Bartolomeo Cristofori - The Inventor of the Piano

Bartolomeo Cristofori (May 4, 1655 – January 27, 1731) was a very famous Italian luthier, musician and maker of many musical instruments, known today as an inventor of the first piano and the men who was responsible for his popularization across Italy.

Bartolomeo Cristofori

Very little is known about his early life, except that he was born in Padua in the Republic of Venice on May 4 1655. He spent his youth and adolescence serving as the apprentice to the Nicolò Amati (1596 - 1684), one of the best Italian violin makers of his time and one of the most popular members of the Amati Family of violin makers that was active from middle of 16th century to the middle of 18th century. Bartolomeo stayed in Republic of Venice until the age 33 when he got his lucky break. In 1688 he caught the attention of the Ferdinando de Medici, son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III. He was recruited to become his official violin maker and musician. With support from Ferdinando de Medici, Bartolomeo Cristofori got his chance to innovate, which prompted him to move to Florence and start working on new instruments. His first work included several keyboard instruments - one “spinettone” and one “oval spinet”, and many other models of medieval clavicytherium, harpsichords and other instruments. By 1698 it was presumed that Bartolomeo started creation of first piano. First concrete evidence of the existence of Cristofori’s piano came from the 1700 inventory that mentioned “pianoforte” that combined the elements of harp, dulcimer and keyboard. By 1711, historians confirmed that Cristofori managed to create three fully working pianos, two of which were sold in France and one were given to the Cardinal Ottoboni (1667 - 1740) in Rome, famous patron of music in art in 18th century Italy.

Death of his patron Ferdinando de Medici in 1713 did not cause problems to Bartolomeo Cristofori, who continued working in the court of Medici but he sold his instruments all around the Europe. From that time, his most notable piano sale happened when king of Portugal bought one of its instruments.

Even after the decline of the influence of the Medici family, Cristofori continued creating pianos to the moment of his death. He trained several apprentices, and tried to innovate with many more designs (the true innovation would come after his death when his apprentice Domenico Dal Mela managed to create first upright piano).

Bartolomeo Cristofori died on January 27, 1731 in Florence, leaving behind numerous pianos, of which only three survived to this day. Frist piano dated from 1720 is housed in Metropolitan Museum in New York, second from 1722 can be found in Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome, and final third one made in 1726 is in Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University.