Showing posts with label Cristofori. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Cristofori. Show all posts

12 December 2016

Lodovico Giustini – composer

Church organist who wrote the first music for piano

Lodovico Giustini
Lodovico Giustini
Lodovico Giustini, composer and keyboard player, was born on this day in 1685 in Pistoia in Tuscany.

Giustini is the first composer known to write music for the piano and his compositions are considered to be late Baroque and early Classical in style.

Giustini was born in the same year as Bach, Scarlatti and Handel. His father, Francesco Giustini, was a church organist, his uncle, Domenico Giustini, was a composer of sacred music and his great uncle, Francesco Giustini, sang in the Cathedral choir for 50 years.

After the death of his father in 1725, Giustini took his place as organist at the Congregazione dello Spirito Santo in Pistoia, where he began to compose sacred music, mostly cantatas and oratorios.

In 1728 he collaborated with Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari on a set of Lamentations, which were performed later that year.

The dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà in Pistoia
The dome of the Basilica of Santa Maria dell'Umiltà in Pistoia
In 1734 he was hired as the organist at the Basilica of Santa Maria dell’Umiltà in  Pistoia. He was to hold this position for the rest of his life. In addition to playing the organ he also gave performances on the harpsichord, often playing his own music.

Giustini is mainly remembered for his collection of 12 Sonate da cimbalo di piano e forte detto volgarmente di martelletti, 12 sonatas written for the piano.

These were composed by Giustini specifically for the hammered harpsichord, or fortepiano, which had been invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori in around 1700.

The sonatas were published in Florence in 1732 and are dedicated to the younger brother of the King of Portugal, probably because the Portuguese court was one of the few places where the early piano was being regularly played.

They were written for the church and have alternating fast and slow sections. They predate all other music specifically written for the piano by about 30 years.

The 1720 Cristofori piano, the oldest surviving,  at the  Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York
The 1720 Cristofori piano, the oldest surviving,  at the
 Metropolitan  Museum of Art in New York
Giustini uses all the capabilities of the piano in his music, effects that were not available on other keyboard instruments at the time. They are typical of pieces written during the transition from the late Baroque to the early Classical period.

It is considered surprising by some music experts that the sonatas were ever published at all as, at the time they were composed, there were only a few pianos in existence and these were owned mainly by royalty.

The oldest surviving Cristofori piano is a 1720 model, which is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Giustini died in 1743 and since then most of his sacred music has been lost, but his published piano sonatas have kept his memory alive and are well worth hearing.

Travel tip:

Pistoia, where Lodovico Giustini was born and worked as an organist, is a pretty medieval walled city in Tuscany to the north west of Florence. The city developed a reputation for intrigue in the 13th century and assassinations in the narrow alleyways were common, using a tiny dagger called the pistole, made by the city’s ironworkers, who also specialised in manufacturing surgical instruments.

Fresco of the Madonna at the Basilica
della Madonna dell'Umiltà

Travel tip:

The Basilica della Madonna dell’Umiltà, where Lodovico Giustini played the organ in the 18th century, is in Via della Madonna in Pistoia. It was built to replace an ancient church after a miracle involving a 14th century fresco of the Madonna. According to legend, in 1490 in the middle of a period of fighting between the local power factions, people noticed blood dripping from the forehead of the Madonna in the fresco, which was interpreted as a sign that the Virgin Mary was suffering because of the bloodshed in the region at the time. Important local families got together to build a new Basilica to house the Madonna fresco. The octagonal church was designed by architect Ventura Vitoni. A heavy dome was added to the Basilica in 1560, designed by architect Giorgio Vasari.

More reading:

How Bartolomeo Cristofori adapted a harpsichord to create the first piano

Alessandro Scarlatti - a prolific composer ahead of his time

How Giovanni Gabrieli inspired the spread of Baroque style

Also on this day:


4 May 2016

Bartolomeo Cristofori - inventor of the piano

Instrument maker adapted harpsichord to play soft and loud notes

The only known portrait of Bartolomeo Cristofori
Bartolomeo Cristofori in a 1726 portrait
Bartolomeo Cristofori, the man widely credited with inventing the piano, was born on this day in 1655 in Padua.

He came up with the idea while working for the Grand Prince Ferdinando de' Medici in Florence, who had hired him to look after his collection of harpsichords and other instruments.

It is thought that Cristofori, who was assumed to have been an established maker of musical instruments when Ferdinando invited him to Florence in around 1690, wanted to create a keyboard instrument similar to a harpsichord but capable of playing notes of varying loudness.

An inventory of Medici instruments from 1700 described an "arpicimbalo", which resembled a harpsichord but which created sounds through hammers and dampers rather than the plucking mechanism employed by the harpsichord. It was said to be "newly invented by Bartolomeo Cristofori".

In 1711, Scipione Maffei, a poet and journalist, referred to Cristofori's "gravicembalo col piano, e forte" (harpsichord with soft and loud), the first time it was called by its eventual name, pianoforte. A Florentine court musician, Federigo Meccoli, noted that the "arpi cimbalo del piano e forte" was first made by Cristofori in 1700, which is regarded as the birth date for the piano.

An early model was dismissed by the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach as possessing too heavy a touch and too weak a treble.  Cristofori made further modifications over time and by 1726 his instrument had many of the characteristics of a modern piano, albeit with fewer keys.

In Germany, meanwhile, the organ designer Gottfried Silbermann, using Cristofori's blueprint, began making pianos of his own in 1730, which met with Bach's approval.

Three Cristofori pianos survive, the oldest a 1720 model at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  The Museo Strumenti Musicali in Rome has one dated at 1722 and the Musikinstrumenten-Museum of Leipzig University has one made in 1726.

Cristofori’s invention was initially slow to catch on in Italy, but records show that Queen Maria Barbara de Braganza of Spain, patron and student of the composer Domenico Scarlatti, bought five. It is thought that hundreds of Scarlatti’s single-movement keyboard sonatas, of which there were more than 500, may have been intended for piano, rather than harpsichord.

By the late 18th century, thanks to its range and versatility, the pianoforte had become a leading instrument of Western music. By the end of the 19th century, many wealthier households in Europe and North America possessed a piano and almost every major Western composer from Mozart onwards had played it and put it at the heart of their musical output.

Cristofori remained in Florence following the death of Ferdinando in 1713 and continued to work for the Medici court until his health declined.  There is evidence that his assistants were Giovanni Ferrini and Domenico dal Mela, who both went on to establish notable careers of their own.  Dal Mela is said to have made the first upright piano.  Cristofori died in Florence in January 1731.

Photo of Padua Basilica of St Anthony
The Basilica of St Anthony in Padua
Travel tip:

The city of Padua - or Padova - in the Veneto region of northern Italy is best known for the frescoes by Giotto that adorn the Scrovegni Chapel and for the vast 13th-century Basilica of St. Anthony, notable for its Byzantine-style domes. The old part of the town has arcaded streets and many cafes. The University of Padua, established in 1222, is one of the oldest in the world.

Travel tip:

Florence is said to be the birthplace of opera, a form of entertainment that evolved after musicians, dancers and actors began performing light-hearted scenes known as intermezzi to keep audiences entertained between acts of Roman plays.  Noble Florentine families began to enthuse more about the intermezzi than the plays themselves and in 1600 the first complete opera - Euridice, by Jacopo Peri - was performed at the Pitti Palace at the royal wedding of Maria de' Medici and Henry IV of France.