The History And Legacy Of Fine European Pianos Part 2

I started out this particular series of the History And Legacy Of Fine European Pianos in hopes to finish it in 2 parts.  This may not be the case but I am going to try. If I have to continue I will post the next part as The History And Legacy Of Fine European Pianos Part 3.  Let me see if I can get it completed in only 2 parts.  There is just so much information I don’t want to confuse anyone.

Bartolomeo Cristofori:

Bartolomeo Cristofori was born in 1655 in Padua, Italy. He worked as a harpsichord maker in the court of Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici of Florence. It was during his time there that he developed his innovative ideas for a new keyboard instrument.

The History And Legacy Of Fine European Pianos Part 2

Cristofori Built The First Fine European Piano

Cristofori’s invention was initially called a “gravicèmbalo col piano e forte,” which translates to “harpsichord with soft and loud.” This name later evolved into the term “piano-forte” and eventually shortened to just “piano.”

The distinguishing feature of Cristofori’s pianos was the action mechanism he designed. This mechanism allowed the player to control the volume of sound produced by striking the keys with varying degrees of force. Unlike the harpsichord, where the volume remained constant regardless of how forcefully the keys were pressed, Cristofori’s mechanism enabled greater expressivity and dynamic range.

Cristofori achieved this dynamic control by introducing a hammer mechanism instead of the plectrums used in harpsichords. When a key was pressed, a lever would activate a small hammer to strike the strings, allowing the player to produce both soft and loud sounds. Furthermore, Cristofori’s design incorporated new features like escapement and the ability to play repeated notes rapidly.

Although Cristofori’s inventions were relatively unknown during his lifetime, his ideas and designs gradually gained recognition and were adopted by later instrument makers. The piano continued to evolve, with improvements made to the action mechanism, construction, and tonal quality.

Today, the piano is one of the most beloved and widely used musical instruments. Bartolomeo Cristofori’s pioneering work in the early 18th century paved the way for the instrument’s development and laid the foundation for the modern piano we know today. His fortitude and innovation in creating a keyboard instrument with dynamic control over volume have had a lasting impact on music history.

Spread of the Piano:

Countries developed their own unique approaches to piano making, contributing to the diverse range of pianos available in the market.

Germany, known for its precision engineering, began producing pianos with impeccable craftsmanship and a consistent tone.

Austrian piano makers focused on creating instruments with a warm and rich sound, often using specialized woods for their soundboards and hammers.

France, known for its elegance and sophistication, produced pianos with ornate designs and a lyrical sound.

English piano makers, on the other hand, focused on innovation and experimentation, introducing new features and designs to enhance the instrument’s capabilities.

As the popularity of the piano grew, these countries also became hubs for piano music and education. Numerous great composers and performers emerged from these regions, further enhancing the piano’s reputation and influence. Revolutionary piano compositions from composers like Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frédéric Chopin, and many others drove the demand for pianos even higher.

Over time, piano production techniques and designs continued to evolve, resulting in different styles and models catering to various tastes and preferences.

Today, the legacy of these European piano manufacturing centers can still be seen in the wide selection of pianos available worldwide, each with its own distinct characteristics and qualities.

Viennese Pianos:

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Vienna saw a flourishing musical culture, and the piano played a central role in this musical revolution. The city became a hub for piano innovation, attracting skilled craftsmen and musicians alike.

One of the key figures in the development of the Viennese piano was Anton Walter. Walter was a renowned piano maker who worked in Vienna during the late 18th century. He was known for his meticulous craftsmanship and his dedication to improving the piano’s design. Walter’s pianos were highly regarded for their clarity of tone, responsive touch, and dynamic range.

Johann Andreas Stein was another prominent piano maker who contributed to the development of the Viennese piano. Stein, originally from Germany, moved to Vienna and became a master craftsman in the city. He made significant improvements to the piano’s action, making it more sensitive and expressive. Stein’s pianos were sought after for their versatility and musicality. Continuing Steins legacy was his daughter Nannette Streicher which is credited for perfecting the Viennese action.

Amazing Women - A Woman Reshaped Pianos Forever

Nannette Streicher reshaped the piano industry

The Viennese piano developed several distinctive features that set it apart from other types of pianos. It had a lighter and more delicate construction, allowing for greater expressiveness and nuance in the music. The action was also lighter and more responsive, making it easier for pianists to achieve clarity and precision in their playing. The Viennese piano’s sound was characterized by its warm and singing quality, which made it particularly suited for intimate and expressive music.

