Tracing the roots of the piano to the very beginning of consciousness, when man first became aware of sound.
As with many early representations of instruments, the dulcimer may be first seen in The Queen Melisende Psalter, c.1139, a “12th century carved ivory book-cover made in Byzantium for Melisende, the wife of Fulk V of Anjou, King of Jerusalem.” [ 2 ] There is some doubt regarding the claim, as no mention of the instrument is recorded for another 300 years.
Hurdy-gurdy, (organistrum), a medieval stringed instrument comprised of melody and drone strings, a keyboard (made of tangents), and a resin-coated wheel (performing much like a bow), refined with many variants throughout Europe to be performed by a single player, producing a constant drone and capable of sounding two or more simultaneous notes.
The organistrum, an early, larger form of the hurdy-gurdy (possibly inspired by the fiddle), shaped like a guitar but with a long, wide neck for keys, requiring two players (one pulled keys in an upward motion to change the pitch of the melody string while the other cranked a small wheel to produce a continuous sound on two drone strings). Thought to be the first use of the principle of a keyboard. A 13th century treatise on the construction of an organistrum, describes an instrument having eight tangents set at intervals based on Pythagorean principles.
1157, Keyed Monochord
The keyed monochord, an evolution of the ancient teaching instrument, requiring the performer to either touch, pluck, hammer or bow on a single string while manipulating keys.
The chifonie (or symphonia), a modified hurdy-gurdy (and variant of the solo organistrum), refined into a portable, single player instrument, and predominantly used for secular music.
Unlike the psaltery and dulcimer, the citole was played with fingers instead of a plectrum. Carved from a single piece of wood and shaped like a ‘holly-leaf,’ the British Museum houses the only surviving instrument.
From the monochord comes the small, delicate-sounding keyboard called the clavichord, or clavicordium, at first comprised of no more than 10 fretted strings serving multiple keys (with non-fretted models arriving later). Highly portable but unable to project sound effectively, it was used as an intimate private or practice instrument.
To produce a tone, each key, when depressed, caused a tangent to strike a pair of strings, which determined the pitch based on their distance from the bridge. Since more than one tangent might utilize a pair of strings, only one note could be played at a time. Known for its soft tone, the instrument’s dynamic range offered the performer exquisite control and expressiveness of sound.
Before the emergence of the clavichord, a small oblong box called a clavicytherium appeared (the earliest surviving example of this stringed keyboard instrument arguably originated from Ulm and was adorned with elaborate decorations and carvings, c1480). Comprised of catgut strings configured in the shape of a half-triangle, it produced sounds by the use of quill-plectra crudely attached to the keys.
- Wells, Elizabeth. "Museum of Instruments: Catalogue, Part II Keyboard Instruments." Center for Performance History. Royal College of Music, 2005 – 2007. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
Another of the earliest ancestors of the harpsichord, the clavicymbalum had attached keys but no dampers. It was referred to as a monochordium by Johanness de Muris in a latin treatise, Musica Speculativa, as having the familiar triangular form with one curved side.