The history of pianos may well have started from the time a piece of thong stretched between the horns of an animal.
Harps and lyres were the first string instruments. Even the Old Testament Bible has references to the use of harp and lyre in worshiping and praising Yahweh.
The strings were plucked and improvisations were limited. The psaltery was a type of plucked instrument too.
Piano history shows that from the harp sprung the clavichord and the harpsichord. The clavichord evolved from the monochord during the middle ages. It was a very popular instrument from 15th to 18th centuries.
The clavichord is a rectangular keyboard instrument. Its brass strings are arranged by pairs. Press a key and a tangent strikes the stings above to sound akin to a guitar.
The sound is produced as long as the key is pressed. Release the key and the tangent loses contact with the string and its vibration muffled by a cloth.
The volume of clavichord is soft that it was not used for public performances. It is currently being revived as a keyboard instrument as some find this instrument very expressive.
The harpsichord is also a musical keyboard where the strings are plucked when the keys are pressed. As portrayed in the history of pianos, the instrument was at its height during the 18th century. It was the era where some of the greatest classical composers of our time where at their most prolific in composing concertos and sonatas for the harpsichord.
Many Renaissance homes have harpsichords because of its beautiful casing, never mind if the owner cannot play. It should be noted then that piano concertos composed by Scarlatti, C, Bach, Haydn and Handel were for the harpsichord and not the pianoforte as it was not a popular keyboard instrument back then.
Though the pianoforte has been invented when these classical composers were at their height, they still preferred the harpsichord because according to Johann Sebastian Bach, the upper registers were too soft to play fortissimo. It was only Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who actually composed a complete concerto for the pianoforte at that time.
Both the clavichord and the harpsichord have inadequacies throughout the history of piano.
The clavichord, though plucked, can sustain a note as long as the key is depressed. Once released the sound is muted by a cloth.
The harpsichord's strings were plucked and the volume quite loud, but uncontrollable. It was definitely impossible to play pianissimo and legato on a harpsichord.
The clavichord was the better choice for tone and nuances because pianists were able to control the volume. However, its volume was low and was often drowned by the orchestra.
The history of piano changed dramatically when pianists were ready for a keyboard that has the power of a harpsichord and the control mechanism of a clavichord.
Piano Inventor - Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori - Inventor of the Piano (1655-1731) was a keyboard designer who designed such an instrument at the turn of the 18th century. He invented a keyboard instrument that was made without the wire hooks and used padded hammers made of leather instead.
The result was a keyboard that played both soft (piano) and loud (forte). The pianoforte was not received well even by the patrons of Cristofori , the d' Medicis.
According to the piano history, Johann Sebastian Bach was not satisfied with the heavy keys. Harpsichord players were not sold on the heavy touch and deemed it hard to master the new pianoforte.
German and Austrian inventors perfected the pianoforte over the years. By the 1770s, Johann Christian Bach (other the same family as J.S. Bach) was an advocate of the redesigned pianoforte and played it in public. This paved the way for the piano.
History of pianos tells that Franz Liszt became a “superstar” of some sort for his great piano performances. Beethoven, Chopin and Clementi were also proponents of the piano in the 19th century.
The British readily adopted the piano and so did its colonies like North America. The piano became a status symbol and soon pianos made by different makers flooded the market. It was the Americans who made pianos for the middle-class families. It was probably Johann Behrent of Philadelphia who was the first American piano maker circa 1775.
However, it was the company of Jonas Chickering and Heinrich Steinweg of Steinway and Sons who standardized the piano and its parts thereby effectively reducing its cost.
Watch Victor Borge Talks Humor About The Piano History
Before the turn of the 20th century a piano was a must-have. Square pianos became fashionable for a while. Upright pianos soon followed as they sounded better than square pianos and required less space than a grand piano. Player pianos became fashionable too was it became a form of home entertainment.
The evolution of the piano is never-ending. Innovations have made it possible to manufacture pianos of the highest quality. There are different brands of piano-makers today but it is quite unfortunate that some of the greatest piano-makers of the last century had to close-shop.
There are still some great name brands of pianos in the market today. If you are into antique pianos, better learn the history of pianos to know more about which antique pianos are best value for the money and make more informed piano appraisal decisions.
More Information? Go from Piano History to Baby Grand Pianos
Return from History of Pianos to Digital Piano Keyboards Homepage