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Tim's energy project

Page history last edited by 5gtim 14 years, 9 months ago

The invetor of the piano was Bartolomeo Cristofori. He was born in Padua, the republic of Venice. Nothing is known of his early life. A tale is told that he served as an apprentice to the great violin maker Nicolò Amati, based on the appearance in a 1680 census record of a "Christofaro Bartolomei" living in Amati's house in Cremona. However, as Stewart Pollens points out (see References below), this person cannot be Bartolomeo Cristofori, since the census records an age of 13, whereas Cristofori according to his baptismal record would have been 25 at the time.Pollens also doubts the authenticity of the cello and double bass instruments sometimes attributed to Cristofori.

Probably the most important event in Cristofori's life is the first one of which we have any record: in 1688, at age 33, he was recruited to work for Prince Ferdinando de Medici. Ferdinando, a lover and patron of music, was the son and heir of Cosimo III, who was one of the last of the Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Tuscany was at a time still a small independent state.

It is not known what led Ferdinando to recruit Cristofori. The Prince traveled to Venice in 1688 to attend the Carnival, so he may have met Cristofori passing through Padua on his way home. Ferdinando was looking for a new technician to take care of his many musical instruments, the previous incumbent having just died. However, it seems possible that the Prince wanted to hire Cristofori not just as his technician, but specifically as an innovator in musical instruments. It would be surprising if Cristofori at age 33 had not already shown the inventiveness for which he later became famous.

The evidence—all circumstantial—that Cristofori may have been hired as an inventor is as follows. According to Stewart Pollens, there were already a number of qualified individuals in Florence who could have filled the position; however, the Prince passed them over, and paid Cristofori a higher salary than his predecessor. Moreover, Pollens notes, "curiously, [among the many bills Cristofori submitted to his employer] there are no records of bills submitted for Cristofori's pianofortes ... This could mean that Cristofori was expected to turn over the fruits of his experimentation to the court." Lastly, the Prince was evidently fascinated with machines (he collected over forty clocks, in addition to a great variety of elaborate musical instruments), and would thus be naturally interested in the elaborate mechanical action that was at the core of Cristofori's work on the piano.

Maffei's interview reports Cristofori's memory of his conversation with the Prince at this time:

che fu detto al Principe, che non volevo; rispos' egli il farò volere io.

which Giuliana Montanari (reference below) translates as:

The prince was told that I did not wish to go; he replied that he would make me want to

This suggests that the Prince may have felt that Cristofori would be a prize recruit and was trying to charm him into accepting his offer; consistent again with the view that the Prince was attempting to recruit him as an inventor.

In any event, Cristofori agreed to the appointment, as a salary of 12 scudi per month. He moved rather quickly to Florence (May 1688; his job interview having taken place in March or April), was issued a house, complete with utensils and equipment, by the Grand Duke's administration, and set to work. For the Prince, he tuned, maintained, and transported instruments; worked on his various inventions, and also did restoration work on valuable older harpsichords (for this work, see reference by Grant O'Brien, below).

At this time, the Grand Dukes of Tuscany employed a large staff of about 100 artisans, who worked in the Galleria dei Lavori of the Uffizi. Cristofori's initial work space was probably in this area, which did not please him. He later told Maffei:

che da principio durava fatica ad andare nello stanzone in questo strepito

It was hard for me to have to go into the big room with all that noise (tr. Montanari)

Concerning how the Prince reacted to Cristofori's unhappy feelings, there is scholarly disagreement. According to Stewart Pollens, the interaction went as follows:

che da principio durava fatica ad andare nello stanzone in questo strepito; che fu detto al Principe, che non volevo; rispos' egli il farò volere io.

At the beginning it was very tiring or him to be in the large room with this deafening noise ... he told the prince that he did not want it so; the latter responded, he will do it, I wish it.

It can be seen that the very same words from the Maffei interview ("rispos' egli il farò volere io") have been interpreted by Montanari and Pollens in radically different ways, one portraying the Prince as charming if imperious, the other as harsh. In any event, Cristofori did eventually obtain his own workshop, usually keeping one or two assistants working for him.In Cristofori's pianos, there are two strings per note, throughout the compass. Modern pianos use three strings in the mid and upper range, two in the upper bass, and one in the lower bass, with greater variation in thickness than Cristofori used. The strings are equally spaced ([4]), rather than being grouped with strings of identical pitch closer together.

In two of the attested pianos, there is a forerunner of the modern soft pedal: the player can manually slide the entire action four millimeters to one side, so that the hammers strike just one of the two strings ("una corda").

The strings are somewhat thicker than harpsichord strings of the same period. This was a physical necessity, given that they had to be tenser in order to bear the hammer blows properly, and that their length was necessarily about the same as that of harpsichord strings.

It is difficult to determine what metal the strings of Cristofori's pianos were made of, since strings are replaced as they break, and sometimes restorers even replace the entire set of strings. According to Stewart Pollens, "the earlier museum records document that all three [attested] Cristofori pianos were discovered with similar gauges of iron wire through much of the compass, and brass in the bass." The New York instrument was restrung entirely in brass in 1970; Pollens reports that with this modification the instrument cannot be tuned closer than a minor third below pitch without breaking strings. This may indicate that the original strings did indeed include iron ones; however, the breakage might also be blamed on the massive rebuilding of this instrument, which changed its tonal range.

More recently, Denzil Wraight and Tony Chinnery, who have built replica Cristofori pianos, have taken the view that Cristofori favored brass strings, except occasionally in very demanding locations (such as the upper range of a 2' harpsichord stop). Chinnery suggests that "cypress soundboards and brass strings go together: sweetness of sound rather than volume or brilliance."


According to Wraight, it is not straightforward to determine what Cristofori's pianos sounded like, since the surviving instruments (see above) are either too decrepit to be played or have been extensively and irretrievably altered in later "restorations". However, in recent decades, a number of modern builders have made Cristofori replicas, and their collective experience, and particularly the recordings made on these instruments, has created an emerging view concerning the Cristofori piano sound.[11] At the crudest level, it could be said that the sound of the Cristofori replicas is as close to the harpsichord as it is to the piano; this is to be expected given that their case construction and stringing are much closer to the harpsichord than to the piano. The note onsets are not as sharply defined as in a harpsichord, and the response of the instrument to the player's varying touch is clearly noticeable.

To hear the sound of Cristofori instruments (both restored and replicated), consult the external links given below.

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