Piano History

The first developments of the piano appeared in the idea of a harpsichord with ‘soft’ and ‘loud’. This was built in the early eighteenth century by the Italian Harpsichord maker, Bartolomeo Cristofori. The pianoforte was a development of the harpsichord and clavichord. The pianoforte combined the expressive qualities of the clavichord with the force and brilliance of the harpsichord, providing an instrument which could be played soft or loud. The plucking of quills used in the harpsichord was replaced by the use of hammers. The force applied by the finger to the key altering the volume received. The hammer hits the string and returns allowing the string to freely vibrate. Dampers could then be released, falling onto the string and suppressing the vibration, ending the sound immediately.

Two of the instruments created by Cristofori remain in Leipzig and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. There are suggestions that the pianoforte was invented in other countries including France and Germany, but recognition of Cristofori as the true inventor remains enforced.

The invention of Cristofori was taken up by Silbermann, the famous organ and clavichord builder. Two pianofortes were made by Silbermann in 1726 and presented a few years later to John Sebastian Bach. Bach was very critical of the instruments, picking up on the lack of strength in the higher notes and the heavy touch. This was later over come by Silbermann and it is noted that in 1747, Bach played a Silbermann for Fredrick the Great at Potsdam. Up until this time all pianofortes were in the shape of the harpsichord, the shape of the grand piano we know today.

By the turn of the century the development the piano took on a number of shapes and forms, most notably the square piano, the upright grand, the introduction of iron framed pianos and even the cabinet or ‘giraffe’ piano. The inclusion of the iron frame to the piano was first made in America. The iron frame provides a strong base from which tension can then be applied as required by the strings.   The body of sound and tone is produced by the sound board, the expanse of wood located behind the strings. The strings are fixed to the soundboard along a wooden bridge (in a similar way to that of a violin or guitar). The pitch of the note is determined by the length of the string, diameter and density of the metal used, and the tension applied to the string.