The Rise of Pianism: Improved Pianos

  June 20, 2021   Read time 2 min
The Rise of Pianism: Improved Pianos
The inevitable connection between the improvement of mechanical implements and the advance of artistic styles is finely illustrated by the reaction of the experiments in piano-making from about 1760 upon the entire character of keyboard music.

Until that date the piano was not much more than a curiosity. Inventors had not seriously attacked its mechanical problems and players found it less useful than the powerful harpsichords that were common. But the political disorders in central Europe about 1760 sent many workmen to England and these, apparently stimulated by the influence of Christian Bach, began a movement for better devices that had important sequels. Somewhat later came a new interest in piano-making in Austria and Bavaria, soon paralleled also in France. Between 1780 and 1790 competent instruments, with various forms of action, began to become fairly plentiful, and before 1800 the supremacy of the harpsichord ceased.

It is impossible here to give any sufficient account of the gradual process of improvement in the piano, but some notes upon pioneers will be useful.

Christian Ernst Friederici (d. 1779), a Saxon organ-builder, is commonly said to have made the first 'square' pianos, perhaps before 1760, but no example remains. He was taught by Silbermann.

JohannZumpe, a German workman, became well known in England about 1765 for the excellence of his small pianos. These had a simple and fairly effective action in which the hammer was thrown, without escapement, by a leather-headed wire jack (popularly called' the old man's head ') and the damper lifted by another (" the mopstick ")'.

Amerlcus Backers (d. c. 178I), a Dutchman in Tschudi's employ at London, soon after 1770 developed the Cristofori action by using a jack that engages a shoulder on the hammer-butt and 'escapes' past it, the movement being regulated by a screw, and by supplying the check to catch the recoil of the hammer. This action was the germ of the so-called' English action,' later developed by the Stodarts and the Broadwoods. In 1786 John Geib invented the' hopper' or ' underhammer ' in place of the fixed jack.

Burkhardt Tschudi (d. 1.773), from about 1728 a harpsichord-maker in London, had from 1761 a Scotch employee, John Broadwood (d. 1812), who in 1769 became his son-in-law and in 1770 his partner. The latter succeeded to the busin ess, and the finn, after the admission of two sons in 1795 and 1807, became John Broadwood & Sons, which title still persists. From 1773 Broadwood used Zumpe's method of making square pianos and from 1780 a model of his own, in which for the first time the tuning-pins were placed on the left, besides from 1788 stretching the heavy strings over a separate bridge. He was the first to apply the damper-pedal and the' soft pedal' substantially as now.