was employed by the Grand Prince of Tuscany as the Keeper of the Instruments. Cristofori was an expert harpsichord maker which ensured that he was well acquainted with the body of a keyboard instrument.

It was the knowledge of the harpsichord that allowed Cristofori to create the first piano. It is important to note that there is no clear date on when the first piano was built, but an inventory by the Medici family indicates that there was a piano in their home by the year 1700. There is another document that dates the creation of the piano at 1698.

There are 3 Cristofori pianos which have survived until now and they are all dated from the 1720s. The instrument was originally called “un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte” which translates to a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud. This long name was shortened to a pianoforte which simply means loud and soft.

It is believed that the piano was created by Cristofori to overcome the limitations of the harpsichord. The harpsichord was a plucked string instrument which means that it is impossible to create louder and softer notes. The makeup of the piano allows the notes to be played at different volumes.

The Early Pianoforte

It is important to note that Cristofori’s new instrument remained largely unknown for a number of years. It was only in 1711 when an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, write an article about the instrument. The article had a diagram of the instrument mechanism which was later translated into German and then widely distributed.

The early adaptors of the pianoforte used this article as the basis of their designs. One of the builders on the early pianoforte was Gottfried Silbermann who was better known as a master organ builder. The pianos that Silbermann made were near identical copies of the ones made by Cristofori with a single, but very important addition.

The addition made by Silbermann was the precursor to the modern sustain pedal. This pedal is able to lift all the dampers from the strings at the same time which allows the player to sustain notes after their fingers have left the keys. This invention allows players to play a loud chord on the piano with both hands, sustain the chord and relocate their hands to a different section of the piano.

In the 1730s, Silbermann showed one of his instruments to Johann Sebastian Bach, but Bach did not approve of the instrument stating that the high notes were too soft. This seems to have been rectified as later pianos from Silbermann were approved by Bach who acted as an agent for the pianos.

The piano flourished in the late 18th century, particularly in the Viennese school. The Viennese-style piano is made with a wooden frame and 2 strings per note. The hammer in the piano is leather covered and many of them had coloring that is opposite to the modern piano.

The Modern Piano

Between 1790 and 1860, the early pianoforte underwent a number of changes that lead to the modern piano that is used today. These changes were in response to the preference of pianists for more sustained and powerful sounds. The industrial revolution also increased the quality of the piano strings which could be produced and allowed makers to produce massive iron frames for the piano strings.

The firm Broadwood is accredited with much of these early technological progress. This company created the original grand piano as we know it today and by 1777 they had a reputation for power and splendor. The company was also the first to build a piano that had a range of more than 5 octaves.

The Viennese piano makers followed these trends, but the two schools of piano making still differed. The Broadwood pianos used a more robust action when played while the Viennese pianos were more sensitive.

By the 1820s, Paris had become the center of piano making and innovation. In 1821, the double escapement action was created by Sebastian Erard. This action allowed for the rapid playing of repeated notes which is a musical device that has been exploited by a number of pianists. There are other improvements which were made around this time including the use of felt hammers instead of a leather or cotton covered hammer.

 

Resources:

The History of the Piano

History of the Piano

 

 

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