This early history of the piano is taken from an old Edison phonograph record sleeve circa 1920 (see Bruce's other interests/hobbies).
Musical instruments, the strings of which were struck or plucked, were among the earliest of art inventions. Egyptian remains show pictures of performers playing upon the harp. In the book of Genesis, there is mention of a kinnor, which was either a lyre or a small harp. There is frequent mention of the dulcimer in the Bible. This instrument was struck with hammers, and was a string stretched across a sound board, the tone of which was regulated by a movable bridge for dividing the string at different points, thus changing the tone.
The monochord, harp and dulcimer all contributed to the evolution of the modern piano. Perhaps the most important step toward the creation of the modern piano was the device of a keyboard. In all probability the keyboard originated with the organ. In any event, a keyboard of sixteen keys is said to have been part of an organ built in the Cathedral of Magdeburg, at the close of the eleventh century. Its first application to the piano-type of instrument is lost in medieval obscurity.
First mention of the clavichord and harpsichord is found in a musical work written by Eberhard Cersne, in 1404. The chief difference between these instruments was that the strings of the clavichord were struck while those of the harpsichord were plucked. Playing the clavichord, one used a touch in which pressure was predominant, thus producing a sort of "portamento" effect which could not be obtained on the harpsichord. Bach preferred the clavichord. Handel, Scarlatti and Mozart were devoted to the harpsichord.
What caused the clavichord and harpsichord to be superseded by the type of instrument on the order of the modern piano, was the hammer action, which was the invention of Bartolomefo Cristofori, born at Padua, May 4, 1653. His revolutionary invention was made known to the world in 1711. It was known as the "piano e forte," which translated into English, means simply "soft and loud." Owing to the inability of harpsichord players to acquire the proper touch, this instrument of Cristofori's fell into disuse in Italy; but in Germany it found favor and further development.
Originally, the device which enabled the volume of the pianoforte to be changed was two iron springs ornamented with copper knobs, in that part of the chest nearest the bass. In order to move these springs it was necessary that the player should use his left hand, and consequently he was obliged for a moment to quit the keyboard. Stein improved these springs by making them act by means of knobs placed against the knees. Pedals, as we know them, were not known until the eighteenth century. In fact, the first modern pedals are first found in John Broadwood's patent of 1783.