The Invention of the Piano

By | January 9, 2019

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ITALY - DECEMBER 09: Oval spinet, 1695, built by Bartolomeo Cristofori (1655-1731). Italy, 17th century. Leipzig, Musikinstrumenten-Museum (Museum Of Musical Instruments) Source: (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Pianos have been commonplace down through the years but they were not always so. Even after its invention, it took a while before it caught on even in Italy, but when it did, it became quite popular all over the world.

Created in 1695, the Oval spinet is a small instrument with long bass strings and two 8’ registers similar to a harpsichord. The longest strings are placed in the center of the soundboard. This instrument was actually one of two instruments created by Cristofori before the actual piano was created. The other one was the spinettone which means “big spinet,” a large harpsichord with strings slanted to save space. It is thought that this was made to fit in a small space like an orchestra pit for theatre performances to have the sound of a loud multi-choired instrument.

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Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano was born 360 years ago. Source: (Photo from

Born in May of 1655, Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori was the Italian inventor who worked for Ferdinando de’ Medici, the Grand Prince of Tuscany in a small shop in Padua, Italy. Cristofori was an expert at making harpsichords. His official job was “Keeper of the Instrument.”

In Florence in 1709, Cristofori's first exhibition was held to display his creation of the first piano which was named gravicembalo col piano e forte (meaning “soft and loud keyboard instrument”). The name was gradually shortened to fortepiano (or pianoforte) and then to simply piano.

It is not known just how many pianos that Cristofori built but there are three that have survived and are on display, all from the 1720s. One of them is the 1720 piano which is on display in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dates back the oldest. The 1722 piano is on display at the Museo Nazionale degli Strumenti Musicali in Rome and the 1726 piano is at Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University. Only one out of the three is playable at all but not playable enough to tell what it would have sounded like back then.