Is this the invention of the Piano?

piano-658470_1280The introduction to the world of the piano – or to give the original name – pianoforte, that favourite instrument which was found in every household where a taste for music exists, may almost be said to have taken place as early as 1716.

Back then an inventor, named Marius, presented to the Academy of Sciences in Paris a Clavecin, whose strings were vibrated with hammers instead of plectrums; and two years later, Christoforo, a Florentine musical instrument maker, devised some further improvements on the instrument. This has generally been considered as the first piano.

In 1760 an engineer, named Zumpe, established in England a small factory and tried to manufacture these instruments; but he met with little success. Its merits were, however, clearly perceived by Haydn, who left sixty sonatas composed expressly for it; Gluck also adopted the new invention, and the piano on which he composed his “Armida,” and other works, made for him by John Pohlman in 1772, still exists. It was stated to be only 54 inches in length, and 24 inches in width, with a small square sounding-board at the end, the wire of the strings being little more than threads, and the hammers consisting of a few piles of leather over the end of a horizontal jack working on a hinge.

“The instrument,” says M. Thalberg, “compared with a fine piano of the present day, is insignificant and useless; and it is difficult to conceive how it could have been used for the purposes it certainly served, till we reflect upon the importance to the composer of having at instant command any description of orchestral effect.”

In France the first maker of a pianoforte was Sebastien Erard, who died in Paris in 1831. Erard was the orphan child of a cabinet-maker in Strasbourg. He came to Paris when only sixteen years of age, apprenticed himself to a harpsichord maker, in whose employment his ingenious mind soon found means to display itself. His apprenticeship being ended, the
young Strasbourg workman obtained employment from various instrument-makers, which he executed at his own house. One day a harpsichord-maker, struck by his talent, proposed to him to make an instrument of the harpsichord kind, with such improvements as the workman could suggest. Pleased with his task, although it was agreed that the instrument was to bear the name of his master only, who proposed to take the credit of the work,

Erard devoted himself assiduously to the production of the instrument. When it was completed, the musician who had purchased it was so much struck with its powers that he returned to make inquiries from the harpsichord-maker on the subject of its construction. The man, taken by surprise, was unable to reply, and was at length compelled to admit that it was entirely the work of his young journeyman.

From that time Erard’s reputation began to spread. The Duchess de Villeroi, who devoted much of her fortune to the encouragement of the arts, having heard of the young artist, sent for him, and proposed to him to attempt the construction of a piano similar to those recently introduced into Saxony by Silberman; and it was in her house in Paris that the workman designed and completed his instrument – the first ever made in France, where, indeed, it was till then almost entirely unknown.

Played at the concerts given by the Duchess, the instrument quickly gained in favour.
Sebastien Erard, in conjunction with his brother Jean Baptiste, set up a factory in Paris to meet the demand for the instrument; and here the ingenuity of the Strasbourg workman speedily introduced such important improvements that his instruments became
famous throughout Europe.

It is said that an agent in Hamburg, in the year 1799, sold in that city more than two hundred of Erard’s pianos. It is to the Erard establishment that the pianoforte, or the piano as we have come to call it, players owe the upward bearing of the strings a great improvement, now almost universally adopted.

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