Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Vermeer painting: Young Woman Seated at a Harpsichord

The harpsichord was most probably invented in the late Middle Ages. By the 1500s, harpsichord makers in Italy were making lightweight instruments with low string tension. A different approach was taken in Flanders starting in the late 1500s, notably by the Ruckers family. Their harpsichords used a heavier construction and produced a more powerful and distinctive tone. They included the first harpsichords with two keyboards, used for transposition.

The harpsichord was widely used in Renaissance and Baroque music. During the late 18th century it gradually disappeared from the musical scene with the rise of the piano.

The piano: pressing a key on the piano's keyboard causes a felt covered hammer to strike steel strings. The hammers rebound, allowing the strings to continue vibrating at their resonant frequency.[1] These vibrations are transmitted through a bridge to a sounding board that couples the acoustic energy to the air so that it can be heard as sound. When the key is released, a damper stops the string's vibration.

The word piano is a shortened form of the word pianoforte, which is derived from the original Italian name for the instrument.

The invention of the modern piano is credited to Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731) of Padua, Italy, who was employed by Prince Ferdinand de Medici as the Keeper of the Instruments. He was an expert harpsichord maker and was well acquainted with the previous body of knowledge on stringed keyboard instruments. It is not known exactly when Cristofori first built a piano. An inventory made by his employers, the Medici family, indicates the existence of a piano by the year 1700; another document of doubtful authenticity indicates a date of 1698.[citation needed] The three Cristofori pianos that survive today date from the 1720s.[5]