About the Piano
Notes from Randy!
With a keyboard encompassing the range of an entire orchestra, this most versatile of instruments has inspired the largest and most diverse body of literature of any instrument. The inventor of the piano was Bartolomeo Cristofori, instrument caretaker to Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici of Florence. The first piano (on an inventory list from 1700), was called a ‘gravecembalo col piano e forte’, that is, a harpsichord-like instrument capable of playing both soft and loud.
This is one of the three instruments built by Christofori that is still in existence. Christofori’s pianos – with leather covered hammers hitting steel strings – don’t sound much like today’s pianos. The sound was small – even smaller than a harpsichord. Still, it could play through a range of dynamics, from soft to (relatively) loud. At the time that was a very important breakthrough for keyboard instruments – one that allowed them the same flexibility as other instruments.
It didn’t take long for this new instrument to catch on. Within 40 years it had spread all over Europe and soon became the instrument of choice not only for the aristocracy, but for the middle class as well.
Mozart probably used a piano like this one when he played his piano concertos. Over the years the piano has become louder and more durable. Grand pianos were first designed in the 1770s. A prototype of the contemporary upright piano — in which, to save space, the strings are strung vertically rather than horizontally — was patented by Englishman William Stodart in 1794. Pretty soon upright style pianos were preferred in European homes. Here is one version built by André Stein of Vienna. It is called a Giraffe Piano.
Pianos are too big too carry around, but that doesn’t matter. It is such an important instrument that no concert hall is complete without a concert grand. Most halls have two or more instruments on hand from which to choose.
Playing a different instrument at almost every concert requires a lot of flexibility. We pianists learn that it the sound we have inside our heads that counts – and really no piano would be able to realize that adequately. So, if we don’t want to live a life of constant disappointment we had better learn to come up with something by juggling reality with fantasy. It’s good for to soul! Some pianos are so beautiful that you might become distracted and forget what you were really trying to do. We need to watch out for being led by the instrument rather than the reverse.