The History Of The Piano Essay

2134 words - 9 pages

The History of the Piano

The piano has seen many sights and has been a part of countless
important events in the past and present, and is said to have
dominated music for the past 200 years (Welton). Throughout
history, inventions come along that "take art away from princes
and give it the people" (Swan 41). Not unlike the printing
press, the piano made what was once intangible possible: the
poorest of peasants could enjoy the same music that their beloved
rulers did. The piano can be played by "the rankest of amateurs,
and the greatest of virtuosos" (Swan 41); so even if a person is
not very intelligent, a simple tune can easily be learned. In
addition to being a key factor in almost all western music
styles, the piano has had a rich and eventful history.
The piano can be directly linked to two instruments of
centuries past. The first is the clavichord, a box-like
structure in which strings are stretched, and struck by metal
blades to produce notes and pitches. The clavichord could be
manipulated to produce different chords, but even at it's best,
could barely be heard by anyone other than the player (Swan 42).
Intent upon creating a superior to the clavichord, musical
engineers created the harpsichord. The harpsichord used a frame
similar to modern grand-pianos, but utilized a wooden bar and a
quill to pluck strings (the jack), which amplified the sound of a
clavichord greatly. Harpsichords were more expensive

clavichords and became a fad in sixteenth and seventeenth century
England (Rice 185).
The harpsichord was a particularly important development
leading to the invention of the piano. "Its ability to project
sound more loudly than its predecessors, and refinements in the
action of striking the keys inspired many more musicians to
compose for the keyboard and thus, to perform keyboard works"
(Grover 128). However, the harpsichord was limited to one,
unvarying volume. Its softness and loudness remained the same
while playing. Therefore, performing artists could not achieve
the degree of musical expression of most other instruments. The
artistic desire for more controlled expression led directly to
the invention of the piano, on which the artist could alter the
loudness and tone with the force of his/her fingers (129).
The first piano appeared in Italy sometime around 1693,
originally named the gravicembolo col piano e forte ("the
harpsichord with loud and soft"). An Italian harpsichord-maker
named Bartolomeo Cristofori "replaced harpsichord's jacks with
leather covered hammers, activated by a remarkable mechanical
system" (Hollis 51). Where the harpsichord could only make a
string produce one sound, the new piano could be played loud or
soft, make dynamic accents, and could produce gradations of
sounds (52). Even though this new invention attracted little
attention at the time (because of the existing popularity of the
harpsichord), the piano would captivate the world in...

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