Tracing the development of the piano: from before its invention to nowadaysIntroductionNowadays, the piano is the most common keyboard instrument, and is widely used by a lot of people globally. But who would have thought that back when the piano was just invented, it gained little recognition from the public, and it was not until about half a century later the piano started to gain its reputation. This article will provide a brief introduction of the development of the piano from before its invention to nowadays, and will conclude by showing how the piano, the inventors and innovators of the piano, and the music composers all contribute to the modern piano.
Bartolomeo Cristofori: the invention of the pianoWhy was the piano invented? This traces back to the early 18th century where Bartolomeo Cristofori, an inventor, decided to work for Prince Ferdinando de Medici at the age of33. Prince Ferdinando was a music enthusiast and he wanted someone to maintain and repair his collection of instruments, and therefore took interest in Cristofori and employed him as a technician.
Later, as the prince is also fond of instrument collections, Cristofori also started inventing instruments for him. (two of the most notable inventions by Cristofori were the spinettone and the oval spinet, and they were invented before the piano.) The piano was invented because of this, and Cristofori continually improved the design of the piano in his later life. Though the piano is widely used nowadays, it had never been a common instrument in Cristofori’s time.
He received little recognition and wealth for the invention of the piano. Cristofori’s pianosGenerally speaking, the most distinguishing feature between Cristofori’s pianos and a harpsichord is that his pianos can make both soft and loud tones if the performer adjusts the force when playing the instrument, while the harpsichord cannot do so (though the harpsichord has a quieter stop and a louder stop to adjust the volume of the instrument, the harpsichord cannot produce a variety of dynamic levels during a musical passage.) This is due to the fact that hammers were used instead of plucking the strings, which was a mechanism used in harpsichords. Because of this unique feature, the piano was called fortepiano, or pianoforte (Cristofori original name for his instrument was gravicembalo col piano e forte, which meant harpsichord with soft and loud, and fortepiano and pianoforte are abbreviations.) which meant an instrument that could make both soft and loud tones. This later influenced more composers to write pieces in fluid dynamics.How exactly Cristofori’s pianos sounded like is unknown, since they are not well-preserved (only 3 of his pianos survive today) and the original tone quality is lost. But many replicas of his pianos were made nowadays, and they all suggest that its timbre was almost, if not exactly, the sameas the harpsichord. As the structure between his pianos and the harpsichord is quite similar, this is to be expected.It has a range of 4 octaves (C-c3) and has 55 keys.Cristofori’s pianos and its predecessor: the harpsichordThe structure of Cristofori’s pianos differ from the harpsichord in some ways. One difference is thatthe mechanisms used to produce sound is different. His pianos produce sound by hitting the string with a hammer. Then the hammer rebounds instantaneously to avoid dampening the string’s vibrations. Meanwhile, the harpsichord produces sound by using a mechanism to pluck the strings, which is called a jack. The jack has two slots cut into its top and one of the slots hold a pivoted tongue, which causes the string to be plucked by a plectrum.The materials used to make the instrument mechanisms are also different. The hammers of Cristofori’s pianos were made of paper that is curled into a circular coil and secured with glue surmounted by a strip of leather, while the jack and the plectrum of the harpsichord are made of wood and quill/plastic/leather respectively.It is clear that Cristofori tried to solve the harpsichord’s main problem, as mentioned above: it cannot produce a variety of dynamic levels during a musical passage. He succeeded in doing so by changing how the instrument works in a mechanical aspect.The Late Baroque and the Classical PeriodThe piano was still considered an experimental instrument in early baroque, and it was not until the late 18th century that the piano became the replacement of the harpsichord as the primary keyboard instrument. Late baroque composers like Bach and Haydn started to write pieces for the piano, and as piano music became more popular, continuous innovations were made on the piano.This leads us to the classical period, where there were tremendous major improvements on the piano, such as using high-quality piano wire that had a greater variation of thickness than Baroque pianos, having an increased tonal range of up to 5 octaves, and a much more accurate tuning. Because of this, the piano started to be considered well-developed enough to stand with an orchestra. Mozart was influenced to start writing piano sonatas and concertos, and the music was widely spread across many places. Mozart’s works, especially his piano concertos, were extremely influential to late classical composers’ works. Take Beethoven’s early compositions (for example, Symphony No. 1.) as an example: they are characterized by a more balanced sharing of melodies between string and wind instruments, as Mozart did in his compositions. Here, we can clearly see the close relationship between the piano and the composers.The Grand PianoThe idea of grand originated from late baroque when three people named John Broadwood, Robert Stodart, and Americus Backers decided to design a piano in the case of a harpsichord. It was built around 1777 and was the first piano to have a tonal range of more than 5 octaves. Their invention was a huge success, and they sent pianos to many famous composers, including Joseph Haydn and Ludwig van Beethoven. This led to the divergence between grand and upright pianos.The Romantic PeriodA major feature of music in the romantic period is that it depended much on association. As the piano was essentially an instrument for the awakening of associations, it became one of the most favorable instruments in the period. At that time innovators focus a lot on enhancing the timbre of the instrument. One of the most important innovations is the use of a massive strong iron frame, which allows the piano to create an even more powerful sound. The principle behind this is that the iron frame can withstand a massive force which can exceed 20 tons, produced by the tension in the string. In 1843, the Chickering & Mackays firm patented the first full iron frame for grand pianos. The piano had almost been fully developed and it resembled the modern piano more than ever.The Modern Piano and its variantsAs technology develops, more types of piano emerge. One of the important discoveries of all time ” not just to the development of music, but to our daily lives ” is electricity. Digital and electric pianos appear: many of them try to imitate the piano but use electricity to operate and speakers to play sound. Still, the original, traditional piano still survives up to this day, and continues to be widely used by people all over the world.ConclusionThroughout the development of the piano, there is a clear connection between the piano, the inventors and innovators of the piano, and the music composers. Because the piano was invented, composers started to write music for the piano. Later, as composers wanted to express their ideas in a better way, the demand for its quality became gradually higher. As stated by Dent (1916), an instrument exists because composers want them to express certain ideas. This motivated innovators to improve the piano in different ways, and an auspicious cycle was formed. And that is how the modern piano is made.References:Wikipedia contributors. (2018, November 29). Piano. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. 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