Monday, May 4, 2015

Bartolomeo Cristofori - Piano Inventor

  1. Bartolomeo Cristofori was credited to have invented the piano and he was born on 4 May 1655 in Padua, Northern Italy.
  2. He was employed by Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, as the Keeper of the Instruments.
  3. Cristofori was an expert harpsichord maker and was very familiar with the previous body of knowledge on creating stringed keyboard instruments.
  4. According to his employers, the Medici family, one of his pianos was already in existence by the year 1700. Another document of doubtful authenticity indicates that the piano was invented in the year 1698. Three pianos made by Bartolomeo Cristofori survive today. They all date from the 1720s.
  5. The piano is founded on earlier technological inventions. Why was the piano invented? The piano was perhaps a result of trying to improve on the clavier and harpsichord. The harpsichord was loud but it had no control of dynamics. There was little expressive control of each note and it was almost impossible to add emotion to the music. The clavier had a certain degree of dynamics but it was too quiet. The new invention, the piano was able to combine the loudness of the harpischord with the dynamics of the clavichord.
  6. He called his invention a “gravecembalo col piano e forte” – a clavichord with soft and loud. The name was shortened to pianoforte and then simply piano.
  7. Francesco Mannucci, a musician at the Medici court, described one early version as “a large ‘Arpicembalo’ [the name of a type of harpsichord] by Bartolomeo Cristofori, of new invention that produces soft and loud, with two sets of strings at unison pitch, with soundboard of cypress without rose”.
  8. It was Sebastian LeBlanc, a family friend who suggested that the black and white keys be switched on the piano. On Cristofori's earliest pianos, the accidental keys were white and the natural keys were black, the exact opposite of what exists today.
  9. Although Cristofori's early instruments were made with thin strings and were not as loud as modern pianos, the pianoforte (as it was called later) was considerably louder and had more sustaining power than the clavichord. It was now possible to evoke emotion into the music. Musicians were now able to control the volume of their instrument and composers could write with that important feature in mind.
  10. However, the piano was not popular at first and many felt it was too difficult to play. Cristofori died largely uncelebrated for an invention that would later change the musical world in 1731 – a year before the first sheet music for the piano appeared.
  11. The term “piano” is actually absurd. “Pianoforte” sounds as ridiculous to an Italian speaker as “softloud” does to English speakers!
  12. The oldest surviving piano was built by Cristofori in 1720 and is on display at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. It was painstakingly restored to playable condition by Stewart Pollens, who managed the Met’s collection of over 5000 instruments for three decades, until 2006.


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