Before starting with the history of the piano we also should know that “pianoforte” is the official name of the piano in its general matters and the word itself means “soft high voice”. It was called this way once that the mechanism of the first piano was established. Its objective was generate a soft and high tone. The piano is a keyboard string instrument. Before the clef instrument existed, there were instruments of the musical renaissance like the harp. At last, the keyboard was assembled to the strings and the piano was invented in the way that we know today.
What’s the piano?
The piano is an acoustic, stringed musical instrument invented in Italy by Bartolomeo Cristofori around the year 1700, in which the strings are hit by hammers. It is played using a keyboard, which is a row of keys that the performer presses down or incursions with the fingers and thumbs of both hands to cause the hammers to strike the strings.
History and evolution of the piano
The invention of the piano is accredited to Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua, Italy, who was employed by Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, as the Keeper of the Instruments. Cristofori was an expert harpsichord maker, and was well acquainted with the body of knowledge on stringed keyboard instruments. He used his knowledge of harpsichord keyboard devices and movements to help him to develop the first pianos. It is unknown when exactly Cristofori first manufactured a piano. An inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700. The three Cristofori pianos that has survived throughout until today date from the 1720s. Cristofori named the instrument un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte (“a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud”), abbreviated over time as pianoforte, fortepiano, and later, simply, piano.
While the clavichord allows sensitive regulator of volume and withstand, it is too quiet for large performances in big halls. The harpsichord creates a suitably loud sound, especially when a coupler joins each key to both manuals of a two-manual harpsichord, but it offers no dynamic or accent-based expressive control over each note, in the baroque period it is used to accompany other instruments or vocalists. A harpsichord cannot make a diversity of active heights from the same keyboard during a musical passage. The piano propounds the best of both instruments, uniting the skill to play stridently and achieve sharp pronunciations. The piano can project more during piano concertos and play in larger sites, with dynamic control that permits a variety of dynamics, including soft, quiet playing.
Cristofori’s high triumph was solving, with no known prior example, the central motorized problem of designing a stringed keyboard instrument in which the notes are struck by a hammer. The hammer must assault the string, but not remain in contact with it, because this would restrain the sound and stop the string from pulsating and making sound. This means that after hitting the string, the hammer must be elevated or raised up off the strings. Furthermore, the hammer must return to its rest position without bobbling aggressively, and it must return to a position in which it is ready to play almost immediately after its key is depressed so the player can repeat the same note quickly. Cristofori’s piano action was a model for the many approaches to piano actions that followed in the next century. Cristofori’s early instruments were made with thin strings, and were much quieter than the modern piano, but they were much louder and with more sustain in comparison to the clavichord, the only previous keyboard instrument capable of dynamic nuance via the weight or force with which the keyboard is played.
Cristofori’s new instrument continued moderately unknown until an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, wrote an excited article about it in 1711, including an illustration of the device that was translated into German and widely distributed. Most of the next generation of piano builders started their work based on reading this article. One of these builders was Gottfried Silbermann, better known as an organ builder. Silbermann’s pianos were virtually direct copies of Cristofori’s, with one important addition: Silbermann invented the forerunner of the modern sustain pedal, which raises all the discouragements from the strings instantaneously. This allows the pianist to sustain the notes that they have reduced even after their fingers are no longer pressing down the keys. This novelty allowed pianists to, for example, play a loud chord with both hands in the lower register of the instrument, sustain the chord with the sustain pedal, and then, with the chord continuing to sound, reposition their hands to a different register of the keyboard in training for a subsequent section.
Silbermann showed Johann Sebastian Bach one of his early instruments in the 1730s, but Bach did not like the instrument at that time, appealing that the higher notes were too soft to allow a full dynamic collection. Although this earned him some hatred from Silbermann, the disapproval was apparently followed. Bach did approve of a later instrument he saw in 1747, and even served as an agent in selling Silbermann’s pianos.
