The invention

Hammerflügel von Bartolomeo CristoforiFlorenz 1726; Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig

Grand piano by Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence 1726; Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig

This is the latest of only three grands by Cristofori still existing. Like an Italian harpsichord it is to be stored in a separate outer case. The stringing is double, the hammer heads are cardboard rolls with leather covers (he changed the construction of his piano hammers over the years). Cristofori invented the pianoforte probably in 1698.

music sample:
(excerpt) Lodovico Giustini, Suonata V  for "cembalo con marteletti"
played by Luca Guglielmi
Instrument: Kerstin Schwarz & Tony Chinnery,
copy of the Cristofori 1726 grand


Cristofori  called his invention „Gravecembalo col piano e forte”. And from the outside there was hardly any difference to a proper Italian harpsichord. But his new mechanism(s) allowed the player to perform differenceds in loudness without changing stops. The strings were now struck with hammers not unlike those of a "salterio" (hammered dulcimer). At the end of the keys were dampers not unlike ordinary harpsichord jacks but without a quill but only a damper strip of red cloth.

Animation of the mechanism of the Bartolomeo Christofori 1726 grand:


Film: the Bartolomeo Cristofori piano in the Museum für Musikinstrumente der Universität Leipzig:

The public reactions were divided. Recognizing as something new took time - the instrument as another type of harpsichord meant that it required special training and lacked clarity and voluminous sound of the harpsichord.

For its further dissemination two printed descriptions of Cristofori's piano action were of great importance. The first by an acquaintance of Cristofori's, Scipione Maffei, appeared in spring 1711 in the widespread Giornale de’ Letterati. More than 10 years later the Dresden court poet Johann Ulrich König, an acquaintance of Gottfried Silbermann's, translated it into German, printed in  1725 in Johann Mattheson's Critica Musica II. This translation then inspired numerous copies and imitations of Cristofori's action.
The only more or less successful of the Cristofori-imitators was Gottfried Silbermann, and only after long trials and fairly careful copying or Cristofori's instruments. In 1732 he presented a„neues Instrument ..., so Piano Fort nennet“ (Zedler, Universal-Lexikon 5, Sp. 1804; "a new instrument ... so called Piano Fort) in Dresden, obviously soon also examined by Johann Sebastian Bach who, however, was far from enthusiastic critisizing the weak tone in the treble, dull bass, and the heavy touch.

Later in his life Johann Sebastian Bach should meet again the instruments of Silbermann, in the meantime improved further, for Frederic II had several built by Silbermann after 1740 for all his castles. Bach himself never cared to acquire a piano. It was for his sons that the piano had grown to importance: Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christian Bach belong to the most important early composers for the instrument.


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