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The History of the Piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori

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grand piano

Grand Piano

Getty Images/Ivan Hunter
The piano first known as the pianoforte evolved from the harpsichord around 1700 to 1720, by Italian inventor Bartolomeo Cristofor. Harpsichord manufacturers had been determined to produce an instrument with a better dynamic response than the harpsichord. Bartolomeo Cristofali, the keeper of instruments in the court of Prince Ferdinand de Medici of Florence, was the first to solve the problem.

The instrument was already over a hundred years old by the time Beethoven was writing his last sonatas, around the time when it ousted the harpsichord as the standard keyboard instrument.

The Age of the Piano

From 1790 to the mid 1800s, piano technology and sound was greatly improved due to the inventions of the Industrial Revolution, such as: the new high quality steel called piano wire, and the ability to precisely cast iron frames. The tonal range of the piano increased from the five octaves of the pianoforte to the seven and more octaves found on modern pianos.

Upright Piano

Around 1780, the upright piano was created by Johann Schmidt of Salzburg, Austria and later improved in 1802 by Thomas Loud of London whose upright piano had strings that ran diagonally.

Player Piano

In 1881, an early patent for a piano player was issued to John McTammany of Cambridge, Mass. John McTammany described his invention as a "mechanical musical instrument." It worked using narrow sheets of perforated flexible paper which triggered the notes.

A later automatic piano player was the Angelus patented by Edward H. Leveaux of England on 27 February 1879, and described as an "apparatus for storing and transmitting motive power." John McTammany's invention was actually the earlier one invented (1876), however, the patents dates are in the opposite order due to filing procedures.

On March 28, 1889, William Fleming received a patent for a player piano using electricity.

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