The Piano – A Brief History

The piano was invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori(1655-1731) in the early 18th century. He was musical instrument keeper and technician to Ferdinando III de ’Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. Cristofori was already an expert harpsichord builder when he set out to design an instrument which used hammers to strike the strings. He also invented the damping mechanism. The resulting piano could also be played softly, ‘piano’, and loudly, ‘forte’, hence the name pianoforte.

The earliest surviving pianos are from around 1720, and the shape of these first instruments are recognizable as the ‘grand piano’ shape. The early pianos only had a compass of 4 to 4½ octaves. By Mozart’s time this had increased to 5 octaves, and Beethoven played on 6-7 octave pianos. Both composers were among those who’s compositions required piano makers to increase its compass! Modern pianos are generally 7¼ octaves, which has existed since the late nineteenth century.