May 4, 2010

Happy Birthday, Bartolomeo Cristofori

(Inventor of the Piano!)

On this day in 1655, Bartolomeo Cristofori was born in Padua in the Republic of Venice (now Italy). We don't know much about his early life, but we can assume that he received training in music and in making or repairing musical instruments, for when he was 33 years old, a prince recruited his services to take care of his many musical instruments.

Prince Ferdinando de Medici furnished Cristofori with a house in Florence where the latter could tune, repair, and even restore
musical instruments, including valuable harpsichords. He invented two new keyboard instruments, the spinettone and the oval spinet, and he built new instruments of already invented types, such as the clavicytherium (or upright harpsichord).

Finally, Cristofori started to work on a new keyboard instrument that was called an arpicembalo (harp-harpsichord), which Cristofori said could play soft and loud: ch fa il piano, e il forte. It is the Italian word for “soft,” piano, that ended up being attached to the new kind of instrument.

By 1711, Crist
ofori had built three pianos, one of which was given to a Catholic cardinal in Rome and the other which were sold. None of these first pianos have survived the three centuries between then and now. In 1713, Cristofori's patron, Prince Ferdinando, died. We know that Cristofori continued to make pianos, however, because the only three that have survived were all built in the 1720s.

(One is pictured here. The pianos are displayed or stored by museums in New York City, U.S., Rome, Italy, and Leipzig, Germany. They are all inscribed, “Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor, made this in Florence in 172-.” Of course, the words were in Latin, not English, and the actual year was noted.)
We don't know how many instruments he made altogether.

Another thing that didn't survive is the only known painting of Bartolomeo Cristofori. It was destroyed during World War II, and all we have now are black-and-white photos of the piece.

It's a pity that we know so little about this man who apparently was quite ingenious as he invented what is today one of the most popular musical instruments.

Celebrate Cristofori!

  • Play the piano. Here is a virtual keyboard you can use if you don't have one! (An electronic or virtual keyboard is not at all like Cristofori's invention!)
Learn how we make pianos today!

Have you ever seen...?


My daughter just pointed out to me that today is Star Wars Day.

MAY THE FOURTH be with you.

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