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Cristofori and the Medici

Unfortunately not much is known of the life of Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano. It is known that he came from Padova, and that he worked for the Medici, specifically for Prince Ferdinando, who was a music lover. He was a member of the Prince's 'Virtuosi da Camera', a group of composers and musicians. Perhaps, then, Cristofori was a musician who took to inventing and building new instruments. Three of his instruments from the last decade of the 17th Century, all owned by the Medici court, survive . They are all beautifully made with precious woods. In the bills that Cristofori submitted to the Medici, we know that he employed a cabinet maker, who was probably responsible for this fine casework.

The earliest dated instrument (1690) by Cristofori came to light very recently, it turned up in a pile of instruments abandoned in a Palazzo once owned by the antiquarian Bardini in Florence. An incredible find. It was known from Cristofori's bills to the Medici that he had built two oval spinets, and the second one, the beautiful instrument in ebony and cypress dated 1693 is in the collection of the University of Leipsig. The 1690 spinet is now part of the exhibition of instruments that once belonged to the Medici in the "Galleria dell'Accademia" in Florence. It is the object of study that forms part of a project linking the Florence collection with that of Leipsig, funded by the European Union. As part of this study I prepared a millimetric CAD plan of the instrument (download). It was decided not to bring the instrument to playing condition, but instead to make a playing copy, to bring Cristofori's invention back to life again. This instrument has now been built and is on display next to the original. See the oval spinet page.
The 1693 Cristofori oval spinet
The 1690 Cristofori oval spinet
The 1690 Cristofori oval spinet copy
The original Cristofori ebony harpsichord
The copy masde by Kerstin Schwarz and myself on display next to the original
Also in the "Galleria dell'Accademia" is Cristofori's ebony harpsichord. It is undated, but known to have been built in this early period at the Medici court. The entry for the ebony harpsichord in the new catalogue for the collection, "La musica e i suoi strumenti",  is based on Kerstin Schwarz's study of this instrument. As with the oval spinet, Cristofori chose precious materials, in this case Macassar ebony for the case and ivory for the keyboard. We have made a playing copy of this instrument.