By Silvia Corradini
The Accademia Bartolomeo Cristofori was founded in Florence in 1989 by a group of friends, entusiasts of music and ancient musical instruments. Their idea was to create a centre, unique in Italy, for the Forte-piano, as the Pianoforte was called for the first 130 years of its life (1700-1830), when its construction and sound was still very different from the instrument we know today.
The Academy is called after Bartolomeo Cristofori, a brilliant craftsman from Padua who, when he was in Florence in the service of Prince Ferdinand de'Medici between 1689/1700, invented and built a Harpsichord, universally recognized as the first Pianoforte or Forte-piano, the favourite instrument of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Schumann and many other composers of the late 18th to 19th centuries. Built completely in wood, without metal structural supports and with the leather covered hammers (rather than felt), the forte-piano's tone colours and sound is very different from modern pianos, which gradually replaced it from about 1830 onwards.
Two fortepianos from the collection
The Academy's first move was to start its collection of instruments of particular historical interest, restore them to their former efficiency so that they could be not only displayed but also heard again as they originally sounded. The next move was to find a place to display the first instruments in the collection and officially open for work on the study and diffusion of information about the Fortepiano and its history; a specialized library was set up, together with a permanent documentary centre on the history, construction and teaching of the instrument, with debates and seminars of interpretation held by some of the finest scholars and musicians in this field.
Both these objectives were reached by 1990 and apart from owning several extremely fine instruments, the Association now occupies a large building which not only contains a sizeable exhibition area but also a highly specialized restoration laboratory, a room used as an office and library, and a small auditorium for conventions, specialization courses and concerts for limited audiences. As many as 132 concerts have been held here since 1990, performed by prestigious musicians from all over the world.
The Academy's headquarters are situated right in the heart of ancient Florence, in the working class quarter of San Frediano, famous for the large number of craftsmans' workshops that still continue the traditions of the past.