Tracing the roots of the piano to the very beginning of consciousness, when man first became aware of sound.
The chekker appears, an unidentified English stringed keyboard instrument, debatably a clavichord or upright harpsichord, regarded in some circles as myth.
1361, Large Organ
The large organ in Halberstadt, Germany, was the first instrument to implement a 'chromatic key layout across its three manuals and pedalboard.'
A stringed keyboard of the box zither family, the harpsichord was first attributed to Hermann Poll, c.1397, and called the clavicymbalum. Unlike the clavichord, its strings are plucked with quills instead of struck with tangents made of small metal blades. It is from this point on in the development of the modern grand piano, the wing-like shape takes center stage, on account of the string length progression from treble to bass.
- Wikipedia. "History of the Harpsichord." Wikipedia. Wikipedia, 5 April 2015. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
- Sankey, John. "A Brief History of the Harpsichord." JohnSankey.CA. John Sankey, n.d. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
C.1400, Open Closed Notes
In England, a system of notation developed, much like it is today, with open and closed notes on the staff; and the first inclusion of ‘colouration,’ by composers.
1404, Clavichord Name
First record of the 'clavichord' name, from Eberhard Cersne's Der Minne Regel.
1425, Harpsichord Minden
The first known representation of the harpsichord (figured left) is on an altarpiece in the cathedral of Minden, Germany, 1425.
C.1450s, Hammered Dulcimer
At first believed to be of Persian origin but likely derived from Byzantium, the hammered dulcimer arrived in western Europe during the 15th century (Mid-1400s). A trapeziform box zither closely related to the psaltery, its strings were struck with light beaters, or hammers, instead of plucking or fingering. Two partitioning bridges on the soundboard divided courses of unfretted strings, providing extra chromatic notes. As the instrument evolved, the arrangement strings and additional bridges added to its complexity and versatility, and was likely a great inspiration in pushing the piano to become more expressive.
In many parts of the world, the dulcimer is known by different names, with corresponding attributes.
Thought to be the earliest surviving stringed keyboard instrument, perhaps originating from Ulm, an upright harpsichord of the clavicytherium variety with elaborate decorations and carvings.
- Wells, Elizabeth. "Museum of Instruments: Catalogue, Part II Keyboard Instruments." Center for Performance History. Royal College of Music, 2005 – 2007. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
Almost identical in construction to the oblong virginal and the harpsichord, the spinet, or bentside spinet, was thought to have gained popularity in the early 16th century and lasted for roughly a hundred years before being supplanted for the most part by the piano-forte.
A triangular shaped, jack-action keyboard instrument, wherein strings run transversely, at a 30 degree angle to the keyboard, moving toward the right and crossing a bent bridge to alter their resonance.
Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) would later create a larger version, called the spinettone, expanding the range of sound with multiple choirs of paired strings.
So-called because the instrument was played predominately by ‘maids and young ladies,’ and was the fitting expression for accompanying “sweet voices singing hymns,” the virginal became an improvement on the clavicytherium, replacing its strings with steel and iron instead of catgut. It did not displace the clavichord, though its improvements were evident. Queen Elizabeth possessed several Venetian specimens.
- Victoria and Albert Museum. "'Queen Elizabeth’s Virginal,' Giovanni Baffo, 1594." Victoria and Albert Museum. Victoria and Albert Museum, 2015. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.
- Rimbault, Edward Francis. The Pianoforte, Its Origin, Process, and Construction: With Some Account of the Same Class which Preceded It; Viz. the Clavichord, the Virginal, the Spinet, the Harpsichord, etc.; to which is Added a Selection of Interesting Specimens of Music Composed for Keyed-Stringed Instruments. London: R. Crocks and Company, 1860. Google Books. Web. 14 Sept. 2015.