History of Piano Development

From ancient times till present music has played a significant role in the culture of every nation.  Can you imagine a life without music?  Everyone is involved either passively or actively in some aspect of musical activity almost on a daily basis.  Today of course it is much easier than in the past: more choices, better communication, technology and education.

Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) constructed ‘Piano et forte’ the first prototype of the  piano.  Originally, only a privileged few could ever afford one of these instruments, primarily the nobility or very wealthy families.  At that time the price of these instruments was equal to 3-4 times an average persons yearly income.  Today owning a piano certainly will not cost such an extravagant sum.  The piano has become a very popular and integral keyboard instrument.

Antique pianos were manufactured before 1800.  They are called also ‘Historical’ or ‘Renaissance’ pianos.  Their mechanical design was simple, mostly consisting of less than 85 keys, less strings and a completely different mechanism of action.  On the other hand the exterior cabinetry was very ornate.  Great musicians composed and performed baroque/renaissance music on these early instruments.  Today these pianos can primarily be viewed in museums.

From 1800-1860 is the Victorian era with its unique artful cases, candle stands and benches.  Square grand’s and giraffe pianos represent this period.  A very large segment of classical music was composed and performed on these interval instruments.

In around 1860 started the ‘New Piano Era’.  In the piano industry this was a period of enormous engineering progress.  Thanks to a number of French, German, British and other European born engineers we have the modern construction and amazing action of today’s acoustic piano.  From that time on almost no significant engineering changes have occurred till present day.  Because of the perfection of this period’s invention we have a balanced piano with a piano action and damper system that produces great repetition and sound.

Starting around 1900 began what is known as the ‘Golden Era’ in the industry.  Many factories started production in larger scale due to a greater market demand and robust sales.  The piano industry was nationwide but with its greatest concentration of factories in North London.  It was the major heavy industry of its day.

Player Pianos:  The rolls operated piano was first manufactured in the 1890’s.  Its inventor was Melville Clark.  The electrical pneumatic players have been around since the 1950’s.  Todays modern players started in the late 1970’s with ‘Pianocorder’, a cassette player made by Maratz.  Shortly later came the Floppy disk and the CD playersystem.  The innovation in these player piano systems is that they operate with a computer CD, are MIDI-compatible and produce ‘life-like’ music.  Further, they are able to playback in 128 levels of tone expression and record a piano players performance.

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