Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano (Yale Nota Bene)

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Contents

  1. “In Music Nothing Is Worse Than Playing Wrong Notes”
  2. Full text of "Musical_DropBooks"
  3. 5 editions of this work
  4. Citation Tools

And if his claim to credit as the inventor of this new instrument was to be credible, he had to design it so that he and other builders could reproduce the plan and had to construct it so that far-flung owners could keep their pianos in working order without his help. We cannot appreciate the inventiveness of his concept without considering the conditions of production and use under which he worked. And what was the nature of that concept? Cristofori gave the mu- sical world a keyboard instrument with a hammer action see illustra- tion that varied the volume of sound — and that worked consistently.

The weight of the player's finger on the piano key sent the hammer flying free to strike the string with corresponding speed. The free flight Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 27 [To view this image, refer to the print version of this title. Depressing the key raises the jack to push up the lip under the intermediate lever, the left end of which touches the hammer shank, pivoted at the left.

The lever pushes the hammer shank hard enough to send the hammer flying to the string. As the key rises, the spring on the jack under the key and the key's motion combine to move the jack sideways so that it misses "escapes" the lip's return to rest. When the key is released, the spring returns the jack to its position under the lip. The check catches the hammer as it falls back from the string, releasing it when the key is released. The right end of the key as it rises pushes up the damper from the string. Norton, ], courtesy of New Grove Dictionaries and gravity made the hammer bounce away from the string after strik- ing it, as it needed to do to allow the string to keep vibrating if the leather facing of the hammer had simply pushed against the string, it would have produced only a thud.

With relatively little weight on the key, the hammer flew relatively slowly and the resulting sound was soft piano ; with a harder push, the hammer flew faster and the sound was loud forte. With practice and sensitivity, a performer could make subtle gradations in volume, much as a singer or violinist could. The harpsichord, as we learned in Chapter 1, is not equipped for such nuances in volume. The clavichord, on the other hand, is sen- sitive to touch.

Pressing a key brings a brass strip a tangent , set in the end of the key, up against the strings, which makes them vibrate. The speed of the contact allows gradations of loudness — or perhaps we should say, of softness. The clavichord's whispered elegance, in fact, was suited almost exclusively to solo playing, or perhaps to ac- 28 Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos companying the softest singing.

Cristofori's piano, too, suffered from softness, or so it was charged by the detractors cited by Maffei in his article.

“In Music Nothing Is Worse Than Playing Wrong Notes”

But Maffei defended the instrument's sound in the right set- ting; with a small group of instruments, a single instrument, or a voice, he wrote, or best of all by itself, "it succeeds perfectly. The first, mentioned above, was the problem of escapement: Cris- tofori's solution is shown here in an illustration. It is a complex ma- chine, but it works cheerfully in repeating the movements consis- tently many times a minute.

The free-flying hammer caused a second problem: In order for the string to resist being knocked out of tune, or even broken, it needed to be under greater tension. Heavier strings under higher tension added stress on the instrument's framing and bracing. Cristofori sidestepped this difficulty in two ingenious ways that, because they were concealed, came to light only a few years ago. First, he strengthened the case, the box in which the instrument rested, by adding a heavy inner lin- ing and by attaching a rail that held the outer ends of the strings firmly to that strengthened case.

With the assistance of a stout block in front that held the tuning pins, the case became a formidable re- sister of string tension. The working of the soundboard was also threatened by the in- creased tension of the strings. To make the instrument audible, the strings' vibrations were transmitted through a hardwood bridge glued to the soundboard, which spread the vibrations across its expanse and reproduced them.

So much vibrating surface disturbed the air enough that the sound could be heard even at a distance. But if the soundboard were to take up any of the string tension, it could be dis- torted and its function disturbed. So Cristofori did something that no other piano maker has done, as far as we know: In that way, the soundboard's vibrations were not hindered. GOOD Cristofori's pianos were the size and shape of a harpsichord, though their mechanism was radically different. In the decades after Cristo- fori's death in , other instrument builders made pianos, or piano- like instruments, in radically different sizes and shapes, as well as with mechanisms unlike Cristofori's.

Some were vertical instruments reaching nearly nine feet from the floor. Others, called "square" pi- anos but really rectangular, were the size and shape of clavichords, with the strings strung diagonally in the case rather than perpendic- ular to the keyboard. This proliferation of designs represented the adaptation of several traditional keyboard designs — designs for in- struments that were vastly different from each other in complexity, price, the musical functions for which they were suitable, and the kinds of people who bought and played them.

In other words, although the workshops of piano makers remained small, their clientele soon diversified. We might look back on these various early pianos and think we see the shape of grands and uprights to come. The variety of shapes that early pianos took can certainly remind us that in three centuries, the piano has never found a single ideal or all-purpose shape, like that of the violin or the sitar.

Being less movable than most instru- ments, having to fit a variety of locations, and being called on to play a variety of roles, the piano has always needed to come in a variety of shapes. The earliest upright piano we know was made in in the vil- lage of Gagliano, near Florence, by Domenico del Mela, a priest who was perhaps a friend of Cristofori's. The strings are hung slightly diagonally, with the longest along the left side of the case.

The in- strument is about the size of a Cristofori piano, but its mechanism is not at all the same. It looks as if the flat surfaces of the hammers 30 Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos never had leather covering, and that would suggest that it made quite a jangling sound. Instruments like these were also made in Germany in the mid— eighteenth century; Christian Ernst Friederici of Gera claimed to have built the earliest German uprights, which he called "pyramid pianos" because of their symmetrical shape.

But little is known of the musical purposes for which they were designed or to which they were put. A more popular piano-like instrument in the German-speaking lands — and one that came in both vertical and clavichord shapes — was the pantalon. The pantalon took its name from an enormous zither played with hand-held mallets by Pantaleon Hebenstreit, a successful virtuoso in the early s.

The mid-century pantalon was a smaller instrument with a keyboard; it had small wooden hammers with no covering and no dampers, although some makers devised ways to damp the strings. The instrument was able to play all gra- dations of loudness, but it had little expressive subtlety; nonethe- less, many listeners found its undamped wash of sound bewitching. One legacy of the pantalon to the piano was the use of tone-changing stops, such as mutes that softened and "harp" stops that hardened the sound.

The pantalon and the clavichord, both popular in Germany, in- fluenced the invention of the square piano. In fact, a recent study by Michael Cole argues persuasively that what have been taken to be the earliest square pianos are misidentified pantalons. He worked for the harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi until , when he established his own shop in Princes Street, Hanover Square, "at the sign of the Golden Guittar. By he was making piano- fortes that were also small, affordable, and appealing to upper-class women.

Zumpe's square pianos are so much like clavichords in layout, size, and shape that we most naturally suppose that he founded the design on the earlier instrument see Figures 4 and 5. But his pianos Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 31 used a sturdier case and considerably heavier strings than those in clavichords, and a much thicker bridge, necessary for the heavier strings.

His action, having no intermediate lever, may have been de- rived not from Cristofori's piano action, but from the very simple ac- tion of a pantalon. The leather-covered hammers were hinged with leather on a rail. Zumpe used hand stops to raise the dampers, and in about introduced a harp or buff stop. Some other makers in England borrowed more stops from the pantalon to alter the tone. The arrival of the young, musical Princess Charlotte in September from the small north German court of Mecklenburg- Strelitz to become queen to George III has been called "the catalyst that accelerated the pianoforte revolution in Britain.

From Mecklenburg- Strelitz itself came instrument maker Gabriel Buntebart, who joined in partnership with Zumpe by Zumpe designed the pianos; he and Buntebart made them; Bach composed for them, played them in one of the earliest recorded London public solo pi- ano performances on June 2, , and sold them. The nature of the revolution was that the piano became, for the first time, a popular instrument rather than a courtly curiosity.

Both Queen Charlotte and her brother had Zumpes most likely acquired through J. But it was not enough for Zumpe to have the patronage of the queen and her brother; he used it to pro- mote sales of his instruments. He did not often advertise, except by listing his address on the front board over the keyboard of his instru- ments. Like piano makers through the whole history of the instru- ment, he instead relied heavily on the endorsement of players: Bach and Charles Burney played that role for him.

Burney and "John" Bach also helped Diderot acquire a Zumpe at eighteen guineas for his daughter in the early s.

Also, note the clientele that he addresses: This is made clear by the last line of Zumpe's advertisement, in which he claims to have dis- covered how to make pianos so that they do not go out of order. Evi- dently the crucial factor that made Zumpe's piano marketable was not its low price, but the reliability of operation derived from its sim- plicity of design.

English nobles and gentlemen might be richer than Medici princes, but they still had no Cristoforis on staff to repair and regulate their pianos. Zumpe clearly had a fashionable hit on his hands. As Charles Burney wrote: There was scarcely a house in the kingdom where a keyed in- strument had ever had admission, but was supplied with one of Zumpe's piano-fortes for which there was nearly as much call in Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 33 France as in England.

In short he could not make them fast enough to gratify the craving of the public. Pohlmann, whose instruments were very inferior in tone, fabricated an almost infinite number for such as Zumpe was unable to supply. Yet, as Burney's reference to Pohlmann suggests, the scale of produc- tion with which Zumpe caused this sensation was not great; accord- ing to Michael Cole, it was just over fifty pianos a year. In another maker of German origin, John Behrent, placed an advertisement in the Philadelphia papers that is probably the earli- est known announcement of a piano made in America.

He intends to dispose of it on very reasonable terms; and being a master in such sort of work, and a new beginner in this country, he requests all lovers of music to favour him with their custom, and they shall not only be honestly served, but their favours gratefully acknowl- edged, by their humble servant, John Behrent. Well into the nineteenth century, as pianos became affordable by Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos members of the middle class, they remained out of reach for most members of the working class — including many of the workers who produced them.

As the demand for pianos increased, makers worked hard to keep up with orders. As James Shudi Broadwood another son of John wrote in to a wholesaler wanting his order filled, "Would to God we could make them like muffins! Cristofori's piano production had died with him. Zumpe, after an am- icable dissolution of his partnership with Buntebart, arranged for two journeymen cabinetmakers from his home town, Frederick and Chris- tian Schoene, to join his shop in the late s, and in he turned his business over to them and retired a wealthy man, listing himself as "Gentleman.

Perhaps the best example of marrying well is John Broadwood, who with his marriage in to Barbara Shudi the daughter of his employer, harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi , gained a wife, a business partnership, and the beginning of a piano dynasty that flourished through the nineteenth century. Johann An- dreas Stein is remembered not only for his finely crafted pianos, but also for the continuation and development of his tradition through pi- anos built in Vienna by his son Mattheus Andreas and by his daughter Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 35 Nannette Streicher, her husband Andreas, and their progeny.

This family tradition was noted, though in terms that ignored the crucial part played by daughters, in a com- ment made by one member of the piano trade in Many of the shops were small. Not unlike modern-day makers of harpsichords and fortepianos, the mas- ter craftsman usually used the same location for workshop, living quarters not only for his family but also often for his assistants , and showroom which in England was often in the dining room.

A New York advertisement of see Figure 3 gives a rare illustration of such an arrangement: Some makers established smaller showrooms visible through display windows from the street or placed their instruments with mu- sic dealers who sold a variety of goods. Others, like the Broadwoods, expanded to nearby houses and to property in adjoining mews and alleys.

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This crazy-quilt pattern of shops was true even in New York for the Steinways before they built their first factoiy in i Records of early piano workshops are sketchy, but inventories of modest piano makers show that shops had from two to at least six workbenches. The journeyman as- pired to become a partner with his master or to establish his own shop.

Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos Many masters sought to prosper enough to live away from the shop even in a country estate , to invest in other enterprises like real es- tate, and to acquire wealth and position so that they and their sons could become "gentlemen" and highly respected members of their community. The master or the senior journeyman oversaw the more crucial tasks like gluing and installing the soundboard or regulating the instrument.

They often signed the piece they com- pleted as a matter of pride and evidence of completion. Sometimes, too, the shop books reveal who worked on what part; the early Stein- way factoiy books, for instance, listed William Steinway as the belly- man soundboard installer , Henry Jr. Sometimes part of the work was completed outside the shop. Certainly brass work was purchased elsewhere, and possibly some of the decorations on nameboards were completed by special- ists who made similar designs for several makers.

Full text of "Musical_DropBooks"

By Chicker- ing was obtaining his keyboards, wire, and iron frames from others. Although the shop owner often provided the bench, each worker was required to provide his own tools, which he may have mounted over his bench see the Sheybli workshop illustration or stored and transported in a special chest designed with compart- ments and drawers. At a time when a foreman's annual earnings in England were about one hundred pounds, the tools of a senior work- man might be worth seventy pounds.

Without tools, a journeyman had no work or trade; they defined his livelihood and status as a crafts- man. In the event that journeymen lost their tools in a shop or factory fire, entire communities, including artisans from competing shops, rallied to help the workers replace them. And because their skills were transferable, the jour- neymen were free to move from shop to shop, although some worked Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 37 for the same employer for decades.

Others, however, sometimes found themselves out of work because of financial depressions, the sea- sonal nature of the piano trade busiest in late fall before Christmas , and the influx of immigrant workers and unskilled novices willing to take lower pay. No grand pianos are priced, which might suggest that few were being made. All men were required to work by the piece, except those with functions like "Fly-Finishing," on which workers were not to work more than ten hours a day.

The journeymen were to furnish their own candlelight.

5 editions of this work

No prices are given for tuning and regulating; according to statistical wage data from to about the Steinway workers, tuning and regulating were higher paid than the other functions listed in the Book of Prices. The highest Steinway pay went to foremen, clerks, and salesmen. Contem- poraries of Conrad Graf in Vienna reported that in the s Graf's factory had organized the work into eight divisions. The Broadwood factory, with three hundred to four hundred or more workers making twenty-five hundred to three thousand instruments a year in the s and s, was reported to have divided the manufacture of the pi- ano into forty-two separate steps in , expanding to fifty-eight de- partments by A visitor to the Chickering factory in Boston re- ported in that the hundred workmen in the finishing department divided the work into twenty different departments, each man always doing the same task.

But even the hammers were divided into four tasks: GOOD Cristofori called his invention neither "piano" nor "grand" but "harp- sichord cimbalo. But Stodart did not invent what we may call the grand piano. That had been done earlier in the s in both Germany and London. The process began as early as , with the German translation of Maffei's article about Cristofori. Gottfried Silbermann in Dresden read the article and proceeded to copy the instrument described in it.

He finally succeeded to the point that, in or so, King Freder- ick the Great of Prussia bought a number of his instruments, and Jo- hann Sebastian Bach not only played one at the Potsdam court but later also signed his name as agent on the sale of a Silbermann piano to Count Branitzky of Bialystok. As the piano became more popular, makers both in England and on the Continent began to make adjustments to the harpsichord-shaped piano to make it more adequate to new needs.

The "grand" piano de- veloped into an instrument that answered the acoustical demands of concert settings, the musical needs of professional musicians and serious amateurs, and the social needs of the rich and powerful. By the early nineteenth century the grand gave the word piano its ideal if not its ordinary meaning. Smaller types of instruments, especially squares, continued to account for a much greater share of production and sales, but more and more they were designed to emulate the touch and sound of grands.

Professional performance on the piano differed between London Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos [To view this image, refer to the print version of this title. As the key rises, the hopper is pushed against a notch in the hammer shank, propelling the hammer to the string. As the hopper rises, its projection slides along the set-off, which forces the hopper to pivot to the right, and its top moves to the right of the notch when the hammer falls back to the check. The right end of the key pushes the damper off the string.

When the key is released, the spring brings the hopper back to its original po- sition. Norton, ], courtesy of New Grove Dictionaries and Germany, public concerts counting for more in London and courtly gatherings for more in Germany and Austria. Accordingly, the design of grand pianos took different directions in the two areas, the English makers pursuing above all greater power of sound and the Germans greater fleetness and subtlety in the response of the instrument to the player's touch.

The crucial demarcation in grand piano design during the late eighteenth century, then, was the difference between the Eng- lish and German actions, although there were also important differ- ences in the design of the case, the stops, and other features. The English designers gave their action a direct-blow design see illustration instead of Cristofori's intermediate lever.

The action used in the Americus Backers grand in the Russell Collection at Ed- inburgh University — the earliest surviving English grand — was modi- fied somewhat in Robert Stodart's patent of That design, adopted by John Broadwood when he began to make grands in , became the standard in English and some French pianos for about one hun- dred years.

Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos [To view this image, refer to the print version of this title. The hammer with its shank is pivoted in the fork-shaped Kapsel. The beak is positioned under the projection on the escapement. As the key rises, the beak's position forces the hammer to pivot up to the string, and as it drops back, the beak catches on the front surface of the escapement. When the key is released, the spring on the escapement allows the beak to return to its original position in the notch.

The damper lifter, mounted on the key, pushes the damper off the string as the key rises. Later designs added a check to catch the hammer. The damper stop had been introduced to the piano by Gottfried Silbermann. It was taken up also by the pantalon mak- ers, who, like Silbermann, used hand stops for the dampers. In both, the stop raised all the dampers at once, so that the player could ob- tain more resonance than was available by holding down individual keys. The una corda stop had been introduced by Cristofori. His pi- anos had a knob on the cheek of the keyboard by which the entire keyboard could be moved sideways so that the hammers would strike only one of the two strings for each note.

This is sometimes thought of as a "soft" stop, but sounding one rather than both of the strings for a given note produces more difference in timbre than in volume. In the Backers piano and some Broadwoods, the two pedals give Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos a distinctly pigeon-toed look. Later the pedals were attached to a frame under the middle of the keyboard, which in the nineteenth cen- tury often took the symbolic shape and name of a lyre.

Today pedals remain the conventional method of activating stops. What became the Viennese rival to English grand piano design emerged about the same time — the s — but probably in Augsburg, not Vienna, in the workshop of Johann Andreas Stein. The case of a Stein piano is not so deep as an English one and makes the instru- ment look more fragile, although it is not. The reason is simple: Stein's A-frame brace, combined with cross braces, kept his grands from warping on their right cheek as English pianos were prone to do.

For stops, Stein and other German and Viennese makers preferred knee levers, tucked inconspicuously under the front of the case below the keyboard, to the English pedals. After , they switched to pedals, and the stops on their pianos proliferated wildly. On some pianos, up- rights as well as grands, we find up to seven pedals, including a buzz- ing "bassoon" stop, a muting "moderator," and a thumping and jin- gling military stop "Janissary" , along with the less ephemeral damper lifter and una corda stop.

This action was lighter, more responsive to the touch, and therefore conducive to more subtlety of expression than the English action. Later, however, it was made heavier, as pianos increased in size and strings in girth. In the long run that is, by the beginning of the twentieth century , piano manufacturers came to a fairly universal agreement that fa- vored the English tradition over the Viennese in action design as well as choice of stops.

But in the meantime, the Viennese tradition of de- sign produced the pianos for which the classic repertory of piano music was composed: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Schu- mann were all most familiar with the light, responsive action of Ger- man and Austrian pianos. One of the great challenges in studying the history of the piano, then, is to understand how the piano itself evolved away from the instrument of the Viennese and German mas- Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos [To view this image, refer to the print version of this title. The diagram shows the key depressed, after the hammer has struck the string and been caught by the check.

The wippen, which joins the key and the in- termediate lever, pushes the lever up as the key rises. That raises the hopper escapement against the round projection under the hammer shank, called the "knuckle," propelling the hammer to the string. As the hopper pushes the knuckle, the spur is stopped against the escape- ment button, forcing the hopper to pivot to its right, and the knuckle settles back on the repetition lever, pushing it down slightly. As the key is released, the hopper moves left, and the spring makes the repetition lever push the knuckle up so that the end of the hopper returns under it and the stroke can be repeated before the key is completely released — hence the name "repetition action.

Norton, ], courtesy of New Grove Dictionaries ters at the very time that their music was becoming established as the most prestigious body of piano music. Both English and German grand pianos grew in range and size even during the s, when Broadwood, reportedly at the urging of Jan Ladislav Dussek, the darling of the London concert stage, began to construct grands with a range of five octaves and a fifth. A few mak- Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos ers in Vienna, Anton Walter among them, increased the range one step beyond five octaves, to the G two octaves and a fifth above mid- dle C. In that same decade Broadwood even made a six-octave grand on special order, but only around were many grands given that six-octave, C to C, range.

In Austria and Germany, the move to six octaves tended to be from the F two octaves and a fifth below middle C. Such a range was used by Beethoven in his later works and often by Schubert. The leading French maker, Sebastien Erard, who had begun build- ing square pianos sometime around , made an experimental seven-octave grand in the s; that became the standard range until about the s.

But Erard's greatest importance for the grand stemmed from his design of a replacement for the English action. Pi- anists had complained that the English action was stiff and could not give rapid repetition. Erard patented in what he called a "repe- tition" or "double escapement" action see illustration. With Erard's design, a virtuoso no longer needed to choose between the power of the English action and the speed of the Viennese. And virtuosos, im- pressing ever larger audiences with the wonders they could perform on Erard pianos, were the ones who sealed the reputation of that ac- tion.

It was a long time, however, before Erard's action — somewhat improved by pianist and piano manufacturer Henri Herz in about — overcame resistance in every piano-manufacturing country to become the standard grand piano action. In the meantime, upright and square pianos were busy catching up with the grands.

One way to catch up was to make an upright piano as big as a grand, capturing the advantages of its large soundboard, long strings, and resulting full tone, but taking up much less floor space in a home than a grand. An example was the "upright grand Piano- forte in the form of a bookcase" patented by William Stodart Rob- ert's son in Stodart 's rectangular case and those of similar pi- anos by other English makers had space above the shorter treble strings for shelves to hold music, busts, or knick-knacks see Figure The German and Austrian counterpart was the "giraffe," so called for its external resemblance to that marvelously unwieldy beast.

Un- like the English upright grands, these pianos had cases extending Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos down to the floor, making for more stability with no loss of instrumen- tal quality. Turning a grand piano upright was not, however, going to put the piano within the reach of people who could not afford a grand. The enormous expansion of the piano market in the nineteenth century depended on the creation of smaller pianos, and in two experi- ments in small vertical pianos were made in Germany and America. The Ditanaklassis, a bit more than five feet high, was designed by Matthias Miiller, using an action modeled on Stein's.

Muller also had the bright idea, seen in some earlier Viennese grands, of combining two instruments in one case, with the keyboards facing each other, and the hammers striking strings on either side of a single sound- board. In the same year, John Isaac Hawkins, an English engineer in Philadelphia, patented a "Portable Grand Piano," which was vertical and only fifty-four inches tall. Its unique action used a counterweight to encourage the hammer to fall away from the string. Hawkins also introduced metal bars as bracing behind the soundboard, an innova- tion that had no immediate successors but that preceded by some years the successful introduction of iron.

In the second decade of the nineteenth century, the era of the smaller upright began in earnest, with the "cottage piano" by Robert Wornum of London heralding a recognition that the middle class could now emulate the wealthy in the arts and own very good pianos that would fit their more modest homes and budgets. Wornum's im- proved upright "tape-check" action in has continued in modi- fied form right to the present.

But it did not solve problems of respon- siveness and touch, and until recently the upright action has never been very satisfactory. Wornum's early cottage pianos were only forty- one inches high, shorter than most modern uprights. To fit strings of a length that would give a tone approaching the decent, he hung them diagonally in his very short case.

Henri Pape of Paris attained even more miniaturization than Wor- num. His "piano consoles" were only about thirty-six inches high, so they took up little floor space and hardly any room against a wall. To achieve a tone that would be acceptable in the age of the grand piano, Pape devised a scheme of "cross-stringing" in the late s. Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos Here the longest bass strings ran diagonally from lower left to upper right, while the shorter treble strings ran in the opposite direction, and the longer ones crossed above the others.

By this scheme Pape not only squeezed longer strings into his tiny piano than he could have otherwise, but he also arranged that the bridge for the lower strings could be located where they would resonate more richly. The irony of Pape's innovation is that while he devised it to enable a small piano to sound more like a big one, it was eventually adopted in grand piano design as well, to make grand pianos sound even grander. Meanwhile, the square piano continued its career. In John Geib, then still working in London, patented an action for the square piano that contained the intermediate lever that made the actions of Silbermann pianos so responsive; at last there was an escapement for square pianos.

To keep up with grands, squares also grew bigger and bigger, with wider keyboard ranges, heavier hammers, thicker strings, and louder tone. These changes created problems in the square that were solved only with the introduction of iron. But before examining that development, let us return to the subject of how pi- anos were produced. Wealth and power were redistributed; class and labor were redefined. A worker changed from a "handicraft worker with tools" to "a machine opera- tor subjected to factory discipline.

But the corn- Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos pany was slow to do so. In George Dodd published an account of a visit to the Broadwood factory at Horseferry Road, Westminster, which the company had leased in He described how the build- ings and rooms were arranged in a way that reflected a logical system for production. The crucial lumber piles were carefully aged and dried in one area. In other portions of the factory, an impressive num- ber of workrooms carefully divided by piano styles and functions re- sembled cabinetmakers' shops with stoves and fireplaces for warm- ing glue.

The keyboards were cut with a framed saw, the fretwork by a fret saw, and the planks with pit saws. All were hand operated see Figure 6. No modern machinery for wood- working was added. With the abundance of skilled labor, the Broad- wood family thought that their traditional and conservative craft- based method would continue to serve them well in their production of about twenty-five hundred pianos each year. But as one economic historian pointed out, "even Broadwood's elaborate division of labour achieved an annual productivity of only seven pianos per man, no higher than that of small firms.

Jonas Chickering, a Boston manufacturer who had begun as a humble apprentice in , built a piano factory in Boston in with financial backing from John Mackay, a wealthy shipping merchant. By the early s, Chicker- ing had expanded to three other locations: The main factory burned on December 1, , four years before the Broadwood fire.

Visitors to the new factory were led first to the shining new steam engine, "a marvel of graceful motion" that provided power for the machines and heat for the entire building. In- stead of cutting the rough lumber with pit saws, the workmen used large new sawing and planing machines. They also used a steam- powered jigsaw for cutting fretwork for music desks see Figure 7. A steam-powered elevator described by one writer as large enough to hold a "comfortable-sized dinner party" with ease carried from floor to floor men, lumber, and work in progress.

Eventually what became known as the American System of manufacture was adopted by piano com- panies around the world. Did the new machinery and steam power obviate the need for skilled workers? The piano industry retained through the years many jobs that required skilled human dexterity and judgment.

One writer observed as late as that "the most complicated ma- chine in the Steinway factory is the finished grand piano. GOOD It did not take a factory system of manufacture to bring iron into piano frames. We have already seen that Hawkins tried iron braces in Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos the frames of his tiny uprights in The demand for ever-louder sound in pianos of all sorts led to ever-increasing tension on strings. Coupled with the inconvenience caused by the ease with which pianos of the day went out of tune, this made evident the need for stronger framing.

Sooner or later, someone would think of making metal frames. The power of the Industrial Revolution was that it shaped the atti- tudes of those who decided whether or not to accept this innovation.


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To build pianos with steam-powered tools was one thing; to put a cast- iron frame at the center of the instrument, making the product itself a modern if miniature factory of sound, rather than a fully hand-crafted artwork in wood, was quite another. The debate over whether to accept the change was lengthy and vigorous, with many feeling certain that iron in the piano would ruin the tone. Pianos of different shapes showed the strain of increased string tension in different places. Squares tended to respond to the diago- nal arrangement of the strings by warping upward at the right front and left back corners, even with thicker boards on the bottom and a stout oaken spine.

English and French grands tended to warp more than German and Viennese ones, which were mostly kept in good shape by their sturdy A-frame bracing. Soon after Hawkins's experiment with iron braces, other builders, in England especially, tried other ways to provide efficient iron braces for the grand. In , Broadwood attempted to run iron tension bars from the pin block in front to the string plate, at the other end of the strings, but he was unable to attach them securely. It was a system of nine metal tubes bolted into the pin block and the string plate, and its avowed function was to compensate for strings' tendency to go out of tune because of changes in the atmosphere.

The tubes were made of the same material as the strings below them, iron in the top and brass in the lower bass, so that they would contract and expand with temperature changes at the same rate as the strings. The only prob- lem with this strategy was that pianos go out of tune not because of Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos temperature changes but because of changes in humidity. The Thorn- Allen frame in fact functioned as a compression frame, resisting the string tension.

Alpheus Babcock patented the one-piece metal frame in Babcock, a very talented Boston craftsman, received his patent on De- cember 17, , to manufacture "the frame, to which the strings of the piano forte are attached, of cast iron, wrought-iron, brass compo- sition metal, or some other metal, or compound of metals, suitable to this purpose. But Babcock, after engaging in battles with other manufacturers over the ownership of the idea in the early s, went to work for Jonas Chickering from until his death in Chickering, who had the business savvy that Babcock lacked and who built pianos of every type, took up the iron frame and made a com- mercial success of it, first in square pianos and then in grands, which he became the first to build with iron frames in But it was some time before everyone came to use full iron frames.

Technological history has many examples of the lapse of time between innovation and success. An invention that seems by hindsight to be inevitable and natural may take decades or even centuries of debate or suppression before it comes to general adoption. Cristofori's piano is one case in point.

The iron frame is another. Henry Fowler Broadwood took the advice of his scientist friend Dr. William Pole, who warned Broadwood to steer clear of the iron frame lest he harm the tone and add to the weight and cost of his pianos. Albert-Louis Blondel, who had di- rected the Erard company since , said as late as that the Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos opinion against one-piece iron frames, long held by Erard, was founded on perceptions of tone quality.

The patent for the first cross-strung grand piano was given to Henry Steinway, Jr. The idea of cross-stringing was developed, as we have seen, by Henri Pape in the s as a device to allow small uprights to emulate the rich sound of the grands of the period. To in- troduce the idea into grand pianos was not to emulate any other kind of piano, but to push the concert sound of the piano into new territory.

The Steinway sound that was going to set the industry standard was to be louder, richer, and more blended less differentiated in timbre across its range than previous piano sounds. But that innovation in sound was not achieved by cross-stringing alone. It was achieved when Steinway brought cross-stringing together with a number of ear- lier changes in piano design, all of them invented by other builders and several of them pioneered on squares or uprights rather than grands: Babcock's one-piece iron frame, already patented by Chick- ering for straight-stringing on grands; the split bridge, invented by Broadwood about ; felt-covered hammers, pioneered by Henri Pape around ; the agraffe, a method of securing strings at the tuning-pin end used by Erard in ; and the full present-day range of seven octaves and a third, AAA-c ', already known in many pianos for some time.

This was a cluster of innovations that supported one another, not a set of unrelated devices that served disparate purposes. Together they produced a grand-piano sound that filled larger concert halls than ever before and by the end of the nineteenth century was inspir- ing new kinds of musical expression from composers and performers.

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It also became the sound that the manufacturers of smaller pianos needed to emulate. By the s, most European makers had discon- tinued making squares, and American makers finally followed their lead by the end of the century. Makers of uprights have persisted. In fact, although the grand defined the ideal sound for all pianos, the up- right has continued to dominate the market.

In i Joseph Hale, a shrewd Yankee and energetic man- ufacturer who had worked as a carpenter and run a successful pottery business in Worcester, Massachusetts, came to New York to enter the piano trade strictly out of commercial interest. In his forthright man- ner, he accused the established makers of charging an extravagant price for a piano with a fashionable name, and claimed that he wanted to offer "to the middle and industrial classes a good instrument at a cheap rate," causing a democratic revolution that would "make a pi- ano as easily procured as a cooking-stove or a sewing machine.

Needless to say, the established piano oligarchy opposed his approach, charging Hale with cheap workmanship and with turn- ing out instruments "like so much sausage-meat. Further, he rejected the agency system with its exclusive deal- erships and sought markets in the expanding American West, where dealers could have his instruments with their names stenciled on them.


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Even within the Steinway family, the outspoken and inventive eldest brother, Theodore, thought that his brother Wil- liam was charging too much. In a letter to William, he wrote that in Germany a Bechstein piano cost marks retail, a Steinway marks wholesale. He insisted that they stop underwriting artists, use Steinway Hall for a wareroom, and reduce dealer markup: Kimball of Chicago, one of Hale's biggest clients, was a master at developing aggressive marketing methods and selling pi- anos in the West.

In he began what became a very profitable piano business by trading some Iowa land for four square pianos. Like Hale, Kimball anticipated the needs of the pioneers, many of them European immigrants with a long tradition of music making. Like Hale, Kimball wanted to sell instruments as an s Kimball sales promotion stated that were "within the reach of the farmer on his prairie, the miner in his cabin, the fisherman in his hut, the culti- vated mechanic in his neat cottage in the thriving town.

Baldwin, a Cincinnati dealer who also built a profitable and lasting piano firm. Baldwin, taking his cue from the Singer Sewing Machine Company, hired sewing machine salesmen in to carry out the installment plan with pianos. Salesmen were paid on commis- sion, not salary. Buyers signed a contract with a salesman and paid a Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 53 small down payment with terms for regular payments until the bill was paid in full usually one to three years. The title to the instru- ment remained with the manufacturer until full payment.

For some hard-nosed dealers, a late payment could mean the purchaser's loss of the instrument and all that had been invested in it. But more gen- erous dealers considered this practice unscrupulous. In five years' experience we have not a single transaction of that kind, and we have many times re- funded money paid in excess of a low rental, taking back the instru- ment, but always with the cheerful consent of the customer.

Even the best of credit risks suffered the "humiliation of repossession" when they failed to keep up payments during the Depression in the s. Some Kimball wholesalers would go on the road with a full line, set up a sale in a promising town, and "after closing out a number of instruments at good prices go around to some drug- gist or furniture dealers" and persuade them to take the remaining stock on consignment.

The head of the Kimball wholesale depart- ment, E. Conway from Wisconsin, set up a system of traveling sales- men who, according to some in the trade, sometimes coerced good agents into mortgaging themselves to the "Kimball System. Kim- ball system is to the music trade what the Standard Oil is to the oil trade," an accusation that might have seemed even more true once Kimball began manufacturing its own pianos in Kim- ball and others in the trade saw Conway as a natural-born salesman, "fresh from the farm himself, with manure still on his heels," more like the successful salesman "who was willing to load a piano or organ on a wagon, drive into the country, unload his piano or organ at Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos some farm house, and play and demonstrate it in hope of making a sale.

Some, like Sears, Roebuck and Montgomery Ward, offered pianos and reed organs along with bicycles, buggies, furniture, clothing, sewing ma- chines, and many other goods. Guaranteed for twenty-five years, the pianos were made "by the largest and most reputable makers of high grade instruments in the country" of carefully selected hard rock maple, finished not ve- neered in mahogany or fancy burl walnut "so cleverly made that it is with difficulty that you can tell them from the natural wood.

As citizens grew more prosperous, they added to their purchases not only pianos but also the emerging competition for their time and money: Piano manufacturers and dealers scrambled to respond and to stay afloat. For the household without musical talent, the player piano offered musical enjoyment without practice. One writer suggests that in America, where the piano had been a pastime primarily for females and for- eigners, the player appealed directly to American-born men.

Total production of all types of pianos in America hit its peak in with Designing, Making, and Selling Pianos 55 nearly , player pianos made up about one-eighth of this total. Please try again later. It is like absolutely new and is an excellent book on piano history. An extraordinary piece of research and writing. Great service; product as described. Kindle Edition Verified Purchase. Purchased the hardcopy edition 4 years ago and enjoyed reading it over and over. The content is very encyclopaedic and the pictures and illustrations are superb. The only downside is that it weighs a ton that I couldn't take it outside for a read.

Fast forward to the iPad age and it's one of the 1st ebook I have considered to re-purchase in electronic form. After being indecisive for a few months, finally had the urge to buy from Amazon's Kindle department. A few more extra time spent scanning those pics would have been so much better! A cultural history of the piano, the role it has played in our culture over the past three years. Call this one an important lesson in the key of life. To celebrate the th birthday of everyone's fave instrument, author James Parakilas has written a book at once awesome and astounding, a stunning cultural history, told in vivid detail and ample anecdotes and stunning color photographs, of the musical and social roles that the piano has played in its long and amazing career.

It became so popular, for instance, as the result of not just ingenious mechanical design but also ingenious marketing. An important book whether your tastes run to Beatles or Berlin, Liszt or Liberace. See all 7 reviews. Amazon Giveaway allows you to run promotional giveaways in order to create buzz, reward your audience, and attract new followers and customers.

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