Brief History of the Piano

Old PianoHumanity has been fond of making noises by banging, plucking, blowing and striking different objects since prehistoric times. It was only a matter of time before the way different sized strings pulled with different tension began to find its way into the ancient music scene.

Pretty soon a variety of rudimentary instruments were being produced, and designs were perfected to make for a better conveyance of sound. Hollow gourds, and later wooden boxes, were used to give resonance to the string’s sound. Then the pins and pegs began that held the strings in place began to evolve into more sophisticated devices.

Ancient harps and lyres were often used in the Classical Greek and Roman eras. By the 14th century, someone had the brilliant idea of tapping these strings lightly with a hammer type keyboard. One of the pianoís most early relatives was born the dulcimer.

The theory and principles of a keyboard-based musical instrument were hugely popular, and the dulcimer was developed into a variety of crude “piano-like” instruments. Each one is an important step on the journey to an elite musical instrument worthy of Carnegie Hall.

But it would still be a couple centuries before the piano was born.

At the end of the 15th century the Pianos closest predecessor, the harpsichord, was invented. The harpsichord was a crude tool. However, it was limited to a single volume that hindered a lot of expressions that was available in other contemporary instruments.

But it was this very limitation that led to the invention of the piano. The harpsichord was able to convey sound more loudly than other instruments and had a special refinement to it that led many composers to write harpsichord pieces, or pieces to be played on the keyboard.

Then in 1709 the magic happened. A humble harpsichord maker working in a small workshop in Padua Italy, had a stroke of genius, and the standard Piano was born. Bartolomeo Cristofori called his instrument the “gravicembalo col piano e forte.” This means, “the quiet and strong keyboard instrument” (loose translation). This name went through a process of shortening till it was simply called the piano.

Christofori first displayed his instrument in Florence, Italy in 1709. Today, the very instrument he displayed, sits in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Today pianos exist in a plethora of designs and styles yet it is remarkable how similar the idea is to the original concept created by Christofori over three hundred years ago.

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