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A Brief History of The Piano

The history of the piano comes from centuries of stringed keyboard designs. It also gained the approval of well-known composers.

history of the piano

Pianos may be a new instrument from the 1700′s. It’s design and history date back several centuries. Its history also includes innovative ideas from European builders. These builders shaped its modern design and performance.

The Invention of The Piano

history of the piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori is generally regarded as the inventor of the piano.

Cristofori is a master harpsichord maker. His knowledge helped him to create an excellent instrument. The exact date of piano invention is unknown. Many texts state that it was born in 1700. Others believe it was in 1698. Only three of the instruments that he built have survived. Each dates from sometime in the 1720’s.

Cristofori made instruments with thinner strings than the modern piano. The thinner strings made them quieter when played. It is also louder compared to a clavichord at the time.

He also designed the piano action. It is a foundation for pianos built during the next century.

The Early Fortepiano

History of the Piano The Early Fortepiano

An organ builder named Gottfried Silbermann saw an article by Scipione Maffei praising the piano.

Silbermann created the predecessor to the modern sustain pedal. This pedal lifts the dampers from all the strings of the instrument. It also alters the sound.

The Sustain Pedal

History of the Piano The Sustain Pedal

The sustain pedal is an important part of the piano. It increased the range of sounds. A pianist can hold notes for a long time using this. The sustain pedal also allows a pianist to create interesting sound layering effects.

In 1730’s Silbermann showed one if his earlier instruments to Johann Sebastian Bach.

Bach did not favor Silbermann’s design and criticized the higher notes for being “too soft.” Silbermann listened and made adjustments to later instruments. He then gained Bach’s approval in 1747. Piano making continued to flourish all throughout the 18th century.

The Viennese school was a  hub for piano making and builders. This includes John Andreas Stein, Nannette Streicher, and Anton Walter all attended. Their instruments came from wood frames and featured two strings for each note.

They covered the hammers with leather. They also painted many cases with bright colors and designs. Modern pianos can have many strings per note and may have as many as 236 strings.

History of the Piano: What Are the Key Components?

The piano and its key components have changed over time. There were plenty of new designs and features such as sustained sound.

Iron Frame

History of the piano Cast Iron frame of a piano

Modern pianos have massive cast iron frames. It provides a stable structure to the instrument. Creating this is tricky as the iron shrinks during processing.

Many have spent countless years creating perfect cast iron frames. They called it plates.  If the frame is not constructed correctly, the soundboard cannot sit in place. The sound of the instrument will suffer as well.

The iron frame is essential in modern instruments. It also contributes a considerable amount of weight. Frames for pianos vary in size to accommodate the other parts of the device. It has a different shape to make room for alterations in the design.

Strings

Piano Strings History of the Piano

The Industrial Revolution made the production of high-quality strings possible. It provided piano builders with all the materials they need for their custom designs. Some builders continued to use the thin strings found in previous instruments.

Others sought thicker strings to provide more in-depth and more vibrant sound. Early progress in the 1700’s made way for pianos using harpsichord cases. These contain strings that tighten much more than previous strings.

This tension was possible due to the iron frames and quality string materials. The robust construction with thicker strings allowed the instrument to be louder. The sound was fuller and reach a larger range with more than five octaves.

At the time, five octaves were revolutionary. Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven were some of the first to play these instruments in the 1790’s. By 1810, six octaves were available, and seven octaves followed in 1820.

Action

Sebastien Erard was the inventor of the double escapement action in 1821. This offered a deliberate change to the sound of the piano.

A double escapement action lets a pianist play repeating notes in quick succession. Liszt, a music composer, exploits this device. Henri Herz revised the mechanism. Also, the double escapement action became a standard component in grand pianos.

As recently as the 2000′s, double escapement action is still standard for grand pianos. Also, hammers covered with felt instead of leather has served to change the sound further.

Felt is a more consistent material to work with than leather or cotton. The latter permits dynamic even as string tension increases.

History of the Piano: What Were Early Pianos Like?

History of the piano The harpsichord was converted into a piano.

Early pianos varied in size and more ethereal sounding than modern designs. The design of the piano has a lengthy history of other stringed keyboard instruments. It also started out more like a harpsichord than the modern pianos we are familiar with today.

Builders that built organs found building pianos to be a fascinating challenge. Their custom designs provided a foundation for what is available today. During that time, it was only the wealthy who can afford a custom complex string instruments.

Early pianos took much longer to make. Builders were at the mercy of what materials were available. As a result, many of the earliest pianos did not survive in full. Most early pianos had cases made from wood and a different number of strings for each note. Different European schools favored different instrument designs and sounds.

Also, these builders went on to create new components for their designs. A great example of this is the builder John Broadwood. He joined with other builders to design and build a piano that used a harpsichord case.

Original Piano Design

This was the original piano design. In 1777 the reputation for quality pianos with beautiful tone was in place. The later pianos focused on being louder and with more robust sound.

The massive frame used in pianos in the year 1700′s gives the piano its powerful sound. The frame must be large enough to sustain the tension of the strings. However, the single piece frame remained unpatented until 1825.

Modern Pianos

history of the piano

Modern pianos rely on a sturdy frame that can withstand tremendous string tension. Additionally, it was in 1843 when they award a patent for the full frame grand pianos.

The history of the piano has helped to improve its performance and durability. Indeed, the experts did great to improve its elements and design.

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