The piano was invented around the year 1700, replacing the popular harpsichord. While the two instruments have a lot of similarities, they are two different instruments and the piano gave musicians the ability to create more feeling music.
The piano, or pianoforte as its official name, has influenced the lives of many professional and amateur players since it first entered the music scene. To understand what it is, you must first understand the history behind it.
Piano vs Harpsichord
The piano and harpsichord both look similar, with keys and strings used to create music. There is a major difference in the function though. The harpsichord relies on plucking strings with jacks and quills. The piano, or pianoforte, uses hammers to hit strings. This produces a sound that can easily change volume, sustain pitches, and help a musician convey different moods, which the harpsichord cannot do.
Since the piano was invented around the year 1700, it falls right into the Baroque time period (1600-1760) of music and just before the Classical era (1730-1820). This allowed many well-known composers to have a chance to work with the piano, creating masterpieces they wouldn’t have been able to on the harpsichord.
It took some time to become a leading instrument for musicians though, requiring time and exposure to reach the masses. It finally became more commonplace around the last quarter of the 18th century.
The first version of the piano was created almost entirely by Bartolomeo Cristofori. It was received with mixed reviews, which spurred a few changes to become what we know as the piano today.
The first pianoforte had two keyboards, a four-octave range, and used hammers and dampers to create the sound. Musicians praised its ability to play both loud and soft, but it was still slow to catch on throughout Europe.
Italy was still the hotbed of the Renaissance and caught on to the piano after the queen of Spain purchased five pianos. Her patron and student Domenico Scarlatti went on to write over 500 sonatas for the instrument, giving it more attention.
Gaining a Reputation
A German organ builder named Gottfried Silbermann helped further the popularity of the piano after reading about Cristofori’s instrument. He tried to create a duplicate in the 1730s, but it wasn’t very successful. Johann Sebastian Bach criticized it for “possessing too heavy a touch and too weak a treble”.
Silbermann eventually was able to play an original form of Cristofori’s instrument and made improvements to his own design. After creating a similar instrument, he was then able to sell some of these pianos to Frederick the Great, who ruled over Prussia. This helped spread the fame of Cristofori’s piano to other areas of the world.
The piano has become one of the most basic instruments for musicians to play because it creates a foundation for music. Once the notes and keys are mastered on the piano, musicians have an easier time moving on to mastering other instruments too. The full sound is unmatched, giving it a unique space in the music world.
It is easy to see why it caught on in the 1700s and continues to be so popular today.