Bartolomeo Cristofori was an Italian musical instrument maker credited with inventing the piano. His 360th birthday is celebrated with a Google Doodle on May 4, 2015.
Read on for what you need to know:
1. He Was Born in 1655
Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco was born on May 4, 1655 in Padua in the Republic of Venice. At the time, the Republic of Venice (late 7th century until 1797) was a state originating from the city of the same name in Northeastern Italy with borders in modern Italy, Slovenia, and Croatia.
The Republic of Venice was known for its economic and trading power. According to The International Dictionary of Historic Places: Southern Europe, Venice had risen out of the ashes of the fallen Roman Empire. Wikipedia writes:
…the original population of Venice consisted of refugees from Roman cities near Venice such as Padua, Aquileia, Treviso, Altino and Concordia (modern Portogruaro) and from the undefended countryside, who were fleeing successive waves of Germanic and Hun invasions.
Cristofori lived in the Republic at the tail end of its existence. He died on January 27, 1731. The Republic fell to Napoleon Bonaparte 35 years later in 1796.
2. He Worked for the Medicis
After Cristofori’s birth, nothing is known of his early life. He didn’t reappear in the annals of history until 1688 when, at the age 33, he was recruited to work for Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. At the time, Tuscany was an independent state.
Ferdinando was a learned musician and was a patron of musicians. He hired Cristofori to not only be a musical instrument technician, but also possibly as a musical instrument inventor. While there is no historical record of Cristofori’s inventiveness prior to his hiring by Ferdinando, historians assume that he had some sort of record that preceded him and caused Ferdinando to bring him into his court.
Cristofori then moved to Florence.
3. He Invented Other Keyboard Instruments
Prior to inventing the piano, Cristofori invented two other keyboard instruments.
The first was a the spinettone, a kind of harpsichord. The second was the more original oval spinet, invented in 1690.
Cristofori invented the oval spinet as a way to bolster the strength of the harpsichord. To learn more about the curious instrument, click here.
4. He Started Working on the Piano in 1698
The first piano (now lost) was mentioned in the diary of Francesco Mannucci, a Medici court musician. He wrote:
A large “Arpicembalo” 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…”
What made Cristofori’s invention so incredible was his creation of a hammer mechanism that hit keyboard strings to create sound. Depending upon how hard the player hit the keys on the keyboard, the hammer mechanism would hit the strings accordingly and the player was able to create softer or louder sounds.
It’s how the piano got its name. Originally the piano was known as the “pianoforte.” In Italian, piano means soft and forte means loud. Having the ability to change between the two was groundbreaking. Eventually its name got shortened to “piano.”
5. There Are Only 3 Original Pianos Left
While it’s unknown how many pianos Cristofori himself built, today there are only three surviving pianos known to be built by him personally. They were all built in the 1720s and are located in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome, and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University.
Because of Cristofori’s contribution to the musical world, we can not only thank him for Mozart and Beethoven, but Elton John, Billy Joel, and many, many more.