A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Chiroplast

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CHIROPLAST. An apparatus designed to facilitate the acquirement of a correct position of the hands on the pianoforte. It was the invention of J. B. Logier, and was patented in 1814.

It consisted of a wooden framework which extended the whole length of the keyboard, and was firmly attached to the same by means of screws. At the front of the keyboard, and therefore nearest the player, were two parallel rails, between which the hands were placed. The wrists could thus be neither raised nor lowered, but could only move from side to side. At a suitable elevation above the keys, and about six inches behind the parallel rails, was a brass rod extending the whole length of the framework, and carrying the so-called 'Finger Guides.' These were two brass frames, which could be moved along the rod to any part of the keyboard, each having five divisions, through which the thumb and four fingers were introduced. The divisions were formed of thin plates of metal, which exactly corresponded to the divisions between the keys of the instrument. They hung in a vertical position from the brass frames above mentioned to very nearly the level of the keys, and of course prevented the fingers from moving in any but a vertical direction.

To the top of each finger-guide was attached a stout brass wire with regulating screw, which pressing against the outside of the wrist, kept the hand in its proper position with regard to the arm. In addition, there was a board ruled with bass and treble staves, called the gamut board, to be placed on the music-desk, on which each note throughout the entire compass of the instrument was found written precisely above its corresponding key. This was believed to be of great service in teaching the names of the notes.

The chiroplast was designed to assist Logier in the instruction of his little daughter, seven years of age. He was then living in Ireland, and the result so fully answered his expectations that he determined to repair to Dublin (about 1814) and devote himself entirely to the propagation of his system. Here his success was so considerable, that he soon took the highest position as a pianoforte teacher.

His method included two novelties—the use of the chiroplast, and the plan of making several pupils, to the number of twelve or more, play at the same time on as many pianofortes. To this end he wrote a number of studies, which were published in his 'First Companion to the Royal Chiroplast,' and other works, in which several studies, of various degrees of difficulty, were capable of being played simultaneously. About this part of the method great diversity of opinion existed. Many critics could perceive nothing but evil in it. Spohr, however, in a letter written from London to the 'Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung,' in 1820, expresses himself favourably upon it. He was present at an examination of Logier's pupils, and writes—'when a new study was begun in quick tempo, the less advanced pupils were unable to get in more than a note or two in each bar, but by degrees they conquered more and more of the difficulties, and in a shorter time than one could have believed possible the study went well.'

By the terms of his patent, Logier exercised the right of granting permission to other professors to make use of the chiroplast and his system, for which they paid high terms. In 1816 he succeeded in persuading so many professors of the excellences of his method, that chiroplast academies were established in the provinces, and Samuel Webbe, at that time in great vogue, commenced teaching the system in London.

So much success was not allowed to pass unchallenged, and hostile criticisms found expression in a number of pamphlets, some respectable, some merely abusive. Of these the principal were an article in the 'Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review,' i. 3; 'General Observations,' etc. (Edinburgh, R. Burdie, 1817); and 'Strictures on Mr. Logier's System …,' by H. de Monti (Glasgow, W. Turnbull).

Feeling that these publications were likely to injure him Logier determined to invite the members of the Philharmonic Society, and other musicians, to attend an examination of Webbe's pupils in London on Nov. 17, 1817. The results of this examination were published by him in a pamphlet entitled 'An Authentic Account, etc., by J. B. Logier' (London, Hunter, 1818).

This was answered in a new pamphlet, 'An exposition of the New System …, published by a Committee of Professors in London' (London, Budd and Calkin, 1818). The committee was chosen from among those who had attended the examination on Nov. 17, and consisted of 29 of the most distinguished musicians of the day—Sir George Smart, Drs. Carnaby, Crotch, and Smith, Messrs. Attwood, Ayrton, Beale, Burrows, François Cramer, Dance, Ferrari, Greatorex, Griffin, Hawes, William Horsley, Hullmandel, Knyvett, C. Knyvett, jun., Latour, Mazzinghi, Neate, Vincent Novello, Potter, Ries, Sherrington, Schoener, Walmisley, T. Welch, Williams.

Logier rejoined in a not very temperate tract—'A Refutation of the Fallacies and Misrepresentations,' etc.

For some time after this, pamphlets in abundance made their appearance. One of the most bitter was an article written by Kollmann, organist to the German Chapel, St. James's, to the 'Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung' in Nov. 1821, and published at the same time in English, in which the writer is candid enough to say that he believes the principal secret of Logier's system is to rob all other professors of their pupils.

On the other side, Spohr, in the letter already quoted, says, 'There is no doubt that the chiroplast fulfils its purpose of inducing a good position of the hands and arms, and is of great service to Herr Logier, who has to look after thirty or forty children playing at once.' And in 1821 Franz Stoepel, who was sent to London by the Prussian government to examine into Logier's system, made so favourable a report that Logier was invited to Berlin, where in 1822 he established a chiroplast school, which was so successful that the King proposed to him to instruct twenty professors in his method, with the view of spreading it over the whole of Prussia. Logier accordingly remained three years in Berlin, visiting London at intervals. Meantime the chiroplast was introduced into many of the leading towns of Germany. In Paris, Zimmermann, professor of the pianoforte at the Conservatoire, had classes on the system, but in England it gradually died out, until it may be doubted if a single professor remains who employs the method, though the apparatus is still occasionally to be met with at sales of secondhand instruments.

The chief drawback to the chiroplast, apart from the risk of the hands falling into bad positions when the support was withdrawn, was the fact that the thumb could not be passed under the fingers, nor the fingers over the thumb, as in scale-playing. Kalkbrenner, who joined Logier in the establishment of a chiroplast class in 1818, perceived this, and in consequence adopted his so-called hand-guide, which consisted simply of the lower rail or wrist-support of the chiroplast, without the finger-guides, in which simplified form it is manufactured and sold at the present day (1877). By another modification the hand was placed in a sliding wooden mould, made to fit the palm, and secured by a small strap which passed over the back of the hand, thus allowing free movement of the hand along the keyboard, and of the thumb under the fingers.

That Logier's proceedings were not free from charlatanism may be inferred from the fact of the establishment in Dublin of a 'Chiroplast Club,' with a special button; and that his pretensions were extravagant may be gathered from his remark to Mazzinghi, that he 'considered himself an instrument, in the hands of Providence, for changing the whole system of musical instruction.' Still, the object in view was good, and the attention drawn to the subject cannot fail to have exercised a beneficial influence on pianoforte teaching.

[ F. T. ]