Bartolomeo Cristofori di Francesco was born in Padua in the Republic of Venice and lived from 1655 to 1731. When he was 33, he went to work for Prince Ferdinando de Medici. It was while under the prince's employ as a harpsichord and spinet maker that Cristofori invented what would become the modern piano. What made this pianoforte different from previous keyboards was that the keys of this instrument had the capacity to be played soft or loud. The piano went on to become the central instrument of classical music.
Little is known of the early life of Bartolomeo Cristofori other than he was born in 1655 in Padua which was in the then Republic of Venice and is now a part of modern-day Italy. It wasn't until he was 33 in the year 1688 that he was recruited by Prince Ferdinando de Medici who was heir to the Tuscany throne. Cristofori moved to Florence to take care of the prince's harpsichords and other musical instruments. He created and developed the piano between the years 1698 to 1708. By the time of the prince's death in 1713, Cristofori built four of these pianofortes. He continued to improve on the piano's design for the rest of his life. He died in 1731.
Prior to creating and developing the piano, Cristofori invented two other keyboards. The first was the spinettone which was a large harpsichord with slanted strings. The slanted strings meant that this instrument did not take up as much floor space in an orchestra while still creating the louder sound of other harpsichords. A second invention created by Cristofori was the oval spinet. This instrument's longest strings were found at the centre of its case. Cristofori is also credited with building instruments of existing types such as the upright harpsichord and the Italian harpsichord.
The Development of the Piano
Cristofori developed the piano between the years 1698 to 1708. He named this instrument the "harpsichord gravicembalo per suonare col forte e col piano." This creation was a stringed keyboard instrument with a hammer action. This gave it the ability to be played soft or loud whereas previous keyboard instruments did not have this ability. His pianos were expensive to make as they were highly complex and possessed features that later piano designers dropped to lower the price of their instruments. Cristofori's original pianos had a metallic sound and were not very loud. These were flaws that the inventor sought to correct for the remainder of his life.
There are ten instruments that have survived to today that were built by Cristofori. This list includes harpsichords, spinets and three pianos, one of which is found in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. At first, the response to the piano was not very warm as musicians of the 18th Century preferred the harpsichord. With improvements to the instrument, the piano grew in popularity. It became a versatile instrument capable of playing all musical styles. From Mozart onward, almost every major composer has used it. It is described as the heart of Western classical music.