Three of our next four concerts will involve the piano in some form – Eve Egoyan in a solo piano concert; the Gryphon Trio; and baritone Phillip Addis accompanied by pianist Emily Hamper. It started me wondering – who invented this marvelous instrument?
Bartolomeo Cristofori is considered the inventor of the modern piano. Born in 1655 in Padua, he lived until 1731. In 1688, he was employed by Ferdinando de Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. Ferdinando was a lover of music and patron of the arts, played the harpsichord, and had an extensive instrument collection (84 at the time of his death in 1713). Cristofori became his keeper of the instruments and along with maintaining the growing collection, added to it with his own musical instrument inventions – a spinettone, an oval spinet, and a clavicytherium (an upright harpsichord). Around 1700, Cristofori built what he called an Arpicembalo. It could be played to produce sounds both soft (piano) and loud (forte) and eventually the name became the more familiar pianoforte. While the current piano has changed slightly since then with additional inventions from others, Cristofori’s arpicembalo contained all of the elements (hammers, strings, soundboard, etc.) that are found in modern day pianos, with only 4 octaves. Three of his original pianos from 1720 still exist today along with a spinettone, two oval spinets, and a few of his harpsichord. Several of these instruments are at the Museum of Musical Instruments of the University of Leipzig, Germany.