The piano is also known as a pianoforte. That was, in fact, the original name, but it got shortened to piano over time, which is actually a bit silly, if you consider the reason the pianoforte got it's name.

The pianoforte got it's name from the Italian words piano, which means soft, and forte, which means strong. Until the invention of the piano, instruments similar to it did not have varying loudness. The harpsichord was the predominant harmonic instrument before the piano's invention, and it is impossible to vary the loudness of the notes. The came the piano! Wow! One can now play loud OR soft! It was a very exciting time for musicians.

And now it's just called piano because of pesky neighbours.

"Piano forte" (see the Webster 1913 definition of piano) was the early term for the rudimentary pianos which took the harpsichord's place in traditional classical music. Piano forte literally translates to "soft-loud", which referred to the fact that the volume of notes played on a piano could be adjusted, unlike the uniform strength of a harpsichord. (Piano and forte are abbreviated p. and f., respectively, in sheet music.)

The piano's insides include dampers, which allow the volume of a tone to be diminished or increased. This is made possible by the hammer-and-string design. A harpsichord uses a plectrum to actually pluck the string when the appropriate key is pressed. As a result of this improved control, the harpsichord is now rarely seen in orchestral performance.

The first piano forte was created by Bartolomeo Cristofori, who called it a gravicembalo col pian e forte (literally: "harpsichord with soft and loud"), in 1709. Several were commissioned for the kings of Germany and Austria-Hungary, from where they spread to Britain, America, and the rest of the civilized world. By 1815 the piano had rendered the harpsichord effectively obsolete, although it is occasionally still used today. The book Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid goes into this subject in great detail, and is highly recommended reading.

Pi*an"o (?), Pi*an"o*for`te (?), n. [It. piano soft (fr. L. planus even, smooth; see Plain, a.) + It. forte strong, fr. L. fortis (see Fort).] Mus.

A well-known musical instrument somewhat resembling the harpsichord, and consisting of a series of wires of graduated length, thickness, and tension, struck by hammers moved by keys.

Dumb piano. See Digitorium. -- Grand piano. See under Grand. -- Square piano, one with a horizontal frame and an oblong case. -- Upright piano, one with an upright frame and vertical wires.


© Webster 1913.

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