From grand to upright to electronic, the piano has undergone a number of reinventions over the past three hundred years as musical tastes and needs have changed. With the start of National Piano Month on September 1, the IDHH would like to explore the history and influence of this versatile instrument on the wide world of music. Most sources point to the Italian instrument maker Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco as the inventor of the early piano. While the exact timeline of Cristofori’s work is murky, he undeniably had mastered the elements of modern piano action and created a piano (the fortepiano) by the early 1700s. While older keyboard instruments such as the clavichord and the harpsichord allowed for either dynamic control over individual notes or access to a loud, resonant sound, Cristofori’s fortepiano was revolutionary because it enabled players’ greater command of the instrument’s expressive tone and volume.
Over the next three centuries, variations in piano shape and design would multiply as renowned composers such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Frédéric Chopin wrote pieces specifically for the instrument, bringing greater attention and demand for the piano. By the 1860s, the upright piano had become a more practical and accessible musical option for use in private homes, as groups could now listen to simplified piano arrangements of popular music and enjoy an evening of tuneful entertainment together. Further innovations to piano design and construction were developed in the 20th century with the advent of electric and digital instruments, applying the technological advances of the era to the art of music making. Illinois has had its own role in the history of the piano, from William Wallace Kimball’s successful Kimball Piano Company in Chicago, to the numerous talented pianists such as Lillian (Lil) Hardin Armstrong who made Illinois their artistic home and contributed to the vibrant musical culture of the state.
Below are a few of our favorite items featuring the versatility of the piano:
As another year comes to a close and 2022 looms large on the horizon, the IDHH would like to devote a post to the ways in which we reconnect, recharge, and renew ourselves during these busy holiday weeks. As a nod to the ways in which we all might choose to close out this year, we have featured a few forms of togetherness and entertainment from years past.
Invented by American Thomas Edison in 1877, the phonograph was the first sound machine that could both record and reproduce sound. The earliest “record player”, these devices consisted of a stylus or needle which traced the grooves etched upon a rotating cylinder and then amplified the sound waves through a flared horn. By 1890, record manufacturers had begun to mass-produce their product, allowing consumers to assemble their own record collections and share their favorite music with friends and family.
While previous generations may not have had the ability to binge-watch an entire season of TV together over the course of a weekend, they could enjoy dazzling depictions of scenes and far-off places from the comfort of their very own homes using a magic lantern. Widely accepted to have been invented by Dutch scientist Christiaan Huygens in the 17th century, the magic lantern created large-scale projections from images on transparent glass plates by manipulating one or more lenses and a light source. With these larger images, a magic lantern was preferable for large groups of viewers and was commonly used for entertainment purposes from the 18th century until the mid-20th century.
However we choose to spend these last moments of 2021 together – whether that’s listening to music, dancing with our favorite dance partner, or watching a feel-good movie – the IDHH wishes everyone a joyous holiday season and a wonderful New Year!
The Sousa Archives houses thousands of pages of sheet music, musical instruments, and other historical artifacts pertaining to America’s diverse music heritage. Among these is a fascinating collection of early and experimental guitars, including some of the first electric Hawaiian guitars produced. Included below are an assortment of these unique guitars, including table and lap-style guitars developed by Eddie Alkire and produced by the Rickenbacker and Epiphone guitar companies, as well as Alkire’s modified 12-string acoustic Oahu GUITAR.