A Birthday for the Piano
The Piano Was Invented 300 Years Ago
Published Around 1996/1997
The piano is
almost 300 years old. The first
pianos were invented between 1698 and 1700, by an Italian instrument
maker, Bartolomeo Cristofori. It
was an exciting new instrument because it could play both loud and soft
notes and all the volumes in between.
This was something that the harpsichord could not do.
The early instruments were called piano fortes, which was later
shorted to piano. The name came
from its ability to play soft (piano) and loud (forte).
In 1711 the
public in Italy first learned about the piano from an article that
described the instrument and included a diagram of how it worked.
The article was translated into German 14 years later and spread
the news of this invention. The
Germans were very interested in the piano, while the Italians were more
interested in vocal music. As a
result many of the piano’s developments came from German musicians and
Over the last
300 years the piano has changed in many ways.
The first models, made by Cristofori and others, could not do
many of the things a modern piano can.
They were also much smaller and softer.
1700s many different piano builders made improvements to the instrument
including Johann Andreas Stein, Gottfried Silbermann, Domencio del Mela,
Johann Socher, Christian Ernst Friederici, John Isaac Hawkins, and John
Broadwood. Pedals were added,
replacing earlier levers that were pushed by the knees.
Piano builders used thicker strings and iron reinforcements for a
strong frame so the instrument could produce louder sounds.
Instrument makers also experimented with pianos in different
shapes, including a pyramid or giraffe, square, and upright pianos.
J.S. Bach look
at a piano by Silbermann in 1747 and was so impressed that he helped
Silbermann to sell these pianos.
In 1777 Mozart visited Stein’s workshop and was so pleased with the
pianos that he wrote to his father, “When I strike hard, I can keep my
finger on the note or raise it, but the sound ceases the moment I have
produced it. In whatever way I
touch the keys, the tone is always even.
It never jars, it is never stronger or weaker…..it is always
even.” Mozart also wrote that on
many pianos there was jangling and vibration when the keys were touched.
had a five-octave range and a special mechanism of springs and lever
that allowed the leather-covered hammers to fall back right after they
hit a string. When Haydn visited
London in 1791, he played on an English grand piano, made by John
time the piano was changing rapidly.
He played instruments made by Stein, Graf, and Broadwood.
The instruments became more advanced and could play more
complicated and powerful music.
Beethoven began writing music that took advantage of the piano’s new
Beethoven was given an Erard piano, which he played for seven years
until it was worn out and useless.
Pianos of that era were not strong enough to withstand
Beethoven’s powerful style of plying, and he continued to destroy
pianos. Broadwood gave him a six
octave piano in 1818, but in six years the upper notes would not play.
1800s, there were many piano manufacturers, including Steinway,
Chickering, Baldwin, Kimball, Bechstein, Pleyel, and Erard.
They changed the way piano strings were attached and tightened.
They added more octaves until today we have over seven octaves on
the piano. The player piano was
developed to play back music, and two manufacturers came up with a new
design when they built the first upright pianos.
People liked these pianos because they took up much less space
than the big square pianos.
Pleyel produced pianos for Frederic Chopin that had light keys and
hammers. Chopin liked the tone,
which was perfect for his style of composing.
played pianos made by many different piano manufacturers, including a
broken down Broadwood piano Beethoven had used.
Liszt even became a piano salesman.
has brought even more changes to the piano industry.
Around 1900 player pianos became very popular.
By 1923 of all pianos built in America 56% were player pianos.
The square piano was replaced by the more popular upright and
Great Depression people could not afford new pianos.
In 1923 only 34,000 pianos were made in America, while 365,000
had been sold in 1909. The
inventions of the radio and phonograph records affected piano sales.
People no longer had to make their own music or go to concerts;
while sitting at home, they could listen to someone else play.
pianos are a recent invention.
They cost less and take up less space than a regular piano.
As yet electronic pianos cannot match the sound of a beautiful,
wood piano, but they are better every year.
In 1988 the Steinway Company built their 500,000th
The piano has
come a long way from the simple instrument invented so many years ago by
Cristofori, and no one knows what it will be like 100 years from now.
"Let us come before Him with thanksgiving and extol Him with music and song." Psalms 95:2
"Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music." Psalms 98:4