A piano is a keyboard-based instrument that has consistently been popular throughout the years. It is used in a variety of settings, such as jazz and classical solo performances as well as being included in ensemble use in chamber music.
A piano has a wooden case built around metal strings and a soundboard. The keyboard is comprised of black and white keys. The player uses these keys to make sound. When a key is pressed down, the strings are tapped with a padded mallet to make a sound. The strings are sounded when pressed down and silenced when released. With the use of petals at the bottom of the piano, it is possible to sustain a note.
The modern piano has an extensive history. It is based on earlier innovations like the hammered dulcimer. In the Middle Ages, many attempts were made to create a instrument with a stringed keyboard. During the 17th century, earlier versions of the piano, such as a harpsichord and clavichord became well known.
The modern form of the piano was first created by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. He was hired by Ferdinando de Medici to be the Keeper of the Instruments and was a professional harpsichord maker. It is not known when the first version of the modern piano was created, as many accounts differ from another. However, there are three pianos from the 1720s that were created by him.
The piano was created as an attempt to find a middle ground between the harpsichord and the clavichord. The clavichord was too quiet for loud performances and the harpsichord provided little control over the loudness of notes. Cristofori’s success in creating the piano was solving one of the main problems with the instrument which was that the mallet must hit the string then release contact with it. In addition, the hammer must return to its rest position efficiently and must be able to repeat a note in quick succession.
His version of the piano was largely unknown until Scipione Maffei, an Italian writer, wrote an article in 1711 which included an illustration of the instrument. The article became popular, and many piano makers set to work building pianos based on the diagram in the article. Gottfried Silbermann created almost a virtual copy of Cristofori’s design. One addition to the instrument made by Silbermann was the intention of the sustain pedal. This pedal lifts all dampers off the strings at the same time. Silbermann showed his creation to Johann Sebastian Bach, who was critical of the instrument at the time. Silbermann heeded to Bach’s feedback and created an instrument that Bach would later help him sell.
In the late 18th century, piano-making flourished in Vienna. These types of pianos were built with wooden frames with two strings per note. The hammers were leather covered. Some even featured the exact opposite keyboard coloring from modern pianos with the natural keys being black and the accidental keys being white. It was on these instruments that Mozart composed his famous music. The instruments were known for their softer, less-sustaining piano sound.
From 1790 to 1860, the Mozart-era piano saw vast changes due to the need for a more powerful piano sound. This was made possible with the help of precision casting for the production of iron frames and high-quality piano strings. By the 1820s, the center of piano production moved to Paris where pianos were manufactured for Chopin. Other improvements of the century included replacing the leather hammers with felt hammers.
One popular form of piano, the upright piano, was introduced around 1805 and was built through the 1840s. On this form of piano, strings are arranged vertically on a continuous frame with bridges that extend almost to the floor. In front of this is a keyboard with a very large sticker action. Modern upright and grand pianos have largely kept their same form throughout the years, although small improvements have been made here and there. Many details of the instrument continue to receive attention and the form of the piano is constantly evolving.