Who invented the piano?
A man called Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1732) is generally thought to have invented the first piano in Florence, Italy around 1700. He was a craftsman who repaired harpsichords, and decided one day to create a keyboard that had hammers which struck the strings rather than pluck them like a harpsichord.
The fundamental flaw with a harpsichord was that because the strings were plucked when you played a note, this meant you couldn’t play loud or soft and there was only one volume. Cristofori was able to solve this problem, which was the ability to have a hammer hit the strings but not continue to rest on them which would dampen the sound, and that the hammers could return to their original position quickly and be able to re strike the note again at a fast pace without any delay.
Due to its unique ability to play notes soft and loud he called it gravecembalo col piano et forte, which means ‘keyboard instrument with soft and loud’. In the Hornbostel-Sachs system of instrument classification, the piano is considered a chordophone. A chordophone is a musical instrument that makes its sound by way of a vibrating string, or if the strings are stretched between two points. Not many people realise that the piano shares this name with the violin, guitar, and harp for example. The piano is therefore also classed as a string instrument, but is typically known as a keyboard or percussion instrument due to the nature of the hammers hitting the strings.
Why a piano is called a piano…
The word piano originates from the Italian word ‘pianoforte’. ‘Piano’ means soft and ‘forte’ means loud in Italian, which describes the ability on a piano to play both soft and loud. It was then later shortened to just ‘piano’.
Pianos were very expensive at the time and were only bought by some of the most elite Europeans. In the mid 18th century the piano was then later adapted and made smaller, which meant that wealthy families could now begin to own them as well. In the late 18th century the piano then reached America. It was around this time that pianos were built with more keys and different materials to make the sound louder. It wasn’t long before the piano was introduced into the orchestra and its popularity grew very quickly all around the world.
Many famous composers prospered from this new development like Beethoven, as the instrument was over a hundred years old by the time he was writing his last sonatas. The piano had begun to take over the harpsichord as the main keyboard instrument.
Through the Industrial Revolution came the introduction of piano factories, which dissolved the need for hand built pianos and allowed for a more standard design. This also meant that the piano became much cheaper because it was produced in mass, and became even more popular now it was affordable to the average family.
Many styles have been created and influenced by the piano. Classical, jazz, blues, boogie woogie, rock, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, gospel, and many more…
Frustratingly for many pianists of today it’s not as popular as it once was, and other instruments like guitars dominate the music of today. However, it’s important to remember that some of the greatest songs that have been written, and are yet to be written, have and will be composed on the piano. So the piano is here to stay and be forever immortal in music.