Today on this day in 1655 Bartolomeo Cristofori was born in Venice. He would go on to invent a mechanism which would revolutionise the development of music. Google’s doodle of the day has brought his groundbreaking invention to the worlds attention.
His was the hammer mechanism, whereby the strings are struck (not plucked). This enables softer or louder sounds to be produced depending on how hard they key is struck.
His invention was not well known in his lifetime. Old Bach tried a pianoforte, but he may have been too old to truly appreciate this innovation. But younger composers took Cristofori’s new invention and invented newly with it… It cause a revolution in music and it’s impact was felt everywhere.
Many joined in including Mozart, Haydn, Dussek, Beethoven, Field, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Liszt, Busoni, Faure, Debussy, Pleyel, Bosendorfer, Collard and Collard, Steinway, Bechstein, Bluthner, Ed Seiler, Knight, Rodgers, Kauffmann, Bentley, and even Joseph Wallis and Co to name but several.
Techniques changed with Czerny and Clementi and transcendentally with Liszt and later Ligeti (both Hungarians deeply familiar with the Cimbalom).
By the 20th century, most houses had a piano. Cristofori’s invention played music written before he was thought of as well as the (mostly forgotten) music that was written after he was long gone.
The 1960s saw weekly competitions to smash pianos up with sledge hammers, a tradition which seems to continue today. By the late nineteen-eighties, just the keyboard got reinvented, and music changed again; the Cristofori mechanism replaced, by a switch under each key, opened up vast worlds of possibility.
We like you Mr Cristofori. Without you we couldn’t be who we are today. Any of us.