Staff Note: Notes from the Music Staff is a series of posts discussing what the library offers music fans. From our widely varied collection of music CDs to our nonfiction and fiction books covering all aspects of music, we've got something for everyone and we want to share our love of music with you!
Yes, Linus, September is “National Piano Month”! To celebrate, here are some interesting facts about this beloved musical instrument.
The first piano, below left, was created by Bartolomeo Cristofori, below right, in about 1700. Cristofori was a harpsichord maker in Florence, Italy. He called his invention the ‘piano e forte’, meaning ‘soft and loud’ in Italian, because musicians could vary volume for the first time.
Pianos today still use Cristofori’s basic mechanism, but different materials for the case, soundboard, and keys.
There are 3 original Cristofori pianos, one of which is pictured above, still around today. The oldest is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Google honored Cristofori last year with a Google Doodle featuring him playing a piano, which you can watch on YouTube today.
Before the piano was invented, people played harpsichords. Both have a harp inside a case and keys are pressed to play music. What can you do with a piano that you can't do with a harpsichord? Play louder and softer notes.
Keys are pressed on both harpsichords and pianos to make music. What is the difference in how the music is produced inside the case? The piano has small soft hammers which hit the strings. The harpsichord has quills which pluck the strings (real feather quills were used in the beginning). The quills were called ‘plectra’ — today we call them ‘picks’ as for strumming a guitar.
To learn more about the history of the piano, check out these library resources:
- A Natural History of the Piano: From Mozart to modern jazz, and everything in between — A fascinating celebration of the piano, including tales of its masters from Mozart and Beethoven to Oscar Peterson and Jerry Lee Lewis, told with the expertise of composer and author of Temperament, Stuart Isacoff.
- Mr. Langshaw's Square Piano: The story of the first pianos and how they caused a cultural revolution Mister Langshaw's square piano — Both an investigative story and genealogical study that highlights a key period in music history, this chronicle closely examines the roles of John Broadwood — the most successful piano maker in late-Georgian London — and of one of his professional customers, Mr. John Langshaw, an organist and music master.
- The Piano — An indispensable reference for every piano lover! The Piano provides a lavishly illustrated history of the instrument, presents a comprehensive survey of its best-known makes and manufacturers, and offers a complete guide to purchasing the right piano, from selection to care and restoration.