The story of the piano and its history begins around the year 1700 in Florence, Italy. In 1709, the first piano or “pianoforte” was revealed to the public as the invention of an Italian harpsichord maker by the name of Bartolomeo Cristofori. Harpsichord manufacturers had tried for many years prior to build a musical instrument with a better dynamic response than the harpsichord. Bartolomeo Cristofori, the keeper of instruments in the court of Prince Ferdinand de Medici of Florence, Italy, was the first to succeed at this endeavor.
This innovative new keyboard design substituted the mechanical plucking system of the harpsichord with an internal network of padded hammers. Each time a key was pressed down, the connecting hammer would strike up against the pianoforte strings to produce either a soft or loud sound depending on how hard the keyboardist played. The musical terms piano and forte mean "quiet" and "loud", respectively, and in this context, they refer to variations in loudness the instrument produces in response to a pianist's touch on the keys: the greater the velocity of a key press, the greater the force of the hammer hitting the string(s), and the louder the note produced. The word forte in Italian actually means force or strong.
Throughout the late 1700's to the mid 1800's, piano technology and sound was greatly improved due to the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, such as: the new high quality steel piano strings and the better ability to precisely cast iron frames to go inside the piano casing. The tonal range of the piano increased from the five octaves of the original pianoforte to the seven and more octaves that are found on today's modern pianos.
The upright piano was developed by Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Austria in 1780 and was later improved upon in 1802 by Thomas Loud of London, England, who implemented a diagonally-strung piano design. Modern upright and grand pianos attained their present forms by the end of the 19th century. Due to advancement of technology, improvements have been made in manufacturing processes throughout the years, and many individual details of the piano continue to receive attention and precision refinements on a regular basis even to this very day.
Much of the most widely admired piano repertoire in classical music, for example, that of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven, was originally composed for the pianoforte instrument. Even the music from the Romantic period, including Liszt, Chopin, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms, was written for pianos that were substantially different in design from that of modern, present-day pianos. During the time of Beethoven's later musical career, the pianoforte would evolve and change into the modern piano as we know it today.
By the 19th century, pianos became a popular fixture in music halls and pubs, providing entertainment through a piano soloist, or in combination with a small band. Pianists began accompanying singers or dancers performing on stage, or patrons dancing on a dance floor. Ragtime piano music, popularized by composers such as Scott Joplin, reached a broader audience by the turn of the 20th century. The popularity of ragtime music was quickly succeeded by Jazz piano.
New techniques and rhythms were invented for the piano, including ostinato for Boogie Woogie, and Shearing voicing. George Gershwin's 'Rhapsody in Blue' composition broke new musical ground by combining the sounds of American jazz piano with symphonic orchestra sounds. Comping, a technique for accompanying jazz vocalists on piano, was exemplified by Duke Ellington's technique. Honky Tonk music, featuring yet another style of piano rhythm, became popular during the same era. Bebop techniques grew out of jazz, with leading composers such as Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell.
In the late 20th century, Bill Evans, the American jazz pianist and music composer, composed pieces combining classical music techniques with his jazz experimentation and improvization. Herbie Hancock was one of the first jazz pianists to find mainstream popularity working with newer urban music techniques. Pianos have also been used extensively in rock and roll music by entertainers such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Bruce Hornsby, Rick Wakeman, Elton John, and Billy Joel, just to name a few. Modernist styles of music have also appealed to composers writing for the modern grand piano, including John Cage and Philip Glass.
Below is a two part video illustration that goes into more detail about the history of the piano from its early roots to the present day modern piano.
Greetings to Everyone and A Big Welcome to Infinity Music Studio! My name is Suzanne Brittania. I have been teaching piano and voice lessons for over 40 plus years. It is my hope that you will find all the following information, along with the music videos listed within my blog, to be very interesting, helpful and inspiring all throughout your own musical journey.
The videos listed below are of famous opera stars (that I performed with extensively all throughout my earlier musical career) especially during the 1950's and 60's.
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