A Turning Point in History – The Invention of the Pianoforte

At the turn of 18th Century, pianoforte was invented. This gave a new ‘face’ to music culture in Europe. The organ, the oldest keyboard instrument has been played for several centuries.

It is likely the use of the keys to produce music, was popularized by the organ. Compelling the invention of different types of keyboard instruments, the organ, however, is a wind keyboard, and is almost entirely unrelated to the piano.

The first keyboard instrument that used strings is the clavichord in the late Middle Ages. (the time in European history between classical antiquity and the Italian Renaissance from about 500 a.d. to about 1350). Its action is similar to that of the piano but its tone is soft and too quiet to be played in the concert. It was smaller and simpler than its relative the Harpsichord; hence it was regarded as a mere household instrument. After the clavichord, the harpsichord came into the limelight, though it could not also be used to perform in large room.




In 1709, BARTOLOMEO CRISTOFORI, an Italian curator of musical instruments for the Medici family invented the first piano. He called this gravicembalo col piano e forte, a keyboard instrument that can be played soft and loud. Hence the name pianoforte…(soft-loud). Eventually it was called just Piano today.

• Cristofori built this early piano in 1726.

• Italian Terms

• Piano-Soft

• Forte-Loud

Did You Know?

Have you ever wondered why the piano has the same name as the word for soft? Originally pianos were called clavicembalo col piano e forte. These Italian words mean harpsichord with soft and loud. They described what the instrument was like. The harpsichord was a popular keyboard instrument before the piano, but it did not play loud and soft easily. When the piano was invented, it had the marvelous new feature of changing dynamics by pressing the keys lighter or harder.

Clavicembalo col piano e forte was too much to say so soon people started calling the instrument the pianoforte or fortepiano. Then it just became the piano.

One reason why the piano spread slowly at first was that it was quite expensive to make, and thus was purchased only by royalty and a few wealthy private individuals. The ultimate success of Cristofori’s invention occurred only in the 1760s, when the invention of cheaper square pianos, along with generally greater prosperity, made it possible for many people to acquire one.