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Collection: Early Piano

Early Piano is a Pianoforte...

Cristofori's new instrument remained relatively unknown until an Italian writer, Scipione Maffei, wrote an enthusiastic article about it in 1711, including a diagram of the mechanism, that was translated into German and widely distributed. Most of the next generation of piano builders started their work based on reading this article. One of these builders was Gottfried Silbermann, better known as an organ builder. Silbermann's pianos were virtually direct copies of Cristofori's, with one important addition: Silbermann invented the forerunner of the modern sustain pedal, which lifts all the dampers from the strings simultaneously. This allows the pianist to sustain the notes that they have depressed even after their fingers are no longer pressing down the keys. This innovation enabled pianists to, for example, play a loud chord with both hands in the lower register of the instrument, sustain the chord with the sustain pedal, and then, with the chord continuing to sound, relocate their hands to a different register of the keyboard in preparation for a subsequent section.

 

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Grand piano by Louis Bas of Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, 1781. Earliest French grand piano known to survive; includes an inverted wrestplank and action derived from the work of Bartolomeo Cristofori (ca. 1700) with ornately decorated soundboard.

Silbermann showed Johann Sebastian Bach one of his early instruments in the 1730s, but Bach did not like the instrument at that time, claiming that the higher notes were too soft to allow a full dynamic range. Although this earned him some animosity from Silbermann, the criticism was apparently heeded. Bach did approve of a later instrument he saw in 1747, and even served as an agent in selling Silbermann's pianos. "Instrument: piano et forte genandt"–a reference to the instrument's ability to play soft and loud–was an expression that Bach used to help sell the instrument when he was acting as Silbermann's agent in 1749.

Piano-making flourished during the late 18th century in the Viennese school, which included Johann Andreas Stein (who worked in Augsburg, Germany) and the Viennese makers Nannette Streicher (daughter of Stein) and Anton Walter. Viennese-style pianos were built with wood frames, two strings per note, and leather-covered hammers. Some of these Viennese pianos had the opposite coloring of modern-day pianos; the natural keys were black and the accidental keys white. It was for such instruments that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart composed his concertos and sonatas, and replicas of them are built in the 21st century for use in authentic-instrument performance of his music. The pianos of Mozart's day had a softer, more ethereal tone than 21st century pianos or English pianos, with less sustaining power. The term fortepiano now distinguishes these early instruments (and modern re-creations) from later pianos.

 

At Shackleford Pianos we are be able to restored antiques, early pianos. Our restoration team constantly research traditional piano manufacturing methods... Some works:

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