Piano-making flourished during the late 18th century in the Viennese school, which included Johann Andreas Stein (who worked in Augsburg, Germany) and the Viennese makers Nannette Streicher (daughter of Stein) and Anton Walter. Viennese-style pianos were constructed with wood frames, two strings per note, and leather-covered hammers. Some of these Viennese pianos had the contradictory complexion of modern-day pianos; the natural keys were black and the accidental keys white. It was for such instruments that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart created his concertos and sonatas, and replicas of them are made in the 21st century for use in authentic-instrument performance of his music. The pianos of Mozart’s day had a smoother, more otherworldly tone than 21st century pianos or English pianos, with less sustaining power.
One of the fundamental characteristics of the piano it’s its big magnitude and heaviness, as well as it is commonly not linked to the string instruments but its principle of function classifies it in this family. This instrument comprises inside itself strings, but the musician doesn’t plays them directly, they are connected to hammers that continuously hit them for producing different sounds.
Every piano has a resonance box, which generates the sound through the keyboard, which is activated by the drums that each key possess in an individual way. They are all connected by some steel strings located in its interior, the required vibration is done through the punch of the hammers wrapped in felt; but they don’t produce accurate punches, instead they rag the strings in a similar fashion to the harp. The resonance box has the function of transmitting the vibrations created by the hammers to the harmonic board by a bridge, and the harmonic board takes care of amplifying the sound.
Who invented the piano?
The piano was created by the Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori, in the city of Padua, Italy, in the year 1700. The inventor made clavichords for living, and he was hired by the Prince Ferdinando de Medici for taking care of his menagerie of instruments.
The clavichord, the main instrument that Cristofori fabricated, is a keyboard instrument very similar to the piano, with great weaknesses musically speaking, which provoked lots of frustrations for the musicians during the development of the classics of the opera, very popular during that time. His additions resolved certain mechanical difficulties proper from this instruments, among them the inability to change the volume of the produced notes.
The piano as a musical instrument suffered various transformations since its invention in 1700, according to the needs and exigencies of the musicians. Bartolomeo Cristofori fabricated 20 pianos before his death, and the first piano recital open to the public in history occurred in 1768, performed by Johann Christian Bach, son of Johan Sebastian Bach.
Key characters in the invention of the piano
- Certain essential fabricants who developed the piano are:
- The German organist Gottfried Silbermann, his pupil Johannes Zumpe who made himself known over all England and France, and in 1770 he made a squared piano, larger than what it was width.
- In Vienna, the fabricants Stein and Streicher made pianos with a much lighter touch and a less sonic tone.
- In France, in 1777 Sebastian Edward contributed a lot to the today’s piano through the creation of a mechanism for the simple and quick repetition of music.
- In 1770, Broadwood made the first piano with 5 octaves and in 1794 one with 6.
- In 1800, the precise adjusts in the mechanism were made by Isaac Hawkins from the city of Philadelphia and the British Robert Wornum from the city of London, which both made a vertical piano.
- Plenty of the improvings followed between 1825 and 1851.
- A notable contribution was due to the American invention that uses iron for the fabrication of the frame. In 1837, Jonas Chickering used an iron frame, but the development of the resources came by Steinway in 1855 and since that moment, it was transformed in one of the marks in the history of the art of the fabrication of pianos. Another advance was invented by Steinways: the strings were crossed in a diagonal, narrow way in the center of the harmonic cover. This created a better distribution of the tension in the frame and a better sound.
What’s the piano made of?
Pianos are made of the optimum materials, not only for looks but for excellent sound creation. The long fibers of maple wood are strong and flexible for construction of the border, but long fibers of spruce are needed for the strength of the brackets. Wood is also needed for making patterns of other parts. Metal is used for a variety of parts, counting the cast iron plate; and sand is needed for casting molds. The character of the sand is altered by using additives and folders such as bentonite (a type of clay) and firewood powder. Molten iron for the casting is made of pig iron with some steel and scrap iron to add strength. Strings are made of high tensile steel cable that is manufactured at specialized piano string mills.
Types of piano
In the music world, we can found four different types of piano:
- Grand Piano
- Vertical or wall piano
- Specialized piano
- Electric piano
In grand pianos the frame and strings are horizontal, with the strings spreading away from the keyboard. The action lies underneath the strings, and uses gravity as its way of homecoming to a state of rest. There are many dimensions of grand piano. An uneven generalization distinguishes the concert grand (between 2.2 and 3 meters) from the parlor or boudoir grand, (1.7 to 2.2 meters) and the smaller baby grand (around 1.5 meters).
