Happy Birthday Inventor of Piano


Today’s Google doodle celebrates the 360th birthday of Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco, who was credited with inventing the modern piano. Bartolomeo Cristofori was born on May 4, 1655 in Padua, Republic of Venice in Northern Italy. At the age of 33, he was employed by Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany. He was hired not only to be a musical instrument technician, but also possibly as a musical instrument inventor. Cristofori was an expert harpsichord (as piano was known earlier) maker and was familiar with the previous body of knowledge on creating stringed keyboard instruments. In 1690, he invented two other keyboards, the spinetonne and the oval spinet.


The first piano model was implemented by Bartolomeo Cristofori at the Florentine Court of Cosimo Terzo de’ Medici. Cristofori’s idea was to create a harpsichord with sound dynamics which could be controlled by the performer. The novelty was the application of a hammer mechanism to the harpsichord. His major success as an inventor was that he successfully solved the main problem of the hammer striking the string but not remaining in contact with it and dampening the sound. He called his invention ‘gravicembalo col piano e forte’ – a clavichord with soft and loud in reference to the instrument’s ability to produce varying volumes based on how hard or soft the key is struck. Towards the end of ‘700 the name was shortened to ‘fortepiano’ and then to ‘piano’.


Generally Cristofori’s invention is regarded as the first real piano, even though other musical instrument makers had tried to address the problem with the harpischord. A document with doubtful authenticity indicates that the piano was invented in 1698. As per his employers, one of his pianos was already in existence by the year 1700. On the blog dedicated to it’s doodles, Google wrote, “Cristofori apparently invented the piano around 1709, and, according to contemporary sources, four of his pianos existed in 1711”. Three pianos made by Bartolomeo Cristofori which date from the 1720s are found. One at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City (1720, 89.4.1219), one at the Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome (1722), and one at the Musikinstrumenten – Museum of Leipzig University (1726).


Google doodler, Leon Hong, in this interactive doodle features the mechanism with animation showing a figure of Cristofori playing a melody from Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’. The user can turn the piano’s volume up or down to see the mechanism enhancing or dampening the sound. However, the instrument was not popular, as many found it too difficult to play. It became well known after Cristofori’s death in 1731, when the Germans popularized the instrument through music related articles. Piano, considered the king of musical instruments, proved a major medium for the genius of Frederic Chopin, Ludwig Van Beethoven and many other great composers.


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