Page:A Dictionary of Music and Musicians vol 2.djvu/727

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Zumpe's, or Mason's, action drawn from the instrument of 1766, is shown in Fig. 6.

Fig. 6.

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In the key c is fixed the jack g, a wire with a leather stud on the top, known by the workmen as the 'old man's head.' This raises the hammer o; the damper, r, is lifted by a whalebone jack, v, called the 'mopstick,' placed near the end of the key, and is brought back to its place by the whalebone spring, u; a third piece of whalebone, x, projecting from the end of the key, works in a groove, and serves exactly as in the clavichord, to keep the key steady, there being no front keypin. The two balance-rail keypins shown in the drawing belong to two keys, the natural and sharp, and indicate the different balancing desiderated in all keyboards by the different lengths of the natural and sharp keys. The dampers were divided into treble and bass sections, raised bodily by two drawstops when not required, there being as yet no pedal.

Square pianos were occasionally fitted with drawers for music, and were sometimes made to look like tables: the writer has seen a table piano, in style of furniture about 1780, but which bore on a label the name and date, Zumpe 1760. This cannot be accepted as authentic, but the action is of so much interest that it must be described, as publication may be the means of ultimately identifying its origin. The instrument belongs to Mr. Herbert Bowman, and the diagram is from a careful drawing by Mr. Robert Maitland.

Fig. 7.

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Here the pad, d, upon the key, is regulated in height by a screw, and when raised lifts the jack g, which is attached by a leather hinge to the hammer a. The damper is conjectural; but Mr. Maitland has probably indicated it correctly. The special feature is the fact of the vicarious space for an escapement being below the jack instead of above it, as in Zumpe's 'old man's head.'

In 1759, John Christian Bach arrived in London. According to Burney, who is however careless about chronological sequence, the first pianoforte seen in England was made in Rome by Father Wood, an English monk. It remained unique for several years until copied by an instrument-maker named Plenius. 'After Bach's arrival,' says Burney (Rees's Cyclopaedia, 1819, article 'Harpsichord'), all the harpsichord makers in this country tried their mechanical powers on pianofortes, but the first attempts were always on the large size.' From a previous sentence we learn that Backers, a harpsichord-maker of the secondrank, constructed several pianofortes, 'but the tone, with all the delicacy of Schroeter's touch, lost the spirit of the harpsichord and gained nothing in sweetness.' Now Schroeter the pianist (not he who has been already mentioned), came to London in 1772.[1]

The late James Shudi Broadwood, writing in the Gentleman's Magazine in 1812, attributes the invention of the grand piano in 1772 to a Dutchman, Americus Baccers (accurately Backers[2]); and again, in his 'MS. Notes and Observations' (written 1838; printed for private circulation 1862) he repeats this statement about Backers, but with a later date—about 1776. This probably alludes to the pianoforte of which the nameboard is referred to in footnote 2[2], at that time still existing. The earlier date is nearer the mark, but the 'invention' must be interpreted as meaning a new action, an improvement on that of Cristofori (which may have been transmitted through Silbermann), or rather on Cristofori's first idea, by the contrivance of the regulating button and screw which rendered his direct action certain, and was ultimately known as the 'English action' as Backers's was always called abroad. Mr. Henry Fowler Broadwood, the present head of the firm of John Broadwood & Sons, in a footnote to his father's statement in the 'MS. notes,' communicates the family tradition that his grandfather, John Broadwood, with his apprentice, Robert Stodart, assisted Backers to bring this action to perfection—a word which he may use unreservedly, as more than a hundred years have passed by and the direct 'English action' has not yet been superseded. It has met all the demands of the far-advanced technique of the present day: Chopin preferred it to any other, whether made by Pleyel in Paris or Broadwood in London, and some of the most eminent living pianists might

  1. Johann Samuel Schroeter (1750–88), the first pianist recorded as having had a 'touch,' came to London In the year above stated, and played at the Thatched House on the Forte Piano (Haydn in London, by C. F. Pohl, Vienna 1867, p. 347). His wife was an intimate friend of Haydn's.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Burney, in 1773, praised Backers' pianofortes. We have seen a nameboard inscribed 'Americus Backers, Inventor et Fecit, Jermyn Street, London. 1776.'