Both Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Ludwig van Beethoven were avid supporters of the Viennese piano and composed their music specifically with these instruments in mind. Mozart’s piano concertos, for example, showcase the capabilities of the Viennese piano, with their delicate phrasing, ornamental passages, and subtle dynamics. Beethoven, on the other hand, was known to have a preference for the powerful sound and the expressive possibilities of the Viennese piano.

Overall, Vienna became a significant hub for piano innovation during this period, and the Viennese piano, with its clarity, responsiveness, and expressive qualities, played a crucial role in shaping the music of Mozart, Beethoven, and many other composers of the time.

French Pianos:

Érard’s double escapement action revolutionized piano playing in the early 19th century. Before this innovation, pianists had to fully release a key before they could play it again, limiting their ability to perform fast and intricate passages. The double escapement action allowed for keys to be played more rapidly and repeatedly, enabling pianists to execute virtuosic passages with precision and clarity.

Érard’s invention involved the addition of a second escapement mechanism, which allowed the hammer to return to its resting position quickly after being struck. This mechanism included a series of levers and springs that facilitated the rapid repetition of notes. Pianists could now play a key again before fully releasing it, making it possible to achieve a fast and even execution of notes.

Jean-Baptiste Streicher, (the son of Nannette and Johann Streicher of Germany)  another renowned piano maker in France, also made significant contributions to piano design during the same period. Streicher focused on creating instruments with a warmer and more rounded tone. He introduced innovations in the construction of the piano’s soundboard and strings, along with changes in the shape and size of the instrument.

Both Érard and Streicher’s contributions to piano design helped shape the instrument’s development and enhance its capabilities for musicians. Their innovations had a profound impact on piano playing techniques and influenced future generations of piano makers and performers. Today, their legacy continues to be recognized and celebrated in the piano industry.

German Pianos:

The rise of piano manufacturing in Germany, particularly in Leipzig, can be traced back to the 19th century. It was during this time that the Industrial Revolution was transforming many industries, including the production of pianos.

Leipzig, a city known for its cultural and musical heritage, became a hotspot for piano manufacturing. Many companies established their factories in the city and quickly gained recognition for their exceptional craftsmanship.

German pianos gained a reputation for their powerful and rich sound, as well as their durability. The meticulous attention to detail and high-quality materials used in their construction contributed to their superior sound quality and longevity.

The pianos produced in Germany, especially in Leipzig, were highly sought after by musicians and composers across Europe and beyond. Many legendary composers such as Johannes Brahms and Richard Wagner were known to own and play German pianos.

Johannes Brahms, a German composer and pianist, was particularly drawn to the German piano makers. He owned a Steinway piano and was a loyal supporter of the brand. Brahms believed that German pianos had a unique ability to produce the desired tonal quality that suited his musical style.

Richard Wagner, a German composer known for his operas, was also favorably inclined towards German pianos. He owned and praised the pianos manufactured by Steingraeber, which he found to be well-suited for his grand musical compositions.

The success and reputation of German piano manufacturers, including those in Leipzig, continued throughout the 20th century. They maintained their commitment to exceptional craftsmanship and innovative design, ensuring that German pianos remained highly sought after by musicians, institutions, and concert halls around the world

Technological Advancements:

The 19th century saw several significant advancements in piano design. One of the most important innovations was the introduction of the cast iron frame. This replaced the wooden frame used in earlier pianos and provided increased structural stability, allowing for higher string tension and thus greater volume and tonal range.

The history and legacy of Fine European Piano

Iron Plate Of A Fine European Piano

During this period, piano makers also experimented with different materials for the piano’s construction. One significant advancement was the use of steel wire instead of traditional brass wire for the piano strings. Steel wire provided increased tensile strength and better resistance to stretching, resulting in improved tuning stability and durability.

The combination of these innovations resulted in the development of the modern grand piano, which became the pinnacle of piano design. The grand piano featured a larger soundboard and longer strings, allowing for a richer and more powerful sound. Its improved construction and materials also meant that it could withstand the higher tension of the strings, resulting in a more stable instrument capable of finer nuances in touch and tone.

European piano makers, played a major role in refining and advancing piano design during this time. Their contributions in the 19th and early 20th centuries laid the foundation for the grand piano as we know it today, and their innovations continue to influence piano manufacturing around the world. .

European Influence Worldwide:

The reputation of European piano manufacturers as the standard of quality and craftsmanship dates back several centuries. European countries such as Germany, Austria, and Italy have a long tradition of piano making and have produced some of the finest instruments in history.

