First on First: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Piano

First on First – Each month we bring you the story of Italians and Italian Americans who accomplished firsts!


“The piano keys are black and white, but they sound like a million colors in your mind.”
Maria Cristina Mena 

BartolomeoCristoforiDid you know the piano was invented by an Italian? The inventor was a man named Bartolomeo Cristofori.

Bartolomeo was born on May 4, 1655 in Padua, Italy. Not much is known about his life, though we do know that he became an accomplished harpsichord builder. In fact, Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, requested his presence in Florence in 1690. After building numerous instruments for Prince Ferdinando, Bartolomeo invented the gravicembalo col piano e forte (translated to harpsichord that plays soft and loud) in 1709. The new instrument was nicknamed pianoforte, and later shortened simply to piano.

What set his invention apart from the harpsichord was the hammer mechanism that struck the strings that were connected to the keyboard which created sound. Depending on how hard or soft one played the pianoforte directly impacted how loud the sound produced was. The ability to change and control the volume on an instrument was truly a major breakthrough and changed the world of music forever.mi89.4.1219.AV1

Even though the piano has become the king of musical instruments, it was not well received in Italy during Bartolomeo’s lifetime. In fact, it was the Germans who popularized the instrument. Today there are three surviving piano’s created by Bartolomeo that are housed in museums around the world: the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, the Museum of Musical Instruments in Leipzig, Germany, and the National Museum of Musical Instruments in Rome.

Sources: Time Magazine, Google DoodleEncyclopædia Britannica

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