A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Grand Piano

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

GRAND PIANO (Fr. Piano à queue; Ital. Piano a coda; Germ. Flügel). The long horizontal pianoforte, the shape of which, tapering along the bent side towards the end, has suggested the French, Italian, and German appellations of 'tail' and 'wing,' the latter of which was borne also by the predecessor of the grand piano, the harpsichord.

The inventor of the pianoforte, Cristofori, had as early as the year 1711 made four 'gravicembali col piano e forte,' three of which we learn by the account of Scipione Maffei were of the usual, that is long harpsichord shape; they were therefore grand pianos, although the prefix 'grand' does not occur as applied to a piano until Stodart's patent of 1777. The Cavaliere Leto Puliti, to whose researches we owe the vindication of Cristofori' s claim to be the first inventor, saw and examined in 1874 a grand piano in Florence made by Cristofori in 1720. Farinelli's 'Rafael d'Urbino,' described by Dr. Burney as the favourite piano of that famous singer, was a Florentine piano of 1730, and appears to have been also a grand. Cristofori had followers, but we hear no more of pianoforte making in Italy after his death, in 1731.

We are not told whether the Silbermann pianos bought up in 1747 by Frederick the Great, were grand or square in shape, and those instruments, which were described by Forkel as existing in 1802, recent researches have not been successful in finding. There is an anonymous grand in the New Palace at Potsdam, said to have been one on which J. S. Bach played when he visited the King. If so this would be a very early German grand, and one of Silbermann's, but absence of name or date leaves us in doubt. [App. p.654 replace this paragraph with "The Silbermann pianos bought by Frederick the Great, still preserved at Potsdam (at the Town Palace, the New Palace, and Sans Souci) are three in number, and are of the grand form. They are copies of the grand pianos by Cristofori dated 1720 and 1726, which are preserved at Florence. This important fact was determined by the writer on a special visit to Berlin in 1881."]

It is certain the pianos made in London between 1760–70 by Zumpe and other Germans were of the 'table' or square shape. James Shudi Broadwood (MS. Notes 1838, printed 1862) states that the grand piano with the so-called English action was invented by Americus Backers, a Dutchman, and a note appended claims for John Broadwood and his apprentice Robert Stodart, the merit of assisting him. The writer has seen a nameboard for a grand piano referred to by Dr. Pole in 'Musical Instruments of the Exhibition of 1851'—inscribed 'Americus Backers, Factor et Inventor, Jermyn St. London, 1776.' His action, since known as the 'English Action,' is shown in the drawing to Stodart's patent of 1777, already referred to, for coupling a piano with a harpsichord. It is the same in the principle of the escapement as that of Cristofori, 1711.

There is no reference in Mozart's letters to the shape of the pianos he played upon, those of Spaett or Stein for example. The one preserved in the Mozarteum at Salzburg, made by Walter of Vienna, is a grand, and the date attributed to it is 1780. It was Stein's grand action that became subsequently known as the 'Viennese,' and we should derive it from Silbermann's [App. p.654 "the actions here referred to are different. [See Pianoforte.]"] could we trust implicitly the drawings in Welcker von Gontershausen's 'Der Clavierbau' (Frankfort 1870). The probability is that Stein submitted this action to Mozart, and that it was the one so much approved of by him (Letter, Oct. 17, 1777).

According to Fétis the first grand piano made in France was by Sebastian Erard in 1796, and it was on the English model. But Erard's London patent for one was earlier, being dated 1794, and the drawing was allied rather to Silbermann's idea [App. p.654 replace with "to an early German action (not Schroeter's model) improved upon by Stein"]. Perhaps the instrument was not made. The difference introduced into Pianoforte playing by the continued use of the very different grand actions of London and Vienna, has been explained by Hummel in his Pianoforte School. Sebastian Erard set himself the problem of his famous Repetition Action apparently to combine the advantages of both. The Viennese action is still adhered to in Austria for the cheaper grands, but the English (Broadwood) and French (Erard) actions are used for the better classes, and their various modifications occupy the rest of the field of grand piano making in other countries. The enormous advance due to the introduction of iron into the structure of the instrument began with James Shudi Broadwood's tension bars in 1808 [App. p.654 replace with "Allen's tubes and plates, patented in 1820"]: the latest development we enjoy in the magnificent concert grands of contemporary makers. [See Cristofori and Pianoforte.]

[ A. J. H. ]