P I A N O   3 0 0
Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos


The Exhibition: In the Beginning

Portrait of the piano's inventor, Bartolomeo Cristofori.

Courtesy of Tony Bingham


Since its invention three hundred years ago, the piano has played its way into the hearts and homes of music lovers around the world. It has inspired composers, inventors, and performers. It has made a place for itself in palaces and concert halls, in middle-class parlors and working men's honky-tonks, in church halls and jazz clubs. During three centuries, the piano has revolutionized the way people play and experience music.

The story began in Florence, Italy, about 1700. In that year an inventory of musical instruments owned by Prince Ferdinando de' Medici described "a kind of harpsichord (Arpicimbalo) newly invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori [1655-1732], which plays soft (piano) and loud (forte)." A few lines down, it adds: "and some hammers (martelli) that produce the soft and the loud." In time, the term piano e forte became pianoforte, and eventually was shortened to piano.

The leading keyboard instrument of the day, the harpsichord, made its sound by plucking wire strings. The piano's sound was made by leather-covered hammers striking the strings and bouncing away. This innovation let players control the loudness or softness of each note, opening up new ways of adding emotion and expression to the music.


Grand Piano, 1722
Maker: Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence

Lent by: Museo Nazionale degli strumenti musicali, Rome


In the Beginning

Across Europe and Beyond

Pianos In the Home

Romantic Superstars


Americans Take the Lead

Pianos for Everyone

New Communities, New Voices

Circling the Globe


[Introduction] [Performances, Tours and More] [Exhibition] [Timeline]
[Credits] [Donors and Collaborators ] [Play Some Music!] [Piano Resources]

Piano 300
American History
National Museum of American History