What is the History of the Piano?

Understanding the history of the piano helps in having a deep connection with the instrument and helps us to play better and with tremendous interest. The instruments are of three different types, namely the wind instruments, the percussion instruments, and the string instruments. The pianos belong to the string range of instruments and clenching too deep into its history reveals to us that the pianos are the descendants of the monochords. Since the piano sounds come from the vibration of its strings, it can also be classified as a percussion instrument as the hammer strings. 

The earliest of the pianos were originally crafted in Italy, around 1500, and looked more like a harpsichord. This was later spread to Great Britain, Germany, France, and other countries and in the harpsichord class of instruments, when a key gets pressed a plectrum or the jack that is attached with the wood strip plucks the strings and renders the music.

Inventor and his Invention

The first-ever piano was invented in the year 100 by Bartolomeo Cristofori in Italy. What he discovered was the improvisation of the harpsichord, as he was not satisfied with the fact that the musicians have little control over the volume of the music played in the harpsichord. 

It was Cristofori who invented the plucking mechanism of the hammer that we found in the modern pianos. Before naming the instrument like a piano, it was regarded as an instrument that is great for playing both loud and soft noises. When he invented the piano, he also invented the pedal that became the standard sustain pedal on every piano. The modern-day pianos are the improvisation over his invention and this precision instrument has not changed much in its mechanism since then. 

Variations in Pianos Across History

The popularity of this instrument which was once named as pianoforte and shortened as piano began to spread throughout Europe in the 18th century. Soon the pianos were being made in different countries in their characteristic design. For example, the pianos that were made in England have a louder volume and featured a heavier mechanism and the pianos in Austria featured a softer sound and a lighter mechanism. 

And the pianos that were made in Viennese were very famous as they featured a wooden frame and they encompass two strings in a note. Their hammers were covered with leather. When the pianos were first being manufactured, they didn’t have the same number of keys on their board.

Though most of them had 88 keys commonly (52 white keys and the 36 black keys), the majority of the pianos were smaller and they featured just 85 keys. Some manufacturers such as the Imperial Bosendorfer had additional keys on their instruments (nine keys to cover the 8 octaves). These pianos also had a lid that covered the keys when they were not in use. Major changes in the design and the functionality of the piano happened over the years and can be briefly summarized as follows:

  • 1844: Major design changes in the physical appearance of the piano, including the incorporation of the sostenuto pedal
  • 1859: Cross stringing was first patented this year
  • 1872: Invention of the duplex scaling feature
  • 1880- 90s: Standardization of the 88-key format in the piano
  • 1900: Technological advancements in the piano.

Unique Pianos with Different Key Sets

A famous piano manufacturer Schoenhut also specialized in manufacturing pianos that have just 44 or 49 keys and they appealed to those who wished to have a piano but couldn’t dedicate huge space for a large acoustic piano. Yet another interesting invention is the Pianoforte from Emanuel Moor who is a Hungarian pianist and composer.

The main highlight of this classic piano version is that it has two keyboards in the same set. The key ranges were set one over the other. The upper portion of the keyboard was slightly shorter and it had 76 keys and the lower row possessed complete 88 keys and was slightly longer. Playing this piano was unusual as well but offered the advantage for the pianist to reach two octaves in one hand, which is generally not possible with the regular piano. 

Improvisations in the Piano Playing Technique Across Ages

Ever since the invention of the piano technique from the harpsichord to the fortepiano playing, the piano playing technique has been improvising. The changes can be correlated with the preference of the audience for the changes in the music styles during the classical and romantic musical periods.

With the emergence of the Virtuoso pianists, different schools of piano playing came into existence and started the evolution of the diverse piano playing techniques. One important innovation that resonates with the powerful sound of modern-day pianos is the use of the large cast-iron frame that stood on top of the soundboard. This cast iron frame helped in the user of thicker and tense strings and it was also patented in the year 1825. It encompassed the use of three strings for the middle treble registers and it also enhanced the richness of the sound. 

The copper winding that is present around the steel strings in the bass registers and helped to enhance the mass of the string, enhancing its tone and depth, without noticeably altering the stiffness in the string. 

Slowly the process of manufacturing the keyboard was streamlined so that the piano could get faster and more responsive. Changes were made in the exteriors of the piano as well and the manufacturers of piano started experimenting with different manufacturing materials and processes, incorporating technological innovations from time to time. 

Bottom Line

Thus the pianos have been evolving over history and stand as a true pinnacle of human achievement. It keeps evolving and developing and we do not how, how the piano will look and sound like, hundred years from now. But it would always stay as a pinnacle of music and a precision instrument for musicians to create high-quality music across ages.

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Being in love with music, Larry started this website to help piano lovers get the most detailed and accurate information with his 5 Years of experience of working in a music store.

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