For those who love all things Italian... 

                                                  BARTOLOMEO CRISTOFORI, THE INVENTOR OF THE PIANO...

Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco (May 4, 1655 - January 27, 1732) was an Italian maker of musical instruments, regarded as the inventor of the piano. Cristofori was born in Padua in the Republic of Venice. Nothing is known of his early life.


In 1688, at age 33, he was recruited to work for Prince Ferdinando de Medici. Ferdinando, a lover and patron of music, was the son and heir of Cosimo III, who was one of the last of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Tuscany was at a time still a small independent state.


Cristofori agreed to the appointment, as a salary of 12 scudi per month. He moved rather quickly to Florence (May 1688; his job interview having taken place in March or April), was issued a house, complete with utensils and equipment, by the Grand Duke's administration, and set to work. For the Prince, he tuned, maintained, and transported instruments; worked on his various inventions, and also did restoration work on valuable older harpsichords


During the remaining years of the 17th century, Cristofori invented two keyboard instruments before he began his work on the piano. One was the spinettone, Italian for "big spinet". This was a large, multi-choired spinet (a harpsichord in which the strings are slanted to save space). Most spinets have just one choir of strings. This invention may have been meant to fit into a crowded orchestra pit for theatrical performances, while having the louder sound of a multi-choired instrument. The other invention (1690) was the highly original oval spinet, a kind of virginals with the longest strings in the middle of the case.


Cristofori's piano invention begins as follows:

Un Arpicembalo di Bartolomeo Cristofori di nuova inventione, ch fa' il piano, e il forte, a' due registri principali unisoni, con fond di cipresso senza rosa..." (boldface added) 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..."

The term "Arpicembalo", literally "harp-harpsichord", was not generally familiar in Cristofori's day. Pollens therefore conjectures that this is what 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) intrument was a mere four octaves, C - C'.


Another document referring to the earliest piano is 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 [sic] of Padua in the year 1700, harpsichord maker to the Most Serene Grand Prince Ferdinand of Tuscany. (transl. Stewart Pollens)


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


Cristofori continued to make pianos until near the end of his life, continually making improvements in his invention. In his senior years, he was assisted by Giovanni Ferrini, who went on to have his own distinguished career, continuing his master's tradition. There is tentative evidence that there was another assistant, P. Domenico Dal Mela, who went on in 1739 to build the first upright piano.