Whitney's Music Studio

in Shallowater, Texas and Lubbock, Texas area

(806) 832-0531




A Birthday for the Piano

The Piano Was Invented 300 Years Ago

Published Around 1996/1997

Source: Unknown

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 instrument makers.

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.


During the 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.

Stein pianos 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 Broadwood.


By Beethoven’s 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 capabilities.

In 1803 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.

During the 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.

In France Pleyel produced pianos for Frederic Chopin that had light keys and hammers. Chopin liked the tone, which was perfect for his style of composing.

Franz Liszt played pianos made by many different piano manufacturers, including a broken down Broadwood piano Beethoven had used. Liszt even became a piano salesman.


This century 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 grand pianos.

During the 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.

Electronic 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 piano.

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