Bartolomeo Cristofori: Google Doodle

Bartolomeo Cristofori: Inventor of the piano

You may have never heard of Bartolomeo Cristofori (born May 4, 1655), but you definitely know his invention. Bartolomeo Cristofori was an Italian musical instrument maker credited with inventing the pianoforte, or the piano. One of his biggest innovations was creating a hammer mechanism that struck the strings on a keyboard to create sound. The use of a hammer made it possible to produce softer or louder sounds depending upon how light or hard a player pressed on the keys. In fact, that’s how Bartolomeo Cristofori’s new instrument got its name – in Italian, piano means soft, while forte means loud. Being able to change the volume was a major breakthrough.

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Erfinder des Pianos: Google Doodle

The first appearance of the piano

It was thought for some time that the earliest mention of the piano is from a diary of Francesco Mannucci, a Medici court musician, indicating that Bartolomeo Cristofori was already working on the piano by 1698. However, the authenticity of this document is now doubted. The first unambiguous evidence for the piano comes from the 1700 inventory of the Medici mentioned in the preceding section.

The term “Arpicembalo”, literally “harp-harpsichord”, was not generally familiar in Bartolomeo Cristofori’s day. Edward Good infers that this is what Bartolomeo Cristofori himself wanted his instrument to be called. Our own word for the piano, however, is the result of a gradual truncation over time of the words shown in boldface above.

The Medici inventory goes on to describe the instrument in considerable detail. The range of this (now lost) instrument was a mere four octaves, C to c″″′.

Another document referring to the earliest piano is a marginal note made by one of the Medici court musicians, Federigo Meccoli, in a copy of the book Le Istitutioni harmoniche by Gioseffo Zarlino. Meccoli wrote:

These are the ways in which it is possible to play the Arpicimbalo del piano e forte, invented by Master Bartolomeo Christofani  of Padua in the year 1700, harpsichord maker to the Most Serene Grand Prince Ferdinand of Tuscany. (transl. Stewart Pollens)

According to Scipione Maffei’s journal article, by 1711 Bartolomeo Cristofori had built three pianos. One had been given by the Medici to Cardinal Ottoboni in Rome, and two had been sold in Florence.

Bartolomeo Cristofori’s pianos

The total number of pianos built by Bartolomeo Cristofori is unknown. Only three survive today, all dating from the 1720s.

  • A 1720 instrument is located in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. This instrument has been extensively altered by later builders: the soundboard was replaced in 1938, and the 54-note range was shifted by about half an octave, from F’, G’, A’–c”’ to C–f”. Although this piano is playable, according to builder Denzil Wraight “its original condition … has been irretrievably lost,” and it can provide no indication of what it sounded like when new.
  • A 1722 instrument is in the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome. It has a range of four octaves (C-c³) and includes an “una corda” stop; see below. This piano has been damaged by worms and is not playable.
  • A 1726 instrument is in the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University. Four octaves (C-c³) with “una corda” stop. This instrument is not currently playable, though in the past recordings were made.

The three surviving instruments all bear essentially the same Latin inscription: BARTHOLOMAEVS DE CHRISTOPHORIS PATAVINUS INVENTOR FACIEBAT FLORENTIAE where the date is rendered in Roman numerals. The meaning is “Bartolomeo Cristofori of Padua, inventor, made this in Florence in date.”

Design of the Pianos

The piano as built by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the 1720s boasted almost all of the features of the modern instrument. It differed in being of very light construction, lacking a metal frame; this meant that it could not produce an especially loud tone. This continued to be the rule for pianos until around 1820, when iron bracing was first introduced. Here are design details of Bartolomeo Cristofori’s instruments:

Portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano.
Portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori, inventor of the piano.

Bartolomeo Cristofori’s Original Pianos

You can check out Bartolomeo Cristofori’s original pianos at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or at the museum in New York City, at the Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome, and at the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University in Germany.

 FAQ about the Bartolomeo Cristofori Doodle

What music is playing in the doodle ? How did you go about recording it?

The melody is from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. It was important to me to have a piece that was from the same time period as Cristofori’s life. In addition, I was also looking for a memorable tune composed of notes with all the same duration so it would fit nicely with the animations. The timing and loudness had to be precise and consistent so I plotted the notes using software and rendered the sound files with a virtual piano instrument.