Friday, February 4, 2011

Background of the Piano

Did you know that the word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte? Not only that the name pianoforte is derived from the original Italian name for the instrument, clavicembalo [or gravicembalo] col piano e forte. This sentence actually means "harpsichord capable of playing at the normal level, and more strongly". The word "Piano" means a plane or level sound suggesting the normal playing level while "Forte" means a stronger, more powerful level of playing—louder than usual sound.

Also another interesting fact is that many of the famous musicians in history like Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Robert Schumann, Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms used the piano to compose their most famous pieces! Learning this makes me eager to play their pieces on a piano so I can hear what it actually sounds like when they first composed it. 

The earliest pianos made by Bartolomeo Cristofori (ca. 1700) were lightweight objects with thin strings of wrought iron and brass and tiny hammers covered with leather (pictured below). The basic structure is relatively the same compared to the grand pianos of the modern era.

Changes were made to these earlier pianos that improved the sound and playing capabilities to create the modern pianos we see today (image shown below). Some of these changes were as follows. The pitch range was increased from five octaves to seven and 1/3 octave, tough steel strings, felt hammers, cross-stringing, which is a method of arranging piano strings so that the strings are placed in a vertically overlapping slanted arrangement were added. The weight and robustness were also increased. For example a modern Steinway Model D weighs 480 kg (990 lb), about six times the weight of a late 18th century Stein piano. The hammers and action became much heavier, which meant that the touch of a modern piano is several times heavier than that of an 18th century piano.

Below is a picture of the schematics of a modern grand piano with part names listed. I don't know about you but I love learning the basic structure of things that interest me and learning how they work. This is why I added in the schematic diagram because I find it interesting to learn how the piano was put together.

frame (1)
lid, front part (2)
capo bar (3)
damper (4)
lid, back part (5)
damper mechanism (6)
sostenuto rail (7)
pedal mechanism, rods (8, 9, 10)
pedals: right (sustain/damper), middle (sostenuto), left (soft/una-corda) (11)
bridge (12)
hitch pin (13)
frame (14)
sound board (15)
string (16)


Rick said...

This is great information! I learned a lot that I didn't know about the history of the piano.

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