The History of Pianos

Pianos have played a major role in many of the major advancements in music, especially with many of the more well-known composers. The history of pianos goes back around 300 years. Pianos as we know them have come from hundreds of years of innovations and improvements to create the sound that they now provide. For even longer than pianos have been in development, there have been many variations of musical instruments. Pianos are capable of living for an incredibly long time, assuming that they are cared for and maintained properly. Here is a little of the history of pianos.

The Predecessors of the Piano

The history of pianos actually begins with the instruments that came before pianos. Stringed instruments with keyboards began to appear in Europe in the 14th century. The original keyboard instrument was the dulcimer. Following the dulcimer were the clavichord, spinet, and many other variations on the keyboard design. The harpsichord likely had the most substantial influence on the design of the piano. This instrument arose in the 15th century. The main issue with the harpsichord was that it only had one volume, which restricted the capability of the musicians to implement musical expression to their performances. This likely led to the invention of the piano.

history of pianos

The First Piano

The piano was invented primarily to resolve the issue regarding volume fluctuations that previous instruments had. The first piano was invented in Italy in a city called Padua. It was invented around 1709 by a man named Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori. The earliest surviving piano was built in the year 1720, which is currently on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Originally, the piano was called the “gravicembalo col piano e forte.” This can be translated to mean something similar to “soft and loud keyboard instrument.” From this name, came the name pianoforte or fortepiano, as the primary benefit of the piano was its ability to change volumes. Finally, the name was shortened to piano, which is the most common name now. 

English Square Piano

Today’s pianos are still very similar to the original design, though many innovations have occurred over the last 300 years since the invention of the first piano. For example, in 1760, Johannes Zumpe invented the 1st English square piano. Though this piano was a new, unique design, it generally had a weak tone and contained many mechanical issues. Many of these issues were unable to be addressed, because the materials of the piano were incapable of meeting the demands of string tension for larger instruments. Due to this, Alpheus Babcock implemented a design with a full iron frame in 1825. This design was then improved by Jonas Chickering in 1837, where it was then patented. This made a significant difference to the durability and tone of the piano, which increased the popularity of the piano.

Upright Pianos

The initial piano was created with a purely horizontal design. In 1780, the first upright piano was created in Austria. This design has been continuously improved since then, providing upright pianos that don’t take up quite as much space within a building, but are still able to provide a superior tone and functionality.

Grand Pianos

Prior to the 1800’s, there was no need for musical instruments that exceeded 5 octaves. Whether this was due to the fact that instruments didn’t have that capability or composers simply didn’t write beyond 5 octaves is a matter of debate. A little before the 1820’s, Beethoven began to compose in wider ranges that required similarly wider ranges from musical instruments. Some experts suggest that the development of the grand piano was in response to his compositions, while others claim that his compositions was a result of further developments in piano capabilities. Either way, grand pianos were created to provide a wider range of notes, which substantially helped to further the composition of music.

Paper Roll Player Pianos

Paper roll player pianos are the kind of pianos that you have likely seen in old movies or other shows. For these pianos, paper rolls are inserted to provide the cues for which the piano will self-play. This helped to further the composition of music, as well, because it allowed for more than 10 notes to be played simultaneously. Paper roll player pianos came onto the scene in the 1890’s. They lost popularity largely in the 1920’s, though they have still been in use sparingly since then.

Paper roll player pianos have come a long way since their original design. New pianos are capable of using sophisticated electronic technology. Rather than using a paper roll, these pianos generally use a floppy disk, CD, or internal memory system. These pianos allow for live music to be enjoyed whenever the resident desires. There is a special quality of live music that can’t be replicated through the use of recordings. These innovations in technology allow the user to enjoy live piano music, even if they don’t play the piano themselves or are otherwise occupied.

The History of Pianos in America

Though pianos were originally created in Italy, the first American piano company was founded in 1823. This company, Chickering, was located in Boston. Many incredible musicians swore by the use of Chickering manufactured pianos. By the year 1900, piano production in America had escalated a significant amount. Over 50% of the world’s pianos were being manufactured in America. Eventually, the 5 largest piano manufacturers in the world were American companies. This situation has declined significantly, as many of these companies were sold to investors in other countries. However, it is still possible to obtain high-quality, American-made pianos, if you so desire.

Pianos have made a huge impact on the world. They can still play a large role in your household. Playing music has a broad array of mental and emotional benefits. Here at Ogden Piano Gallery, our experienced team can help you to make the best decision for the piano for your home. With the right maintenance, a piano can live long enough to pass on to your descendants. We offer a large selection of pianos to meet all of your needs. To get more information about obtaining a great quality piano for your home, contact us at Ogden Piano Gallery today.

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1 comment

  • Hey I have an antique British made piano upright by Gough and Davy. I would love to know the year of it. It says Hull and Grimsby 7690. Thank you