The invention of the piano is credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua, Italy, who was employed by Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, as the Keeper of the Instruments. Cristofori was an expert harpsichord maker, and was well acquainted with the body of knowledge on stringed keyboard instruments. He used his knowledge of harpsichord keyboard mechanisms and actions to help him to develop the first pianos. It is not known exactly when Cristofori first built a piano. An inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700; another document of doubtful authenticity indicates a date of 1698. The three Cristofori pianos that survive today date from the 1720s. Cristofori named the instrument un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte ("a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud"), abbreviated over time as pianoforte, fortepiano, and later, simply, piano.
While the clavichord allows expressive control of volume and sustain, it is too quiet for large performances in big halls. The harpsichord produces a sufficiently loud sound, especially when a coupler joins each key to both manuals of a two-manual harpsichord, but it offers no dynamic or accent-based expressive control over each note. A harpsichord cannot produce a variety of dynamic levels from the same keyboard during a musical passage (though a player can use a harpsichord with two manuals to alternate between two different stops [settings on the harpsichord that determine which set of strings sound], which could include a louder stop and a quieter stop). The piano offers the best of both instruments, combining the ability to play loudly and perform sharp accents. The piano can project more during piano concertos and play in larger venues, with dynamic control that permits a range of dynamics, including soft, quiet playing.
Cristofori’s great success was solving, with no known prior example, the fundamental mechanical problem of designing a stringed keyboard instrument in which the notes are struck by a hammer. The hammer must strike the string, but not remain in contact with it, because this would damp the sound and stop the string from vibrating and making sound. This means that after striking the string, the hammer must be lifted or raised off the strings. Moreover, the hammer must return to its rest position without bouncing violently, and it must return to a position in which it is ready to play almost immediately after its key is depressed so the player can repeat the same note rapidly. Cristofori’s piano action was a model for the many approaches to piano actions that followed in the next century. Cristofori’s early instruments were made with thin strings, and were much quieter than the modern piano, but they were much louder and with more sustain in comparison to the clavichord—the only previous keyboard instrument capable of dynamic nuance via the weight or force with which the keyboard is played.
Using the Nikon Nikkor AF-P 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 G VR DX (kit) lens.
Photo taken at Randfontein in South Africa.
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