Why Did Bartolomeo Cristofori Invent the Piano?

Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the piano as part of his job as technician and innovator for Grand Prince Ferdinando de Medici; he made the piano to improve upon the sound and versatility of the harpsichord. Cristofori's patron was a music and technology enthusiast. Cristofori's piano, like his other inventions, became property of the Medici court.

In 1688, Prince Ferdinando de Medici, heir to the Duchy of Tuscany, hired Bartolomeo Cristofori as his personal musical technician, repairman and inventor. The prince was very fond of music and contracted Cristofori to maintain the instruments in his collection. Cristofori received a higher salary than his predecessor due to his penchant for creating new instruments. The prince adored technology and expected Cristofori to periodically produce musical innovations for the court.

With this responsibility in mind, Cristofori made several new kinds of keyboard instruments that expanded upon the capabilities of the harpsichord. The piano, originally known as the "arpicembalo," was among these creations, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Cristofori implemented a unique hammer mechanism that hit rather than plucked the strings. This innovation enabled soft and loud sound gradations and made the keyboard responsive to the strength of a musician's touch. Unlike its predecessor the harpsichord, the piano produced detailed gradations of soft and loud tones.