We all know what a piano looks like. It is a classic, iconic musical instrument that houses an incredibly vast repertoire written by genius composers. They soak up the limelight in concert halls and come to life at the hands of experienced musicians and beginners alike. Furthermore, they are considered the king of musical instruments.
But where did this majestic and versatile instrument come from? What were its origins and how did it come to be?
The piano is classified as a string instrument and its rich ancestry can be traced back through various instruments like the clavichord, harpsichord and dulcimer. If we went back even further, however, we would be able to see that the piano is actually a descendant of the monochord.
You might realise that a piano looks strikingly a lot like a harpsichord. The harpsichord was created in Italy around 1500 before it later spread to France, Germany, Flanders, and Great Britain. When a key is pressed on a harpsichord, a plectrum attached to a long strip of wood called a jack plucks the string to make music. This system of strings and soundboard, and the general structure of the harpsichord resemble those that can be found in a piano.
The piano was later invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori of Italy. Unsatisfied by the lack of control that musicians had over the volume level of the harpsichord, Cristofori switched out the plucking mechanism with a hammer which, in turn, created the modern piano around the year 1700.
The instrument was initially named "clavicembalo col piano e forte" (which literally meant “a harpsichord that can play soft and loud noises”). It was then called a “fortepiano” before it was shortened to the now common name, "piano."
And that is how the giant of instruments, the piano, came to be.