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Thursday, 16 February 2017



The piano (in full, pianoforte), is a descendant and amalgam of two different instruments. Its strings and hammers suggest the dulcimer, while its keyboard mechanism recalls the harpsichord and clavichord. In 1709 the Florentine harpsichord maker Bartolomeo Cristofori (May 4, 1655 – January 27, 1731) came up with an instrument, which merged the clavichord's ability to vary notes dynamically with the harpsichord's crisp sound. He called it called a un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte ("a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud"). The name was abbreviated over time as pianoforte, fortepiano, and later, simply, piano.

The 1720 Cristofori piano in the Metropolitan Museum in New York

Cristofori replaced the harpsichord's mechanism with hammers, usually covered with felt, that struck the strings when activated by a series of keys. To stop the sound, the mechanism was equipped with dampers that fell on the strings to modify the volume as soon as the player's fingers released the keys. This made possible the dynamic contrasts from which the instrument derived its name (pianoforte = quiet / loud).

Cristofori was the custodian of the musical instruments of Prince Ferdinand dei Medici and in 1709 he made four pianofortes in Florence for the Medici. We know that in 1711 he had built three pianos. One was given by the Medici to Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome, and two were sold in Florence.

Photo of a 1726 portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori

Three of Cristofori's pianos survive to this day. The oldest, dating to 1720, is located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The other two also date to the 1720s and reside at the Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome) and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum at Leipzig University.

The earliest pianos were built with the strings extending away from the keyboard, as in the harpsichord and the modern grand, or (in the case of the 'square' piano) at right-angles to the keys, as in the clavichord.

The first known public performance in Britain to use a piano occurred at Covent Garden Theater, London on May 16, 1767.  In a play bill for a performance of The Beggar's Opera, it was announced that "at the end of Act 1, Miss Brickler will sing a favourite song from Judith, accompanied by Mr. Dibdin on a new instrument called piano-forte."

Early piano replica by the modern builder Paul McNulty, after Walter & Sohn, 1805. Opus33  

Johann Behrent built the first piano in America at Philadelphia in March 1775 under the name "Piano Forte."

The Italian pianist, composer and teacher Muzio Clementi (January 23, 1752 – March 10, 1832) was the first to write for piano in style distinguished from that of harpsichord. In 1766 Clementi was brought to England, where he conducted the Italian Opera in London (1777-80), toured as a virtuoso pianist (1781), and went into the piano-manufacturing business.

Muzio Clementi

In 1826 Clementi completed his collection of keyboard studies the Gradus ad Parnassum on which subsequent piano methods have been based.

A Silbermann apprentice Johannes Zumpe, who worked in England for the Shudi firm of harpsichord makers, is credited with popularizing, the square piano between 1760 and 1780. Zumpe's pianos were more compact and affordable than the full-size wing-shaped instrument. As such, they played an important role in the spread of the piano among musicians, particularly amateurs. By the time the last Zumpe pianos were made, the piano had essentially displaced the harpsichord from its formerly predominant position.

The upright piano, with strings running perpendicularly up from the keyboard, was also devised in the late 1700s.

Foot pedals came into general use in the late 18th century for the piano and were perfected during the course of the 19th, allowing the player to increase, diminish, or sustain the sound. These innovations gave the instrument its forceful sonority and provided the player with a high degree of musical control.

In the 19th century the upright model, with the strings set perpendicularly, was developed in response to the need for a sonorous, full-compass piano that could stand in a small room.

Pianos became even more forceful instruments with the introduction in around 1820 of the iron frame, replacing frames of wood. The iron frame enabled strings to be held at higher tension, making possible a louder tone.

The first Steinway piano was sold for $500 in 1853 to a family in New York.

In 1939 NBC Symphony Orchestra staff pianist Earl Wild became the first pianist to perform a recital on U.S. television. Wild later recalled that the small studio became so hot under the bright lights that the ivory piano keys started to warp.

58 years later, Wild was also the first person to stream a piano performance on the Internet.


Every grand piano made by the famous Steinway company of New York comprises 12,116 individual parts – the action for just one key has 57 parts.

It takes 300 people, 12,000 parts, and one year to make a single Steinway & Sons piano.

Steinway grand piano in the White House

People clearing stones from the top of Britain's highest mountain in 2006 found a piano. The volunteers were astonished when they discovered the musical instrument on the 4,418ft peak Ben Nevis.

The vast majority of standard pianos have 88 keys — 52 white and 36 black.

A piano has 88 keys and 230 strings — the combined tension of which is equivalent to 16 tonnes.

Princess Alexandra Amalie, the aunt of mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria, suffered from the delusion that she had swallowed a glass grand piano.

It is mathematically impossible to tune a piano perfectly.

The piano played in the 1942 movie Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman, was sold for $154,000 at a New York auction in 1988. It was re-sold in late 2014 at Bonham’s auctions in New York for $3.4 million.

Freddie Mercury and Paul McCartney used the same piano to record "Bohemian Rhapsody" and "Hey Jude."

Sources Comptons Encyclopaedia, Europress Encyclopedia

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