One of the most iconic instruments in the world, the piano has a rich history that dates back hundreds of years to the pianoforte. While the pianoforte is what many consider to be true starting point of the instrument we know today, to truly understand where the piano came from, its history goes back much further.
The piano is a collection of vibrating strings inside a frame that are struck by hammers. The use of vibrating strings to create music dates back to prehistoric times. For thousands of years, strings were stretched over simple items such as gourds and wooden boxes.
By the 14th century, a shallow wooden box had strings stretched over it that could produce notes by using keys and hammers. The instrument, known as a dulcimer, inspired a wide range of precursors to the piano such as the clavichord. The clavichord, in turn, was followed by the creation of the harpsichord.
From Harpsichord To Pianoforte
While the harpsichord may look similar to the piano at first glance, the major difference between the harpsichord and the piano is that the harpsichord was only capable of producing notes at a consistent volume. That and the fact that the strings are plucked instead of struck by a hammer.
When the harpsichord was invented, it attracted many musicians to use and compose based on the keyed instrument. However, with musicians wanting to express a wider range of emotions through volume and tone, the early 1700s was filled with inventors trying to create an instrument that not only could be played with keys but have volume control as well.
During the early 1700s in Florence, Italy, Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori was credited with creating what many consider the first piano. Cristofori was a haprischord maker but he eventually created a way that would allow the volume to differ based on how the player struck a key. The instrument was simply described as gravicembalo col piano e forte meaning an instrument that plays loudly and softly. Eventually the name was shortened to piano e forte and finally became known as a pianoforte.
Over the next few years, Cristofori also developed a hand stop that was the basis for modern foot pedals. While the dynamics in tone and volume were present in the pianoforte, a few significant changes were made over the following centuries that created the modern piano as it is known today.
Many composers such as Mozart wanted a stronger sound with more sustainability. With experiments in wire and frame constructions this was achieved during the industrial revolution. By the 1820s the range of the piano was increased from 5 octaves to 7 octaves and the modern piano was created.