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History of the Piano

Acoustic pianos have been around for about 500 years, giving the piano a long history of providing music. Despite numerous attempts to create an instrument that involved strings and a hammer, Bartolomeo Cristofori was the one who is credited with actually inventing the first acoustic piano.

The First Pianos

Cristofori built several pianos, but no one is precisely sure of when the first was created. We do know that the Medici family had one of the pianos in 1700, and evidence suggests that it was built in 1698. These early pianos were quite different from those of the modern music world, but they were a truly great invention for their time.

The difficulty with pianos was that the hammer needed to hit the wire, then return to its original place without bouncing and yet be ready to go again within moments. This was finally achieved and Cristofori managed to find a way to create this effect.

The Growing Popularity of the Piano

Despite his hard work, Cristofori was not able to make his new instrument famous. Then, in 1711, a diagram of his design was distributed and more people began to build pianos. One of them was a man named Silbermann who added the first damper pedal to enhance the sound. It was he who showed Bach his first piano, though Bach decided he didn't like it at the time and only showed interest much later, once the instrument was refined.

In the 18th century, the Viennese began to construct pianos. These were built differently, with dual strings for the notes, leather covered hammers and elegant wooden frames. The keys were the opposite colors of today's pianos, with the regular keys being black and the others white. Mozart used these Viennese pianos to compose his music at the time. These are now referred to as fortepianos, to differentiate them from the modern piano.

Modernization of the Piano

As the Industrial Revolution made new technology available, it became possible to build pianos with heavier strings, made of stainless steel, for a fuller, stronger sound. The size was also amplified, making it possible to have seven or more octaves, as opposed to the original five or the fortepiano.

Broadwood was the first company to build these more complex pianos, though the Viennese piano makers quickly followed suit. It wasn't long however, before France got involved in the creation of bigger and better pianos. In 1821, Erard began to manufacture the pianos that would be used by the likes of Chopin.

This is also the time when the double pilot action was invented by Sebastian Erard and incorporated into the grand piano, making it possible to hit a key again even if the hammer had not yet returned to its place. This mechanism is used to this day in grand pianos.

Modern Piano Inventions

The modern piano uses a soundboard and a metal frame that allows for heavier string tension resulting in stronger sound. This has allowed for string tension of up to a combined 20 tons, something that never would have been possible in the earlier wood frame pianos.

In 1826, the usual leather covered hammers were replaced with felt covered ones by Henri Pape. This allowed for more uniform sounds and the ability to experiment with different hammer types.

A few years later, in 1844, Jean Louis Boisselot introduced the sostenuto pedal which made drastic improvements to the piano sound quality. Around this time, there were experiments being done with the methods of stringing the piano. Eventually, a new method was developed that involved three strings per note and a special double level soundboard to allow for the fit of longer strings.

The piano has come a long way in the past 500 years. From a simple, soft instrument that was a novelty to a strong and very popular one, the piano has really come into its own.

When researching for piano stores Toronto be sure to check out Merriam Music's huge selection of digital and acoustic pianos. Merriam's Music School also offers piano lessons Toronto to students of any age.






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