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Review of The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano

The Music of Life: Bartolomeo Cristofori & the Invention of the Piano
by Elizabeth Rusch; illus. by Marjorie Priceman
Primary, Intermediate    Atheneum    48 pp.
4/17    978-1-4814-4484-2    $17.99
e-book ed.  978-1-4814-4485-9    $10.99

Readers take a journey to Italy during the closing years of the Renaissance to meet a man whose invention is better known than his name. Hired by Prince Ferdinando de Medici to restore and build musical instruments in Florence, Bartolomeo Cristofori repairs sixteen instruments and builds a couple of spinets, an organ, and six harpsichords from 1690 to 1698. Even with this prodigious output, he dreams of creating a new instrument, one that will produce both the soft sounds of the harpsichord and the loud sounds of the clavichord. Surrounded by the opera, sculpture, and art, he is overwhelmed with “how much can be expressed with stone and paint and bows on strings. If only Cristofori’s keyboard instruments could so fully express the music of life!” With this dream in mind, he creates the first pianoforte, a precursor to today’s piano, in 1700. Rusch’s evocative text is underscored by Priceman’s breezy but detailed gouache-and-ink illustrations and the book’s dynamic design, including festive ribbon-shaped banners, labeled with musical terms for volume, which add a near soundtrack to the words. When Cristofori first arrives in Florence, for example, the banner reads “mezzoforte”; as Hayden (“crescendo”) and Mozart (“molto crescendo”) popularize the pianoforte, the dynamic level increases. Exemplary notes detail both the author’s research process and points of literary license. Additional back matter includes a timeline, further information about the piano and pianoforte, web sources for listening to distinctive piano selections, a bibliography, documentation, and an index. Bravo!

From the July/August 2017 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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About Betty Carter

Betty Carter, an independent consultant, is professor emerita of children’s and young adult literature at Texas Woman’s University.

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