All else being equal, longer pianos with longer strings have grander, more affluent sound and lesser inharmonicity of the strings. Inharmonicity is the degree to which the frequencies of overtones (known as partials or harmonics) sound high-pitched relative to whole multiples of the essential incidence. This results from the piano’s substantial string arduousness; as a hit string declines its harmonics vibrate, not from their termination, but from a point very slightly toward the center (or more flexible part) of the string. The higher the partial, the additional sharp it runs. The greater the inharmonicity, the more the ear perceives it as harshness of tone.
Upright (vertical) piano
Upright, also called vertical pianos, are more compressed because the frame and strings are vertical. Upright pianos are generally less expensive than grand pianos. They are widely used in churches, community centers, schools, music conservatories and university music programs as tryout and practice instruments, and they are popular models for in-home purchase. The hammers move horizontally, and return to their sleeping position via springs, which are vulnerable to deprivation. Upright pianos with unusually tall frames and long strings are sometimes called upright grand pianos. Some authors classify modern pianos according to their height and to modifications of the action that are necessary to accommodate the height.
- Studiopianos are around 107 to 114 cm tall. This is the shortest cupboard that can accommodate a full-sized action located above the keyboard.
- Consolepianos have a compact action (shorter hammers), and are a few inches shorter than studio models.
- The top of a spinetmodel barely rises above the keyboard. The action is located below, operated by vertical wires that are attached to the backs of the keys.
The toy piano, introduced in the 19th century, is a small piano-like instrument, which generally uses round metal bars to create sound, rather than strings.
A silent piano is an acoustic piano having an option to silence the strings by means of an interposing hammer bar. They are designed for private silent practice, to avoid disturbing others. Edward Ryley invented the transposing piano in 1801. This rare instrument has a lever under the keyboard as to move the keyboard relative to the strings so a pianist can play in a familiar key while the music sounds in a different key.
The first electric pianos from the late 1920s used metal strings with a magnetic pickup, a loudspeaker and a megaphone. The electric pianos that became most popular in pop and rock music in the 1960s and 1970s, such as the Fender Rhodes use metal spikes in place of strings and use electromagnetic pickups similar to those on an electric guitar. The resulting electrical, analogue signal can then be augmented with a keyboard amplifier or electronically handled with effects units. Electric pianos are rarely used in classical music, where the main usage of them is as inexpensive preparation or practice instruments in music schools. However, electric pianos, particularly the Fender Rhodes, became important instruments in 1970s funk and jazz fusion and in some rock music genres.
Electronic pianos are non-acoustic; they do not have strings, tines or hammers, but are a type of synthesizer that simulates or imitates piano sounds using oscillators and filters that synthesize the sound of an acoustic piano. They must be connected to a keyboard amplifier and speaker to produce sound (however, some electronic keyboards have a built-in amp and speaker). Alternatively, a person can practice an electronic piano with headphones to avoid disturbing others.
Parts of the piano
- Percussion mechanism: A group of levers and pieces that lead the hammer to the keys, which makes this vibrate and the sound to be produced.
- Resonance box: Has as a finality to amplify the sound produced by the piano.
- Harmonic board: Transmits and amplifies the waves produced that lead through the tonal bridges. Formed by wood prints placed under the strings, which shall be parallel. It isn’t plane, which favors the resonance.
- Superior board: It closes the resonance board and helps to project the sound towards the public. It can have different heights letting more or less sound to go through. When it is fully open there isn’t any type of contention and the sound comes out freely.
- Frame: Steel piece that holds the group of strings in each of their extremes. The tension with which they are anchored must be constant for it not to come out of tune.
The most famous pianists
- Sergei Rachmaninov: Characterized for his extraordinary compositions. He’s the most famous one of the outstanding pianists and composers on a worldwide level. He’s from Russian roots. Within the popularity of his works, it highlights “La Honestidad”.
- Vladimir Horowitz: From Russian origin, with occidental residence in 1928. Called by many “the loose tornado of the plains”, he’s a great and virtuous pianist appreciated in the classic music world due to his success in the performing of his instrument.
