May 4 - Happy Birthday, Bartolomeo Cristofori

Posted on May 4, 2021

This is an update of my post published on May 4, 2010:

On this day in 1655, Bartolomeo Cristofori was born in Padua in the Republic of Venice (below shown in green). Of course, this region is now a part of 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 from a nearby country, Florence (also now part of Italy), 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; the other two 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 of Cristofori's pianos is pictured above. The three pianos are displayed or stored in 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 are in Latin, not English, and the actual year iss noted.

We don't know how many instruments Cristofori 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 - the man who 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!)

Listen to some piano music. Try Scott Joplin's “The Entertainer” or the Beatles' "Let It Be."


Composer Scott Joplin is considered the King of Ragtime!

Here is a fascinating look at a piano performance requiring more than one person! (Look, ma! Three hands!) 

Sometimes it's fun to listen to music that wasn't originally composed for piano or performed on piano, now played on piano. As examples, check out this medley of hip-hop songs on piano and this punk rock song played as a beautiful ballad.



To hear piano combined with other instruments, try jazz composer Hiromi or George Gershwin'sRhapsody in Blue."

There are lots of fun things you can do with a piano, including some games for little kids and apps for learning piano for older kids.


Learn how we make pianos today!

Find out here.

Have you ever seen...?

...this giant piano? (It makes it more fun to use the stairs!)

...Rowan Atkinson playing an invisible piano? (Not really, of course--but it's funny!)

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