Piano History
History is more than a record of the past. History is a part of everyday life. The statement that suggests that forgetting the past will doom a civilization to repeat the past implies that there is nothing from the past worthy of repeating. There are also those who think the past is all that is worth repeating. Traditions are composed from attempts to preserve the past. The prevailing norm is to cull traditions from the chronicle of time. Change can be as server as total abandonment, or merely simple and trifling. Change is often justified and needed. Change is good if that which is being changed is better than that which was changed. New ideas and inventions are not changes. The composers of the Classical Era presented a new form and style of music. They did not change the music of the Baroque Era.
Today keyboard-controlled instruments continue to evolve, from the best that history provided.
1920 Beckwith from Sears & Roebuck
1915 Sears ad for Beckwith Piano

The evolution of keyboard controlled instruments dates back to around 1520 with a Harpsichord built in Bologna.

1709 Bartolomeo Cristofori built the Fortepiano, the first piano.

In 1775 J. Behrent built the first American made piano in Philadelphia.

Up until 1799 the compass of the piano was between 52 and 60 keys.

In 1803 a woman, Nanette Streicher built Beethoven's piano.

A German built a piano in 1811 that featured a keyboard with all the keys at the same level and all the same color.

In 1816 Nannette Streicher, daughter of Johann Andreas Stein, built for Beethoven's special use and by his request, a grand piano with a compass of 6 1/2 octaves, which was considered quite an accomplishment in those days.  This borrowed piano featured 78 keys and five pedals. The standard piano keyboard at the time was five octaves (61 keys).

By 1840 most piano keyboards were expanded to cover a scale of 75 keys. The scale was expanded to include 88 keys in 1890.


 

 

 

Sears Roebuck & Company and Montgomery Ward mass marketed
pianos from 1900 until about 1949. 
The Piano is the first item that
established meaningful "brand name" loyalty and the first status symbol
based on a brand name. The piano is also the first major item sold on
an installment basis.

The acoustic piano of today is not the same instrument as the acoustic piano of the Baroque, the Classical, or the Romantic Era. Not only has the acoustic piano undergone major changes, it is only one clavier instrument available in today's market that is the result of the wants and needs of early composers and performers.


The clavichord was not capable of producing enough sound; the harpsichord was too harsh and offered no option of expression. The quest for a keyboard instrument that could speak either softly or with a thunderous presence and also offer responsive repetition in key action started the endeavor to create the instrument known as today's piano. The development of the damper pedal, and in many instances, four or five other effects pedals, indicates that even the early builders were attempting to manufacture keyboard instruments that offered more.

It has been 244 years since anyone heard Johann Sebastian Bach perform. There were no tape recorders, digital sequencers, or even record players to capture his performances. There were no radio stations to broadcast live performances to the general population. His usual recital halls were within the fortress like walls of churches. If he was not performing in church, his work was heard in the secret mysterious world of Nobility and Royalty. Instruments during Bach's life were state of the art, for that time. Organ keyboards included four octaves, with the lower octave being a short octave. The pedal division was considered enhanced at 18 pedals. Most of the air reservoirs were not capable of supplying pressure to allow use of two divisions at one time. It is a documented that Bach wanted more in the instruments of the day. He wanted more keys, more pedals, more stops and the ability to combine divisions. He wanted what is available today and will be available tomorrow. The piano was yet to be invented.

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