Bartolomeo Cristofori: the Padua-born man who invented the pianoDid you know that...
Bartolomeo Cristofori: the Padua-born man who invented the piano
Did you know that the inventor of the piano hailed from Padua? That’s true and his name was Bartolomeo Cristofori.
Bartolomeo Cristofori was born in Padua on 4 May 1655 by Francesco and Laura Cristofori. We do not know much about his life in Padua other than it was precisely here that young Bartolomeo learned how to craft harpsichords, violins and organs. His work as a harpsichord maker earned him such a great reputation that he was visited in his workshop in Padua by Prince Ferdinando de Medici, son of the then Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III, a great lover of musical instruments and esteemed cembalist. Impressed by Bartolomeo’s abilities, the Prince asked him to move to Florence and work for the Medici Court. Bartolomeo Cristofori accepted and in 1688 he moved to Florence.
Whilst in Florence, Bartolomeo worked on the musical instruments of the grand-ducal family and created new keyboard instruments by introducing a new feature that eventually revolutionized the history of music: he replaced the ‘salterelli’, which plucked the strings, with hammers that instead struck them and included an 'escapement' mechanism that made them go back into their original position. The innovations he made transformed the harpsichord into an instrument with dynamic capabilities that could, for the first time, be controlled by the performer who this way had control over the volume of the sound.
Precisely thanks to these brilliant modifications and a 1770 court document in which the first historically reliable reference of the piano is found, we can say that Bartolomeo Cristofori is to be considered the inventor of this wonderful instrument, at the time called ‘fortepiano’.
Cristofori first built three fortepiano models, and others in the following decades: currently, three pianos survive at the Museum of Musical Instruments in Rome, the Metropolitan Museum in New York and the Museum of Musical Instruments of Leipzig University.
He continued to work at the Medici court even after Ferdinand's death, thus perfecting his fortepiano. He also worked with Giovanni Ferrini, who later became one of the most important makers of what would become the modern piano, the result of successive improvements in materials and technique.
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