Who Invented The Piano? (History of Piano)

who invented the piano (history)

Learn about the history of the piano, find out who invented the piano. Used by geniuses like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin and others, the piano is surprisingly a much younger musical instrument compared to some other instruments, such as the flute. Find out more about this amazing musical instrument.

Who Invented the Piano and When – Bartolomeo Cristofori

Who Invented the Piano - Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori – Who Invented the Piano & When

Who Invented the Piano and When? If you are a music student you may want to brush up on the history of piano here.

Digital keyboard instruments are ubiquitous nowadays and mostly used for learning, performing and in studios. Keyboard instruments of today are lightweight and portable but then it wasn’t always like this. Advancement in technology has made this possible.

If you do come across the acoustic grand piano once in a while, then you will truly get amazed by the grandeur of the instrument and also marvel at modern technology which has made keyboard instruments so portable.

But ever wondered who and when Invented the Piano?

Grand Piano

It was this gentleman from Padua, Italy and was known as Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua.

As to when was it invented, there are various opinions from different people as to when was the piano exactly invented.

This is because ‘Bartolomeo was working on adapting the harpsichord instrument to respond to touch of the keys (as in a piano). Though the harpsichord was also a popular instrument, many were not happy with the fact that the keys were not touch sensitive. It could not respond to touch.

So when Bartolomeo started working on improvising the instrument, no one knows for sure what was the exact year when he managed to get it completed.

But it was in the seventeenth century with many believing it to be in the period 1650 and 1770. The resulting instrument was called the pianoforte, now popularly known as the piano.

No one had heard of a piano before Bartolomeo Cristofori began tinkering with musical instruments for Ferdinando de Medici. Checkout this video to know more about the history of the piano.

The invention of the piano is credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori but there are several others who contributed to what it has become. Lets take a look at why this instrument was invented, and the various variations of the piano instrument.

Inventor of the Modern Piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori is considered by many as the inventor of the modern piano. Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) hailed from Padua, Italy, and was an expert harpsichord maker and very knowledgeable on creating stringed keyboard instruments.

No one really knows exactly when (which year) it was invented, but most point to the period around 1700.

It was Sebastian LeBlanc, a family friend who suggested that the black and white keys be switched on the piano. On Cristofori’s earliest pianos, the accidental keys were white and the natural keys were black, the exact opposite of what exists today.

Why Was The Piano Invented?

Instruments, similar to the piano, such as the clavier and harpsichord had some shortcomings. For example, the harpsichord was loud but provided no control over the dynamics. The clavier had a certain degree of dynamics but was much quieter.

The new invention, the piano was able to improve upon the shortcomings of both – harpischord and the clavichord.

Improvements in Piano Design

Although Cristofori’s early instruments were made with thin strings and were not as loud as modern pianos, the pianoforte (as it was called later) was considerably louder and had more sustaining power than the clavichord. It was now possible for musicians to evoke emotion into their music.

With his new design, Cristofori also paved the way for other piano builders to further improve the piano. His piano action served as a model for the several improvements to the piano actions that came later on.

Other Contributors

While Bartolomeo Cristofori is credited as the one who invented the piano, Gottfried Silbermann (better known as an organ builder) invented the forerunner of the modern damper pedal. This damper pedal lifted all the dampers from the strings at once.

Another name worth mentioning is Sebastien Erard, who invented the double escapement action (year 1821), which incorporated a repetition lever (also called the balancier) and made it possible to play repeated notes rapidly. This invention became the standard in grand pianos, and its the same even today.

Henri Pape was the first to introduce felt (year 1826) hammer coverings that replaced layered leather. Felt was a more consistent material and permitted wider dynamic ranges as hammer weights and string tension increased.

The Piano Sostenuto Pedal

Jean Louis Boisselot invented the Piano Sostenuto Pedal (year 1844), which was further improved by Steinway in 1874.

Jean-Henri Pape are also credited for Overstringing, also known as cross stringing (during the 1820s) that made it possible to have a much narrower cabinet at the “nose” end of the piano. It also made it possible to move from unwound tenor strings to the iron or copper-wrapped bass strings.

Who Invented the Upright Piano?

Once the acoustic grand piano gained popularity, there were many who were wondering if it could be made smaller in size without compromising on the sound quality much.

This gave rise to the upright piano!

The upright piano was invented immediately later, and was done obviously to be fit in a smaller space. Johann Schmidt from Austria invented the upright piano in 1780.

It was further improved by Thomas Loud (London, England) in 1802. His upright piano had strings running diagonally.

Some believe that the upright piano was developed in the year 1739 by P. Domenico Del Mela, one of Cristofori’s assistants. These were the earliest upright pianos. The upright piano that we know of today was in the 1780s by Johann Schmidt, in Austria. Thomas Loud in London subsequently adapted the design of the upright piano by placing the strings of the instrument diagonally.

More Innovations

John Broadwood along with Scot, Robert Stodart, and a Dutchman, Americus Backers designed a piano in the harpsichord case; this is where the “grand” piano originated. This was achieved in the year, 1777. Broadwood built progressively larger, more powerful and more robustly constructed pianos.

Inventor of Transposing Piano

It’s credited to Edward Ryley (year 1801). This piano had a lever under the keyboard. The lever was used to move the keyboard relative to the key. The piano player was permitted to play in a familiar key while the music sounds in a different key.

Who Invented the Player Piano?

It’s credited to Henri Fourneaux (year 1863); A player piano plays itself from a piano roll without the need for a pianist.

In the European classical tradition, piano was the instrument of choice for musical geniuses like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven and Frederic Chopin.

As the United States grew in the 19th century, pianos were transported along the railroads of the West. They filled opera houses, civic halls and even saloons with the homegrown music of the likes of Stephen Foster and Scott Joplin. In the 20th century, jazz greats like Count Basie, Dave Brubeck and Antonio Carlos Jobim expanded the piano’s importance.

Of course, the piano has been essential in the popular music of the past century, from the blues to rock and roll. Greats such as Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Nina Simone, Norah Jones and many others have thrilled listeners with the expressive range of 88 keys.

Final Thoughts

While Bartolomeo Cristofori is the one who invented the piano, mention must be made of inventors like Gottfried Silbermann, Sebastien Erard, Henri Pape, Henri Fourneaux, Jean Louis Boisselot, P. Domenico Del Mela, Johann Schmidt, Thomas Loud and Edward Ryley who all played important roles in Piano History.

As you can see, there are many who have made their contribution to make piano the instrument it is today. The story about the inventor of the piano is remarkable and so is this instrument.

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