If you are lucky enough to own a piano, chances are you take that luck for granted. Sure, you might sit down and bang out a tune now and then, but it’s more likely that you just do an idle riff as you pass it by on your way to the next room. You probably dust it once a week, you might use it as a display for family photos, possibly your kids took piano lessons on it way-back-when. Bottom line, you likely don’t give your piano much thought…it’s part of your domestic landscape and you know all you need to know about it, right? Wrong!
A casual poll tells us
A casual poll tells us that 5 out of 5 people can’t even answer basic questions about pianos and their history. To save you from the potential embarrassment that these 5 unfortunate people (otherwise known as my family members!) had to suffer, I’ve put together a brief history of the piano. It’s too late for my family, but you can still save yourselves! Here is everything you need to know:
Pianos were invented in 1709
Pianos were invented in 1709 in Italy by a harpsichord maker named Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori.
He originally named his instrument “gravicembalo col piano e forte”, which translates roughly to “soft and loud keyboard instrument.” The name was meant to highlight the ability of the player to control the volume at which the piano was played by striking the keys with varying amounts of force, in contrast with the harpsichord, which can only be played at one volume. One of Cristofori’s earliest pianos can be seen on display at New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.
The player piano
From the 1700s til now, the piano has undergone many transformations. In 1863, a forward- thinking French man, Fourneaux, invented the player piano. The player piano could be played as regular piano, but could also be programmed to play itself by use of a loom controlled by punch cards. These days, of course, the programming is much more sophisticated, and player pianos are programmed through the use of technology, which can even provide additional accompaniment and visual displays.
Digital pianos, which were invented in the late 1920s and are sometimes known as keyboards or synthesizers, have grown in popularity with the advent of our ever-increasing use of technology.
Purists may argue that these are not “real” pianos, but their sound reproduction is difficult to distinguish from the traditional strings- and- keys arrangement that comprises a “real” piano.
Although pianos have advanced and changed somewhat since their inception in the 1700s, they have remained unchanged in many ways. And, far from being outdated, piano music is still very much in use by today’s musicians, including Lady Gaga and Cee Lo Green.
So, the next time you are blindsided by those pesky poll-takers of your knowledge of the piano’s history, you will be ready to dazzle them with your intelligence.