- Sviatoslav Richter: A popular, multifaceted musician and with a peculiarity that differences him from the rest. He comes from Russia, he used to say that he was married to the music, that it was his life, his north and his passion. It’s frequently said that when he played the piano, he looked like a fish in the water and that he could perform melodies with stunning dimensions.
- Arthur Rubinstein: From Polish origin and North American residence, he’s qualified as the “happy one of the music”. He was a famous pianist, with recognized pieces such as the one called “Nocturnes”. In the music world, he is referred to as the man that enjoyed every second of the piano.
- Emil Gilesl: An outstanding Russian pianist, a pioneer inside the art of music. He was born in Odessa and he resided in Moscow in the year 1945. Mainly known for his work “Golden Sound”.
- Alfred Cortot: Recognized French musician and pianist, known as the “poet of the piano”. He’s an icon of commitment to the music, he was inspired by it to overcome what couldn’t be seen at first glance. Born in the year 1977.
- Glenn Gould: Famous musician with his own style for the creation of music. He used to play with eccentric, different melodies over the course of the years. He’s mostly known for his “Goldberg’s variations”.
- Alfred Brendel: Famous Austrian musician, resident in London, with a particular charisma and a unique way of carrying himself in his performing.
- Wilhelm Kempff: Specialized in the repertoires, he was a great musician and pianist from German upbringing, famous in the 80´s. He resided in Paris for a lot of years, he is described as an open, spontaneous and elegant musician.
- Artur Schnabel: He was a pioneer in the recording of Beethoven’s sonatas, he outstood for his technique and profound dedication at the moment of reading and playing the music sheets. He was a pianist musician that resided in Vienna during the 1915.
Piano tuning includes regulating the tensions of the piano’s strings with a specific pull, thus bring into line the intervals among their tones so that the instrument is in tune. While guitar and violin players tune their own instruments, pianists usually hire a piano tuner, a specialized technician, to tune their pianos. The piano tuner uses special tools. The meaning of the term in tune in the context of piano tuning is not simply a particular fixed set of tones. Fine piano tuning carefully measures the interaction among all notes of the chromatic scale, different for every piano, and thus necessitates slightly different tones from any theoretical standard. Pianos are usually tuned to a modified version of the system called equal temperament (see Piano key frequencies for the theoretical piano tuning). In all systems of tuning, each pitch is derived from its relationship to a chosen fixed pitch, usually the internationally recognized standard concert pitch of A4 (the A above middle C). The term A440 refers to a widely accepted frequency of this pitch – 440 Hz.
The relationship between two tones, called an interval, is the relation of their absolute frequencies. Two different intervals are observed as the same when the pairs of tones involved share the same frequency proportion. The easiest intervals to identify, and the easiest intervals to tune, are those that are just, meaning they have a simple whole-number proportion. The term temperament refers to a tuning system that tempers the just intervals to satisfy another mathematical property; in equal temperament, a fifth is tempered by narrowing it slightly, achieved by flattening its upper tone slightly, or raising its lower tone slightly.
A temperament system is also known as a set of “bearings”. Tempering an interval causes it to beat, which is a fluctuation in perceived sound intensity due to interference between close (but unequal) tones. The rate of beating is equal to the frequency differences of any harmonics that are present for both tones and that coincide or nearly coincide. Piano tuners have to use their ear to “stretch” the tuning of a piano to make it sound in tune. This involves tuning the highest-pitched strings slightly higher and the lowest-pitched strings slightly lower than what a mathematical frequency table (in which octaves are derived by doubling the frequency) would suggest.
The piano is one of the most famous and beloved instruments in the whole world, mainly to its physical and sonic beauty. As well, the piano is the very only instrument that can be used for help to tune others such as the violin, the guitar or even the voice. It just takes for the musician to play the specific note in the piano and make his or her voice or instrument to match the sound that it is producing. This is the main reason why the piano is such an appreciated instrument among the whole music world, valued by the pianists and by the rest of the musicians alike, despite whatever their musical inclination might be.
The versatility of the pian is huge, as it can be used for performing almost any kind of music that exist, independently if it is classic music or rock. It is common to see pianists in several popular music groups and we should be thankful for this. This means the music of this beautiful instrument can get to us anywhere, anytime.