The pianoforte, or just piano, is another one of the most famous
instruments of all time. It is useful as both a solo and ensemble instrument. Everyone is familiar with
the appearance of a piano, with its black and white keys. Most
people also understand that pianos are capable of playing up to 10
notes simultaneously while the other string instruments can usually
only play one or two notes at a time. This makes the piano both a
very difficult instrument to master and adds a wide variety of
chordal textures that can be used both in solo
playing and in chamber music. Composers have historically
tried to take advantage of the capabilities and strengths of the
The harpsichord, an ancestor of the piano, was born in the 14th or 15th century. This instrument had a keyboard and when a key was pressed, a string inside the harpsichord's box would be plucked. Chamber music was not being written during the time of the harpsichord. Although there is no chamber music written for harpsichord, although there are plenty of solo and orchestral pieces written for harpsichord. Nowadays, much of the music written for harpsichord is played instead on the piano. Since the mechanism in the harpsichord plucked each string, players could not vary the dynamics of their playing. This problem eventually caused the decline of the harpsichord.
The need for a more expressive keyboard instrument prompted Bartolommeo Cristofori, a Paduan harpsichord maker, to construct the first pianos. This invention is dated at about 1709 to 1711. Cristofori's new instruments looked like harpsichords but worked and sounded very differently. In Cristofori's pianos, when a key was pressed, a leather hammer would jump up and hit a string inside the piano. A piano player could vary the dynamic level of their playing by pressing a key harder or softer. These changes in pressure would cause the hammer to strike at a varied speed.
The piano was not instantly popular due to various design problems. After about 50 years, though, these problems had been worked out and composers were free to write music for the piano. The popularity of the piano started to bloom in the 1770's. Haydn's piano sonatas were written exclusively for piano (not harpsichord) and were instantly popular. Most people of that time, though, learned about the piano through Mozart's piano concertos. These concertos revolutionized the piano by attracting pianists both young and old to explore this growing instrument.
Composers have consistently written music for the piano since
the time of Mozart. Many great piano works have been written by
composers such as Beethoven, Chopin, Liszt, Mendelssohn, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff.