Twelve Sonatas make piano history.
Written just after the invention of the piano, these twelve pieces are the oldest piano sheet music in the world.
They were composed by Lodovico Giustini (1685-1743), an Italian organist, composer and harpsichord player who came from a long lineage of accomplished musicians dating back to the early 17th century.
It is very likely that Giustini was in contact with Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano, who died in 1731, and with his pupil Giovanni Ferrini.
The "Twelve Sonate da Cimbalo di piano e forte" Op. 1 were published in Florence in 1732, and republished in Amsterdam four years later.
At that time, the piano was still a new invention. The first piano had been created just 32 years' prior, in 1700.
Instruments were very few in number, and were mainly spread amongst European royalty. Fascinatingly, the Sonatas are dedicated to Dom António de Bragança, the brother of King João V of Portugal; the Portuguese court being one of the most enthusiastic places to receive the newly constructed pianos. Giustini must have had acquaintances in the court of Florence, rich in international relations.
To delve into the wonders of the "Sonate da Cimbalo di piano e forte", we first have to understand the capabilities of the newly invented piano.
Most importantly and unlike the harpsichord, the piano was capable of a wide dynamic range. This opened up a world of expressive possibility.
The twelve pieces explore these new capabilities offered by the piano with clear markings for forte and piano. In the photo of the manuscript below, taken from the first edition published in Florence in 1732, forte and piano dynamics in bars 1 and 3 are clearly marked.
The world's oldest piece of piano sheet music can really give us a glimpse into what piano composers thought the piano was capable of achieving when they were first invented.
It does not appear that after his Op. 1 Giustini published other music, but the twelve Sonatas were enough to make him enter the Guinness Book of Records.