The invention of Piano in Florence

Did you know that the piano was invented in Florence?

Indeed, the invention of the piano is due to the Italian Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua.
Cristofori, a citizen of the Republic of Venice was employed at the court of Ferdinando de’ Medici since 1688.

Portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori, 1726. Source: Wikipedia.

Portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori, 1726. Source: Wikipedia.

It is well known that in the harpsichord it is not possible to control the dynamics of the sound, since the strings are plucked.

Cristofori’s idea was to create an instrument in which the strings were struck by hammers, so as to obtain an instrument with dynamic possibilities controllable by the performer.

Cristofori built “un cimbalo di cipresso di piano e forte” (“a keyboard of cypress with soft and loud”), which was later called a “pianoforte” or “fortepiano”. From an inventory drawn up at the Medici court, we know that a piano had been built in the year 1700. Three instruments by Cristofori have come down to us, dating from the 1720s.

Piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1720) - New York, Metropolitan Museum. Source: Wikipedia.

Piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1720) – New York, Metropolitan Museum. Source: Wikipedia.

These early instruments were built with thin strings and had a lower sound volume than the modern piano, but higher than the clavichord, the only keyboard instrument of that time capable of dynamics.

Cristofori’s piano remained virtually unknown until, in 1711, the italian writer Scipione Maffei published an article describing the instrument and depicting its mechanism in a figure. This article was translated into German and contributed to the spread of the piano in Germany in the 1730s, when Gottfried Silbermann, a german maker of keyboard instruments, built his first pianos. Silbermann made an important addition to Cristofori’s piano: the forerunner of the modern sustain pedal, used to lift all the dampers from the strings at the same time. Interestingly, Bach, who had the opportunity to try one of these instruments, did not appreciate it. The piano eventually evolved to the complex instrument that we know today.

Bartolomeo Cristofori died in Florence on January 27, 1732 in the parish grounds of the church of San Jacopo tra i Fossi, where the death certificate was drawn up, and was later buried in Santa Croce.

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