The Musical Instruments Museum of Florence, inside Accademia Gallery, is a real jewel to explore with your eyes, and especially with your ears. The collection shows the importance of the role music played in the Medici Court, celebrating the invention of the piano, which was created for the Medici by Bartolomeo Cristofori
The museum was inaugurated in 2001 with entrance included in the Galleria dell’Accademia ticket. It displays about fifty musical instruments from private collections of grand dukes of Tuscany, the Medici, and Lorena, being a hidden gem for opera, theater, and classical music lovers. The instruments were collected from the late 17th century to the early 19th century. They were then given to the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, which then loaned them to the Galleria dell’Accademia in 1996.
A multimedia area in the Galleria dell’Accademia makes it possible to listen to the sonority of many of the instruments on display and watch a video that retraces the birth and the growth of theater in Florence.
The Museum of Musical Instruments of Florence exhibits two largescale paintings by Anton Domenico Gabbiani in the musical instrument section.
They portray the Grand Prince Ferdinando de’ Medici surrounded by his court musicians. The elegantly dressed young musicians proudly show off their violas, cellos, a lirone, or lira da gamba, and a cello with a precious silver tailpiece used to increase its sonority. You can recognise Pietro Salvetti, cappella master and chamber assistant, and Francesco Veracini, a composer among some of the best musicians of the era. The room dedicated to Bartolomeo Cristofori displays two XVII century still lifes that combine elegantly set tables and detailed depictions of musical instruments of the era.
Ferdinando de’ Medici’s first passion from his earliest years was music. He became an accomplished harpsichordist, able to sight-read a piece and then play it from memory. He built up a sizable permanent group of players and financed the development of new types of instruments. He brought Bartolomeo Cristofori from Venice to be his chief instrument maker — and in 1700 Cristofori invented and constructed the first piano. Ferdinando attracted to Florence musicians from all over Italy and beyond, making the city a centre of excellence and innovation. Among those who enjoyed his patronage was the 22-year-old Handel, whose first Italian opera “Rodrigo” was staged in Florence in 1707.
Ferdinando’s role in musical history has been recognised since the late 19th century, when scholars began to re-examine his life and times. What has been all but forgotten were his energetic activities as a collector and patron of the visual arts.
THE INVENTION OF THE PIANO
Bartolomeo Cristofori dedicated his work to experimenting with new materials for his instruments and creating innovative sounds, making an elegant spinet and a precious harpsichord in an ebony case. The most amazing discovery is finding the “piano”, or pianoforte in Italian, documented for the very first time in history. This was the invention of a keyboard instrument where the chords aren’t plucked; they’re hit by little hammers that produce softer and less “silvery” sounds than the harpsichord.
STRADIVARI’S AND AMATI’S INSTRUMENTS
In the midst of ancient harpsichords, wind instruments and percussion, you will find a unique piece by the master Antonio Stradivari. The viola on exhibit at the Musical Instruments Museum of Florence is a one-of-a-kind by Stradivari and is perfectly conserved in its original condition. It was built in spruce and maple for the exceptional Medici Quintet, a group of two violins, two violas, and a cello. Elegance and outstanding sophistication are found in its exquisite mother of pearl, ivory and ebony inlay, and in the details of the Medici crest that make it unique.
But this is not the only Stradivari piece on display, there’s also a violin from 1716 and a cello from 1690. Furthermore there are a violin and a cello of 1650 by Niccolò Amati, an important luitist who teached to Stradivari.