Hulking yet beautiful, pianos have demonstrated their staying power again and again in the more than 300 years after its creation. If you've ever taken piano lessons--or even admired Mozart's Requiem in Minor D, you'll know that the piano's popularity is by design.
So who invented the piano? As the story goes, piano inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori was an avid harpsichord player who was quick to point out that instrument's flaws. Unlike its predecessor, Cristofori's piano, which he called the gravicembalo col piano forte--meaning, harpsichord with soft and loud--provided more dimension. The piano's flexibility in sound has made it the favorite of amateurs and seasoned musicians looking to spice up their style.
The piano has surely suffered from lackluster sales in recent years, as costs remain stubbornly high for the instrument. (A new Steinway piano, for instance, can retail for north of $100,000.) Still, its sound has hardly faded from popular consciousness.
Thanks to mobile technology and synthesizers, the piano remains as ubiquitous as it was in the 18th century. Beyond that, its hammer and chord construction, which allows the piano to adjust the intensity of notes depending on how hard the instrument is played, has also contributed to the piano's popularity.
"Sound and style go together," pianist and jazz musician Aaron Goldberg told The Daily Beast. "Ten pianists will all sound totally different playing the same piano, which makes the instrument versatile."
It's that versatility, which has helped the instrument not only get it's start but also make a lasting mark on the world. In design circles this is called agility or agile design. Think about it: a book that gets translated into multiple languages is more likely to be read by more people. Similarly, a product that can accomodate different electrical outlets might be more in demand globally. Further, products are considered agile if they evolve over time. In other words, even after they're made and purchased, they change. This is apparent among pianos, which can broadcast different sounds with age.
"A pianist grows and evolves for decades in relation to the instrument, eventually reaching a point where his or her sound might be identifiable in a single note," jazz musician Vijay Iyer told The Daily Beast.
The piano itself is a product of a string of tinkerers striving to perfect the harpsichord. Starting with Cristofori's design, which was similar to a grand piano, the keyboard instrument went through many iterations including the more compact upright piano and recently, the digital piano. Still, traditional pianos have a richness in melody inherent in their wooden frames and vibrating strings that's hard to deny.
"From a design perspective," adds Goldberg. "The piano long ago achieved something surprisingly close to perfection."