Grand Piano (Steinway)
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The piano is a musical instrument played by means of a keyboard. It produces sound by striking steel strings with felt hammers that immediately rebound allowing the string to continue vibrating at its resonant frequency. These vibrations are transmitted through the bridges to the soundboard, which amplifies them.
The piano is widely used in western music for solo performance, chamber music, and accompaniment. It is also very popular as an aid to composing and rehearsal. Although not portable and often expensive, the piano's versatility and ubiquity has made it among the most familiar of musical instruments. It is also sometimes classified as both a percussion and a string instrument.
The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte, which is seldom used except in formal language and derived from the original Italian name for the instrument, gravicèmbalo col piano e forte (literally harpsichord with soft and loud). This refers to the instrument's responsiveness to keyboard touch, which allows the pianist to produce notes at different dynamic levels by controlling the speed at which the hammers hit the strings.
Although there were various crude earlier attempts to make stringed keyboard instruments with struck strings, it is widely considered that the piano was invented by a single individual: Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, Italy. It is not known exactly when Cristofori first built a piano, but an inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700. The three Cristofori pianos that survive today date from the 1720s.
Like many other inventions, the piano was founded on earlier technological innovations. The mechanisms of keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord were well known. In a clavichord the strings are struck by tangents, while in a harpsichord they are plucked by quills. Centuries of work on the mechanism of the harpsichord in particular had shown the most effective ways to construct the case, soundboard, bridge, and keyboard. Cristofori, himself an expert harpsichord maker, was well acquainted with this body of knowledge.
Cristofori's great success was in solving, without any prior example, the fundamental mechanical problem of piano design: the hammers must strike the string, but not remain in contact with the string (as a tangent remains in contact with a clavichord string) because this would damp the sound. Moreover, the hammers must return to their rest position without bouncing violently, and it must be possible to repeat a note rapidly. Cristofori's piano action served as a model for the many different approaches to piano actions that followed. While Cristofori's early instruments were made with thin strings and were much quieter than the modern piano, compared to the clavichord (the only previous keyboard instrument capable of minutely controlled dynamic nuance through the keyboard) they were considerably louder and had more sustaining power.
In the period lasting from about 1790 to 1860, the Mozart-era piano underwent tremendous changes, which led to the modern form of the instrument. This revolution was in response to a consistent preference by composers and pianists for a more powerful, sustained piano sound. It was also a response to the ongoing Industrial Revolution, which made available technological resources like high-quality steel for strings (see piano wire) and precision casting for the production of iron frames. Over time, the tonal range of the piano was also increased, from the five octaves of Mozart's day to the 7⅓ (or even more) octaves found on modern pianos.
Early technological progress owed much to the English firm of Broadwood, which already had a reputation for the splendour and powerful tone of its harpsichords. Broadwood constructed instruments that were progressively larger, louder, and more robustly constructed. Broadwood sent pianos to both Haydn and Beethoven, and was the first firm to build pianos with a range of more than five octaves: five octaves and a fifth during the 1790s, six octaves by 1810 (Beethoven used the extra notes in his later works), and seven octaves by 1820. The Viennese makers followed these trends. The two schools, however, used different piano actions: Broadwoods were more robust, Viennese instruments were more sensitive.
By the 1820s, the center of innovation had shifted to Paris, where the Érard firm manufactured pianos used by Chopin and Liszt. In 1821, Sébastien Érard invented the double escapement action, which permitted a note to be repeated even if the key had not yet risen to its maximum vertical position. This facilitated rapid playing. When the invention became public (as revised by Henri Herz), the double escapement action gradually became standard in grand pianos, and is still incorporated into all grand pianos currently produced.
Today's upright, grand, and concert grand pianos attained their present forms by the end of the 19th century. Improvements have been made in manufacturing processes, and many individual details of the instrument continue to receive attention (see Innovations in the Piano).
Some early pianos had shapes and designs that are no longer in use.
The square piano had horizontal strings arranged diagonally across the rectangular case above the hammers and with the keyboard set in the long side, it is variously attributed to Silbermann and Frederici and was improved by Petzold and Babcock. Built in quantity through the 1890s (in the United States), Steinway's celebrated iron framed over strung squares were more than two and a half times the size of Zumpe's wood framed instruments that were successful a century before, their overwhelming popularity was due to inexpensive construction and price, with performance and sonority frequently restricted by simple actions and closely spaced strings.
Main article: square piano
The tall vertically strung upright grand was arranged with the soundboard and bridges perpendicular to keys, and above them so that the strings did not extend to the floor. Diagonally strung Giraffe, pyramid and lyre pianos employed this principle in more evocatively shaped cases. The term was later revived by many manufacturers for advertising purposes.
The very tall cabinet piano introduced by Southwell in 1806 and built through the 1840s had strings arranged vertically on a continuous frame with bridges extended nearly to the floor, behind the keyboard and very large sticker action.
The short cottage upright or pianino with vertical stringing, credited to Robert Wornum about 1810 was built into the 20th century. They are informally called birdcage pianos because of their prominent damper mechanism. Pianinos were distinguished from the oblique, or diagonally strung upright made popular in France by Roller & Blanchet during the late 1820s.
The tiny spinet upright was manufactured from the mid 1930s until recent times. The low position of the hammers required the use of a "drop action" to preserve a reasonable keyboard height.