History of the Piano


The piano has been considered one of the most fine and sophisticate instruments and stands at the center of the traditions of western music. The piano has flourished in the past few centuries and its one of the most prefer instruments not only for ordinary people but also virtuoso performers, composers, and improvisers.

The piano allows to create a melody, harmony, and texture all at once and the control over sound and expression.

The piano uses small hammers to strike the strings inside and bounce off, leaving the strings to vibrate in a free manner. This mechanism has its origin in early forms of The Zither, this is an instrument that goes back to the Bronze Age. The string on the Zither stretched between sticks or over a wooden board and the strings are struck or plucked.


Later, the Zither developed considerably and because of the resonating chamber and the movable bridges that could alter the pitch of the note, it was one of the favorite instruments used by ancient Greeks. The first Zithers arrived in Europe from the Middle East in the 11th century, and they were portable instruments.

Zither comes from the Greek word "cithara", meaning a class of stringed instrument. This instrument consists of many strings stretched across a thin, flat body. Zithers are played by strumming or plucking the strings, either with the fingers or bow. Like an acoustic guitar or lute, a zither’s body serves as a resonating chamber. Zithers have numbers of strings from one to more than fifty. The earliest known surviving instrument of the zither family is a Chinese guqin dating 433BC. Similar instruments were developed over the following centuries, we still have some sophisticated examples of Zither such as Japanese Koto and Hungarian cimbalom to mention some.


Dulcimer evolved from the Zither; this was the first instrument with metal strings specially designed to be struck by small hammers, variant of this instrument is found in many cultures.


There were so many kinds of instruments developed such clavichord, spinet, bentside spinet, harpsichord, double manual harpsichord, virginal, zumpe or square piano and the pianoforte.


The Clavichord was invented in the early fourteenth century. The work clavichord is derived from the Latin word "Clavis:, meaning “key” and "Chorda" meaning string. The mechanism of the instrument was by plucking the strings, but it was too quiet for open areas so it was only used in domestic reunions.


Spinet is a smaller type of harpsichord and the earliest according to the historian Frank Hubbard (1967) was around 1631, made by Hieronymus de Zentis. Spinets had smaller soundboards, so the sound was weaker, for that reason the spinet was only for domestic use also, and it was a very compact instrument.


Harpsichord, this instrument is call clavicembalo in Italian, clavecin in French, cembalo in German and clavecín in Spanish. Harpsichord is a musical instrument that uses a keyboard to play. Its mechanism is also by plucking one or more strings, the strings are under tension on a soundboard, which is mounted in a wooden case, the soundboard amplifies the vibrations from the strings. The harpsichord was used in Renaissance and Baroque music, and it serves as accompaniment instrument as well as a soloing instrument. It is a believe that this instrument was invented in the late Middle Ages. Some harpsichords have two keyboards, this was used for transposition. Harpsichords vary in size and shape. During the late 18th century, the harpsichord was replaced by the fortepiano and only used for operas, to accompany recitative parts on the operas and still in use.

Cristofori Piano-forte. At the end of the 17th century, three types of keyboard instrument were in use: organs, the harpsichord family, and clavichords. None of them offered the sort of dynamic response to achieve expressive contrasts of volume. The first instruments recognisable today as pianos were built by Bartolomeo Cristofori. He built only small number of pianos, but his idea was ignored by the musicians of his own time in Italy. Even with all the problem he faced, Cristofori continues to refine his piano action, even developing the "una corda" mechanism that corresponds to the left-hand pedal on modern pianos. He also discovered that longer, thicker strings would produce more tone, providing that the strings could be securely maintained under a greater tension. According to some historian Cristofori started working on the piano by 1698. This new invention produces soft and loud sounds, that the reason it was call the pianoforte.

According to history Cristori built not many pianos but only three survive today. They are now at the museums, the piano built in 1720 is in The Metropolitan Museum in New York, the one built in 1722 is in the museum at Rome and the one built in 1726 is in the Museum of Leipzig. In the early 18th century, a number of instrument manufacturers in France and Germany, were working to recreate and refine Cristofori’s instruments. By 19th century there were many piano manufacturers, and it became a big business after the war. The 19th century was the period in which the Romantic movement emerged in European classical music, looking for new way express emotions; audiences liked to see musicians transported into states of poetic and emotional rapture and many of the performances ended with wrecked pianos, this represented a problem. So, manufactures started to develop the iron frames, the piano became more efficient with the increased of string tension and larger hammer, the dynamic range was wider, the sustain pedal allowed the romantic composer-performers such as Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann to explore variety of new moods and textures, as well as increasing in technical difficulties. The piano was the centrepiece of the Romantic era.

The picture beside was the sort of Piano that was use by Beethoven. Some pianos where heavily ornamented and different shapes. The upright we know today first appeared around 1800, following previous attempts to design vertical grand pianos (known as upright grands). It was developed to be a smaller, more economical, and portable instrument. However, manufacturers also wanted an instrument whose sound retained as many as possible of the qualities of the grand piano. In 1842 the most advanced version of the upright was developed in Paris by Playel and Pape. The French manufacturers of uprights were commercially successful.


The modern grand piano was also in evolution, one of the old brands of pianos was the one developed by the Steinway family (originally called Steinweg), this family emigrated to USA after the 1848 revolution in Germany, where they had already been producing pianos. They produced a series of innovations in the production and design process: these represent the last major developments in the evolution of the modern gran piano. In 1850s they introduced over stringing to square pianos and developed a cast-iron frame that could support far greater levels of tension in the strings, making it possible to produce instrument with a much bigger and richer sound. By 1860, they had produced the overstrung grand – the real forerunner of the modern concert grand piano and they achieved a more consistent tonal quality. Theodor Steinway from Steinway & Sons introduced a whole series of technical refinements that were eventually taken up by other manufacturer around the world.

Information obtained from The Piano Handbook by C Humpries, Google search, and Blog:The Evolution Of The Modern Piano (Facts, Photos and Timeline) | Blog | Lindeblad Piano



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