Moreover, European manufacturers have also played a significant role in piano innovation and development. Throughout history, they have made crucial advancements to piano design, such as the development of the early hammer mechanism by Bartolomeo Cristofori, the invention of the modern grand piano by Sebastien Erard, Nannette Stein’s Viennese action, and many others. These advancements have greatly influenced the evolution of the piano and have shaped the instrument as we know it today.

The global popularity of European pianos has also been bolstered by their extensive exportation. European manufacturers have actively sought to establish themselves in international markets, ensuring their instruments reach pianists and music enthusiasts worldwide. Through extensive marketing efforts and distribution networks, European pianos have become readily available in various countries, further increasing their visibility and accessibility.
European pianos are often associated with prestigious brands and historical legacy. This reputation for excellence has solidified the position of European pianos as the standard bearer for quality and craftsmanship in the piano industry.

While piano manufacturing has become more globalized in recent times, with the rise of Asian manufacturers such as Baldwin, Pearl River and Kawai, European pianos continue to hold a special place in the market. The combination of their historical legacy, commitment to quality, craftsmanship, and innovation has allowed European piano manufacturers to maintain their global popularity and influence the perception of how a piano should sound and feel.


European pianos are known for their clear, balanced, and expressive sound. They are often praised for their rich tonal palette, which allows musicians to create a wide range of dynamics and emotions. The responsiveness and sensitivity of the keys and action contribute to the expressiveness of the instrument, allowing performers to fully convey their musical intentions.

During the Romantic era in the 19th century, European pianos became an essential tool for composers and performers. The expressive capabilities of these pianos allowed musicians to convey their emotions and ideals through the instrument, giving rise to a new level of musical expression.

Additionally, European piano manufacturers have continued to innovate and improve their instruments throughout the years. They have embraced new technologies and materials while preserving the traditional craftsmanship and sound principles. This dedication to innovation has resulted in pianos that not only maintain a connection to the past but also embrace the possibilities of the future.

Today, European piano manufacturers continue to be at the forefront of the piano industry. Their instruments are used by pianists in concert halls, recording studios, and homes around the world. The reputation for producing high-quality instruments has been maintained through strict quality control, extensive research and development, and a commitment to excellence.

In conclusion, European pianos have left an indelible mark on the world of music. Their superior craftsmanship, exceptional sound, and historical association with great composers have solidified their legacy. European piano manufacturers continue to uphold their reputation for producing high-quality instruments, ensuring that their legacy will endure for generations to come.

Continued Innovation:

These piano makers are constantly pushing the boundaries of sound and design to create instruments that meet the demands of today’s musicians while maintaining the rich heritage of European piano making.

One way in which European piano makers are incorporating modern materials is through the use of carbon fiber in piano construction. Carbon fiber is a lightweight and strong material that allows for greater precision in the construction of piano components. It offers improved stability, durability, and a more consistent sound across the entire range of the instrument.

By utilizing carbon fiber, piano makers can create instruments that are more resistant to changes in temperature and humidity, ensuring that they perform at their best in any environment.

Furthermore, European piano makers are integrating modern technologies into their instruments, such as advanced soundboard designs and computer modeling. These technologies allow for greater control over the tonal qualities of the piano, resulting in instruments that offer a wide range of expressive capabilities.

Piano makers can now use precise measurements and calculations to optimize the shape and placement of the soundboard, enhancing the resonance and projection of the instrument.

In addition to technological advancements, European piano makers continue to value traditional craftsmanship. They understand the importance of handcrafting and the attention to detail that goes into creating a high-quality instrument. Skilled artisans carefully shape the wood, hand-polishing the surfaces, and meticulously aligning the strings and hammers.

This craftsmanship ensures that each piano has its own unique character and sound, contributing to the legacy of European piano making.

European piano makers are also exploring innovative designs that enhance the player’s experience and ergonomics. Piano actions and pedals are refined for improved responsiveness and control, allowing musicians to fully express their musical intentions. By incorporating these design advancements, European piano makers are making their instruments more accessible and comfortable for performers of all levels.

The Best Piano Store In The Bay Area

The Best Piano Store In The Bay Area

In conclusion, European piano makers are successfully blending modern materials and technologies with traditional craftsmanship to create innovative instruments. They are meeting the needs of today’s musicians while preserving the legacy of European piano making. By embracing innovation and craftsmanship, European piano makers continue to push the boundaries of what is possible in piano design and construction.

Since 1979 R. Kassman Piano has established it’s business around Fine European Pianos and I am so glad to continue that legacy.  When Ric Overton bought the company in 2019 I was determined to carry on the legacy that R. Kassman Piano has created and committed to keeping R. Kassman Piano the best piano store in the Bay Area.

Ric Overton