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Cristofori Piano - Metropolitan Museum, NYC

The First piano - Metropolitan Museum, NYC  (notation from the Met website)

Cristofori and the First Pianofortes
The first true piano was invented almost entirely by one man—Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655–1731) of Padua, who had been appointed in 1688 to the Florentine court of Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici to care for its harpsichords and eventually for its entire collection of musical instruments. A 1700 inventory of Medici instruments mentions an "arpicimbalo," i.e., an instrument resembling a harpsichord, "newly invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori" with

hammers and dampers, two keyboards, and a range of four octaves, C–c'''. The poet and journalist Scipione Maffei, in his enthusiastic 1711 description, named Cristofori's instrument a "gravicembalo col piano, e forte" ("harpsichord with soft and loud"), the first time it was called by its eventual name, pianoforte. A contemporary inscription by a Florentine court musician, Federigo Meccoli, notes that the "arpi cimbalo del piano e' forte" was first made by Cristofori in 1700, giving us a precise birthdate for the piano.


Additional notes from John:

Interestingly enough, the key layout of white and black keys (groups of 2 and 3 black keys) does not seem to have any history behind it and the origin of that configuration remains a mystery.  The first 'keyboard' was a water organ known as a 'Hydraulos' which operated a tube with a 'key' that opened and closed a valve to let water in and push a column of air against a pipe.  This around 300BC.  This was the precursor of the pipe organ which in turn was the precursor of the harpsichord and pianoforte.

 

Photo by John Reading

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