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Who Invented the Piano – Journey Back in Time

Who Invented the Piano – Journey Back in Time
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Ever heard the phrase, unsung heroes?

Simply, it is about calling the attention of people to the brave acts and valor of some undercelebrated people.

Many times, the term is used in the sporting world and for fallen military men. Well, in this article, we are about to see things in a different light.

The inventor of the piano is an unsung hero. It is hard to imagine how the creator of this breathtaking instrument is not a household name. 

This is considering how most people and music professionals are unaware of his efforts at making music what it is. 

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Well, before we delve into who invented the piano, how about discussing what existed before the piano?

Before the Piano Emerged

As with many other musical instruments, the piano is an offshoot of some previous instruments. The need to resolve the challenges these instruments could not correct was what gave rise to the piano.

Most notable among the instruments that influenced the emergence of the piano is the harpsichord.

Who Invented the Piano
Photo Credits: Bommel2012, pixabay.com

The inability of this instrument to meet the dynamic needs of pianists triggered the birth of the piano. As we progress in this article, we will discuss some of the harpsichord’s shortcomings.

Other than the harpsichord, instruments like the clavichord and dulcimer played minute parts in the emergence of the piano.

Who Invented the Piano?

The name behind the invention of arguably the most popular instrument is Bartolomeo Cristofori. He was born and carried out most of his life’s activities in Italy. The invention of the piano also took place in this historic country.

As with every other facet of music, the periodic setting is especially important in understanding why and how some things play out. This is because certain musical ideologies were dominant at certain periods. For example, there is the classical era, the romantic era, the baroque era, among others.

The trends of the period strongly influenced composers, inventors, and other musical stakeholders. For example, the early piano sonatas of Beethoven were very different from the latter one. This is because of the transition to another era.

In light of this, when was Bartolomeo Cristofori born?

He was born on the 4th of May 1655. The records show that this happened in the city of Padua. This city was an integral part of Venice which was a sovereign nation on its own. As things are, this location is a part of present-day Italy.

It was recorded that he died on the 27th of January 1732 in the city of Florence, which is also a part of present-day Italy.

What Was the Piano Initially Called?

It is important to note that this instrument was not called ’piano’ at first. Rather, it was the jaw-breaking word clavicembalo col piano e forte. Apparently, an Italian word, what did the name mean?

The name inferred an instrument (like the harpsichord) that could play loud and soft sounds. As the translation explains, the purpose of the piano strongly influenced the name of the instrument at that time. 

Who Did the Piano’s Inventor Work for

As against the motive of staying ahead in the corporate world, the piano’s invention was not to beat the other brands. In fact, Bartolomeo Cristofori was not anything like Thomas Edison or the regular inventor. This may be the reason he is not as popular and celebrated as other innovators.

He was not an entrepreneur. Rather, he was an employee of a royal figure in that dispensation. The name of his employer was Ferdinando De Medici. Bartolomeo’s main task was to ensure that the instruments in Ferdinando’s court were in the right state.

This involved the appropriate movement of the instruments, tuning, and a couple of other tasks. However, he had a relevant history as a harpsichord maker. This skill would subsequently help him identify and resolve the flaw the harpsichord was known for.

Why Was the Piano Invented?

How true is the saying necessity is the mother of all invention?

The piano’s emergence is one good way to prove this statement as absolutely true. As stated earlier on, the inventor was a trained harpsichord maker. As a result, he knew the intricacies involved in the production of the average harpsichord.

As things were, the harpsichord presented players with a challenge. This was more of a hindrance as players could not perform with dynamics. 

With the harpsichord, players could not play piano pieces or random compositions loud or soft. They had to make do with a monotonous sound and playing pattern. In other words, the volume of the instruments could not be adjusted.

If a particular harpsichord instrument were loud, nothing could be done to reduce it. On the contrary, if a harpsichord product were soft, you could not make it any louder.

For various reasons, this presented a challenge to the players and people at large. For example, there was no point in composing pieces with technicalities that could not be accommodated by the piano.

To buttress this further, Beethoven in his evaluation of Mozart’s piano works inferred that they were monotonous. This is quite understandable given that Mozart thrived in the age when the harpsichord was the major piano instrument.

Although Mozart and Beethoven are both considered classical composers, Beethoven had his fair share benefiting from the pianoforte’s invention. This is because he was much younger than his counterpart.

Also, open performance with a large number of people in attendance would have constituted a problem. 

This is because a soft-sounding harpsichord would not effectively reverberate around the auditorium. On the contrary, a loud instrument would constitute a nuisance in a residential area. Unlike subsequent instruments that offered the privilege of practice pedal, this was different.

Considering that variety is the spice of life, playing the harpsichord could turn out as boring. So that we understand better, let us unveil why this instrument was so restrictive?

All was down to the sound production mechanism. This is because the initial pianoforte, as it was later called, still looked like the harpsichord. 

It sounded so much like the harpsichord, except for the long-awaited ability to alternate between loud and soft sounds. 

The harpsichord produced musical sounds with a mechanism that plucked the strings. Because the strings were plucked, the possibility of alternating between various volumes was exceedingly difficult. 

At various points, many inventors tried to make headway in this regard. However, the only recorded notable success is attributed to Cristofori Bartolomeo.

What Did the Pianoforte Do Differently?

Unlike the harpsichord that used a plucked mechanism, the piano’s innovation changed the sound production norm.

Although strings were still engaged, the manner at which the tension that resulted in music sound was made changed. 

Rather than the plunking of strings, the pianoforte made use of hammers. These hammers were responsible for hitting the strings in varying degrees. 

When the strings were hit hard, the sound was loud. The stronger and sharper the contact between the string and hammer is, the louder the sound.

On the other hand, if the contact between the hammers and strings is mild, the resultant sound will be soft.

The player will be able to determine the instrument’s volume by striking hard or mild. This was a luxury that the harpsichord could not offer.

One of the great things about this innovation was that it allowed for improvements. For instance, the 3 pedals of the traditional acoustic piano came up much later. 

What did the Early Piano Look like?

When Cristofori invented the piano, he referred to it as a kind of harpsichord. Simply put, one that could do something the regular harpsichord could not do.

In light of this, the early piano looked very much like the harpsichord. The major difference was how it produced musical sound. 

Let us look at some of the similarities shared between these instruments.

Black Major and White Minor

As against the current trend, the early pianos had the major keys as black and minor keys as white. This was a quality it shared with the harpsichord. 

friend of Cristofori suggested the switch in color. For more information on the white and black keys of the piano, you can click here.

Number of Keys

All things being equal, the regular number of keys on the piano is 88. This is the summation of both the minor and major keys.

This is excluding synthesizers whose numbers can be switched to meet the client’s satisfaction. As opposed to the 88 keys, the earliest version of the piano had way less. Precisely, they are reported to have had 60 keys.

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This was a feature it shared with the harpsichord of that time. This is one of the many points to prove the harpsichord as influential in the emergence of the pianoforte.

The Looks Can Be Deceiving

The two instruments looked very much alike. They were both made with wooden cases among other physical features.

Video: Kristian Bezuidenhout – W.A. Mozart/ Fantasie in d (KWV 397)


As an instrument, the piano has gone through lots of modifications. The trendy variety of this instrument is the digital piano. 

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Regardless of the frequent upgrade, we all must appreciate the emergence of this instrument.

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