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  • Chris Anderson

A Brief History Of The Piano

Despite the development of new technologies, the acoustic piano remains the instrument of choice for many musicians and composers. Its rich sound and expressive range make it a favourite for classical and jazz music, and its versatility has made it a staple in many other genres as well. The piano is a musical instrument with a keyboard that produces sound by striking strings with hammers. It has a long and fascinating history that dates back to the early 18th century.

The piano was invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori around 1700. Cristofori was a harpsichord maker who wanted to create an instrument that could play both loud and soft, something that was not possible on the harpsichord. He came up with the idea of a hammer striking the strings, rather than a quill plucking them as in the harpsichord. This invention was initially called a gravicembalo col piano e forte” which translates to harpsichord with soft and loud”. Perhaps unsurprisingly, over time, the name was shortened to “piano".

The piano became popular in Europe in the 18th century and began to be used in concerts and other public performances. One of the most significant changes came in the 1770s, when a French instrument maker named Sebastien Erard developed the double escapement mechanism, which allowed for faster repetition of notes. This mechanism is still used in modern pianos today. In the 19th century, the piano underwent many changes and improvements, including the addition of pedals, which allowed the player to sustain or soften the sound of the strings. The damper pedal, which allows the strings to vibrate freely and produce at the sustained sound, was first introduced in the early 1800s. Later, the una corda (lit. - one string) pedal, which shifts the hammers to strike only one or two of the three strings per note, was added to create a softer sound.

The piano also became an important instrument for composers, who used it to create new and innovative music. Many famous composers, including Mozart, Beethoven, and Chopin, wrote music specifically for the piano. During the 19th century, the piano became a central instrument in Western classical music. The piano also became a popular instrument for home use, with many families owning a piano for entertainment and music education.

The modern piano as we know it today is the result of many years of development and evolution. After Cristofori invented the instrument in the early 1700s, other instrument makers in Europe began to experiment with his design, making changes and improvements to the instrument. In the early 20th century, new technologies such as electric pianos and digital pianos began to emerge. The first ever electric instrument was actually a clavecin électrique invented in 1759 by Jean-Baptiste Thillaie Delaborde. Essentially it was an electric carillon (a bell type instrument).

Electric pianos, which use electronic amplification to produce sound, were first developed in the 1920s, and became a favourite in jazz and popular music. Digital pianos, which use sampled piano sounds and sophisticated computer algorithms to reproduce the sound and feel of an acoustic piano, were first introduced in the 1980s, and have become increasingly popular due to their versatility and affordability. These instruments offered new possibilities for musicians and composers, and made the piano more accessible to a wider audience.

Today, the piano remains a popular instrument, and is used in a wide range of musical genres, from classical to jazz to pop. It has also inspired countless musicians and composers, and continues to play a vital role in the world of music. Overall, the history of the piano is a testament to the ingenuity and creativity of human inventors and musicians, who have continued to push the boundaries of what is possible with this remarkable instrument.

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