The Cristofori Piano

Click here to view a Cristofori Piano.
Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence, Italy, 1722

Two Cristofori instruments from 1722 survive: this piano, now in the Museo degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome, and a harpsichord in Leipzig. Both have a four-octave compass with the strings tuned in unison. This piano is the smallest of the surviving instruments. Like the 1726 instrument, it features an inverted pin block with the tuning pins driven right through. The strings are attached to the lower ends, which leaves more room for the action and also leads to increased tuning stability, as the action of the hammer is towards the nut rather than away from it.

Harpsichord manufacturers went to great lengths to try to produce a mechanism that would give them the desired dynamic response. But it was Bartolomeo Cristofali (Cristofori), of Padua, keeper of instruments in the court of Prince Ferdinand de Medici of Florence, who actually solved the problem.

The date of Cristofori's first 'piano' is unclear. The 1700 inventory of the musical instruments belonging to the Florentine court includes an " arpicembalo che fà il piano e il forte" (a harpsichord that can play quietly and loudly). Later writings suggest this was built in about 1698. This was probably Cristofori's first pianoforte, although it has been suggested that he made a prototype as early as 1694.

A piano's sound comes from striking a string held under tension with some form of hammer. The string and soundboard assembly had been in existence for many years prior to Cristofori's work, but Cristofori managed to develop an effective mechanism that took the downward pressure on a key and used it to 'project' a small hammer towards the strings. The 'action' of a piano is that mechanism. Cristofori's piano had only 54 keys.

The pictures and text in the Virtual Piano Museum are copied with permission from Piano by David Crombie, published by Backbeat Books. This book is a beautiful volume of pictures and piano history. See more about it on its Web Page.

Photos Copyright 1995 Balafon, used by permission. All rights reserved


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