Last month we ran a piece on the new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, entitled The Art of Music Through Time. This features the oldest surviving piano — Bartolomeo Cristofori’s 1720 “gravicembalo col piano e forte”. Cristofori is credited as the inventor of the piano.
Those who want to know more about Cristofori, his remarkable life, and his contribution to the world of music, might be interested in a new book entitled Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano, by Stewart Pollens.
Pollens trained as a violin and keyboard instrument maker, and served as the conservator of musical instruments at the aforementioned Metropolitan Museum of Art between 1976 and 2006. He previously wrote a book about Antonio Stradivari, generally considered the most famous musical instrument maker of all time. However, Pollens feels that Cristofori is entitled to share that accolade.
He also thinks, perhaps controversially, that Cristofori wasn’t strictly the inventor of the piano, stating that keyboard instruments used hammers to strike strings as far back as the mid-fifteenth century. But Pollens recognises that Cristofori’s many ideas and designs were fundamental to the evolution of the modern piano.
Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano is the first comprehensive study of this exceptional instrument maker. Pollens examines, in unprecedented technical detail, Cristofori’s working life from his arrival in Florence in 1688 to his death in 1732. Cristofori’s first piano appeared around 1700. Much of Pollen’s information comes from forensic analysis of documents preserved in the State Archive of Florence.
The Cristofori Instruments
The book is the first publication to detail all known keyboard instruments made by Cristofori. Pollens estimates that Cristofori made no more than twenty-flour instruments during his career. Ten authenticated instruments survive today, including the 1693 oval spinet which features on the cover of this book.
The patronage of the Medici court in Florence, as the book describes, was key to the piano’s invention. Without the funds to develop new ideas, this new instrument would have evolved far more slowly. Pollens subsequently tracks how Cristofori’s ideas rapidly spread across Europe.
Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano is very much an academic tome, and will be of interest to historians of the piano, musicologists, museum curators and conservators, as well as keyboard instrument makers, restorers, and tuners. It is written in an engaging style, and in the non-technical sections, manages to bring the period to life. As such it will appeal to anyone who has an interest in the piano and wants to get a true feel for its origins, however, the book’s price may put-off the more casual reader.
Table of Contents
1. Bartolomeo Cristofori in Padua
2. Cristofori in Florence
3. Cristofori’s extant instruments
4. Musical life in Florence in Cristofori’s time
5. Cristofori’s influence
Description and Specifications
TITLE: Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano
AUTHOR: Stewart Pollens
PUBLISHER: Cambridge University Press
DATE PUBLISHED: August 2017
LENGTH: 400 pages
DIMENSIONS: 253 x 178 x 22 mm
PRICE: £74.99 ($120.00)
The book includes over 140 photos/images, and 24 tables. All images (apart from the cover) are in black and white.
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The colour image on the front cover of Stewart Pollens “Bartolomeo Cristofori and the Invention of the Piano” has been reversed. The printed image shows the treble keys aligned with the bass strings plucking points.