The Forgotten Inventor of the Piano

Yesterday was the 360th birthday of Bartolomeo Cristofori, the Italian artisan generally credited with being the sole inventor of the piano in the early 18th century.

Vox.com reminds us why he remains largely forgotten despite the importance and ubqituy of the musical intrument he invented (just imagine what music would be without the piano?)

We may know so little about Cristofori because he was just a hired hand (albeit a well-respected one). As an employee of Ferdinando de’ Medici, an Italian prince and member of the famous Italian family, Cristofori was hired to serve the court, not music alone.

As an employee of the Medicis, Cristofori was a cog in a royal machine. Though he was earnestly recruited to work for the Medicis, he was initially shoved into a workspace with about 100 other artisans (he complained about how loud it was). Ferdinando de’ Medici encouraged Cristofori to innovate, but the inventor was also tasked with tuning and moving instruments, as well as restoring some old ones. Unlike musicians, who circulated royal courts and could become famous far beyond their borders, Cristofori was a local commodity. He wasn’t seen as a revolutionary genius — rather, he was a talented tinkerer.

At the same time, without the Medicis Cristofori may never have been able to invent the piano. The royal family gave him a house to work in, space to experiment, and, eventually, his own workshop and a couple of assistants. As the wealth of the Medicis declined, Cristofori did sell some pianos on his own, but he didn’t possess anything like a modern patent — other people were free to sell their own improvements on the instrument. He remained in the court until his death in 1731.

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