Brief History of the Piano

The modern day piano has come a long way. The instrument we now know as piano is an invention modeled after the clavichord and the harpsichord. The clavichord produced sound when
small metal blades known as tangents struck the string while the harpsichord produced sound when wedge-shaped pieces of quill pluck the string.

                  Cristofori and his invention, the pianoforte   Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua is accredited as the inventor of the piano. Due to his appointed position in 1700 as caretaker of the Grand Prince Ferdinando de Medici's entire collection of musical instruments, Cristofori was able to experiment and invent an instrument similar to a harpsichord but with hammers and dampers. He named his new creation the "gravicembalo col piano, e forte" translated to "harpsichord with soft and loud." Later, this name was shortened to "pianoforte" and eventually "piano," the name we call it today.

"Cristofori's ingenious innovations included an 'escapement' mechanism that enabled the hammer to fall away from the string instantly after striking it, so as not to dampen the string, and allowing the string to be struck harder than on a clavichord; a 'check' that kept the fast-moving hammer from bouncing back to re-hit the string; a dampening mechanism on a jack to silence the string when not in use; isolating the soundboard from the tension-bearing parts of the case, so that it could vibrate more freely; and employing thicker strings at higher tensions than on a harpsichord."

From left to
          right: Harpsichord, early piano, modern grande piano,
          clavichord (on top of grande)These developments were quite expensive, however, and slowed the spread of the new instruments. Cristofori started the ball rolling toward the modern day piano. Gottifried Silberman invented the modern sustain pedal, the Industrial Revolution allowed high quality piano wire for strings and precision casting for the production of iron frames, and so on and so forth.

Due to all the wonderful modifications to Cristofori's original invention, we are able to enjoy the music produced from the instrument the piano.

(Picture to the right shows (from right to left) a harpsichord, an early piano, a clavicord (the box on top of the modern piano), and a grand piano.)

Piano Components
How It's Made

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