LISTEN: The Earliest Known Piano in Existence:
In the early 1700s, Bartolomeo Cristofori invented what would become the ‘king of instruments’, the piano. The early pianos were a vast improvement over their immediate predecessors the harpsichord. The pianos had a wider range and the hammers hit the strings instead of plucking them, allowing the musician to vary the volume of their notes. (An obvious plus.)
But what did the first piano sound like? The early pianos sounded quite different from the modern instruments that we know today. The early pianos lacked a metal plate, were quite light and lacked the range of pianos today. One good way to describe the sound they produced, is that they sounded like a mix between the earlier harpsichords and a modern piano. The Cristofori Piano that resides in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York has been restored to playable condition. (Although there is some question on whether the restoration changed the sound.)
In the recording below Dongsok Shin performs the Sonata in d minor, K.9 by Domenico Scarlatti on the earliest known surviving piano in the world. When composed the piece being performed was played on both harpsichords and the first new pianos.
An Ongoing Legacy – Newfound Respect
Cristofori’s invention required extraordinary talent and ingenuity to complete. Today’s complex piano action remains remarkably similar to the action inside of Cristofori’s 300 year old instruments. His work was well respected during his time and the pianoforte spread throughout Europe and beyond. After his death there was some confusion as some attempted to credit German inventor Gottfried Silbermann as the piano’s creator. Like many inventors, Cristofori became somewhat forgotten. Over time however Cristofori retook his rightful place as the man credited with the invention of the ‘king of instruments.’
Thanks to the internet, more and more people have come to know who invented the instrument that has been at the center of many people’s musical lives for years. (Google even dedicated their logo doodle to him on his birthday in May of 2015.) Cristofori’s music legacy and his first piano is sure to survive well into the future, as it has over the past several centuries.
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