Square pianos and Grand pianos

What is our impression of square pianos today? why?!

 

Pianos were made either as grand, square or upright. Upright pianos existed

even from late baroque but generally much less in number than squares and

grands until ca.1850 that square pianos were going out of fashion, grands

remaind in their same position and upright pianos took square piano's place

in private homes. So we discus here about the importance of squares and

grand pianos of the golden age of fortepianos.

 

Today we use to see that square pianos are not considered to

the early music world and by no means to others  who know

piano only as modern loud piano as a serious instrument! the

main reason is because they are not enough loud for our ears

which are used to very loud (up to maybe 7 times louder upright

or grand modern pianos!).

 

The second reason is because it does cost almost the same to

restore a square piano or a grand piano and most of square pianos

are still consiered as beautiful furniture pieces of late 18th and early

19th centuries...so most of square pianos surving today are not

playable or if yes, mostly out of tune! unlike old times, owners/players

do/can not tune their own instruments!! 

 

London and then Paris were the capitals of square pianos.

In Vienna where there were many more pianos made than

anywhere else in the world there were also many square pianos

made but probably they were made less than grands in number! 

 

So the main capital city of square piano was London and from

there many square pianos with good price, with ivory and

mahogany were imported to Germany, Austria and other countries.

They were made roboust, durable, beautiful and sounded of course

good! these kinds of pianos were THE fortepianos of their own day and

most people could afford one which they did and that's why still

many of them can be found for sale on the market or be viewed in musuems.

 

 

 

Composers like Haydn, Mozart, Rossini, Hummel and many others used to have

square pianos or played on them and when you compare the internal parts, there is

no way in saying that a square piano is made with

less care and craftsmanship! on the other hand, it is even 

more difficult to make a square piano because the strings are

not straight but diagnosal!

 

 

 

 

 

These lovely little pianos (in Vienna they were also called,

English type kleine piano fortes etc.) were also beautiful

objects for each room's corner. When we open the lid of

 a square piano, it is still too soft for our ears but in those

times, they mostly used to play it with closed lid!

 

 

The first piano recital in the music history was played by Johann Christian Bach

on a Zumpe square piano in 1768 although Zumpe square piano was 

used one year before by J.C Bach to accompany the voice with viola da gamba!

(Zumpe, Pohlmann and most other piano makers in 

London made only square pianos!) 

 

Square pianos in the continent (or Tafelklaviere in German) were also made in great

number with much more varity in design. Some of them were made with

several stops called (Klangänderungen) by Wagner or Jeckel etc. who

called it clavecin royale. Or without dampers in normal clavichord/rectangulair

shape just like all other square pianos or harp shape (liegende Harfe) also

with 2 or more stops which today can be found on a few museums falsely

listed as square pianos! but they were called Pantalons. Although even

some other types or pianos or generally ''claviers'' 

were called Pantalons!

In this collection you find a rare example of a 5 octave Pantalon.

 

In the 18th century France square pianos were made after English models

but with more stops, not exactly in the same manner as German ones but

in their own way. The most famous and

sought after square pianos were made by Mecken and Erard.

Very few French grand pianos survive today but a great

number of square pianos still survive.

 

 

 

In the 19th century the seize and range of the square piano in England

and continent expanded and of course the bigger seize, higher tension

and more massive body and heavier hammers means louder sound but

still the sound quality was the chief concern not the volum because with

that volum one could only play in a room or in a small salon.

We know that they did these internal concerts on square pianos from the

paintings but also from the square pianos that are veneered from the back

too, which was never the case before. It shows that it was placed in the

middle, probably even with the lid off.

Internal music stands were made for the post 1800 square pianos which

shows that the pianos were played since then also with opened lid. That's

why there were dust covers made obove the action and soundboard.

 

There are paintings from Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Chopin, boieldieu and

many others that show them playing square pianos.

There is rarely a famous composer's portrait without a square piano! if not,

the square piano itself is addressed to the composer, like in case of Richard

Wagner, Clara Schumann or others.

By the middle of the 19th century the square piano was going out of

fashion and was replaced with upright pianos which also took

not so much space but were much louder.

 

 

 

 

So it is clear that the volum of the sound is the main reason that these

instruments went out of fashion.

Another thing that needs a clearance is that some people think today

because the square piano is smaller than a grand the action is less refined

than of a grand which is by no means correct. Square pianos of Wagner

(called clavecin royale) had escapement mecchanism or square pianos of

Stein pupils (like the Guante square piano in this collection) have the

usual escapement of Prellmechanik. Ganer or Zumpe pianos of late 1780s

had also escapement. 

 

When in the 19th century grand pianos in Vienna were going to have CC in the

bass whereas the squares had the normal 6 octaves, makers like Johann Fritz

(also in this collection) made such a wide compass

in the square pianos...used exactly the same materials and functions as they

applied on grands, like 4-5 pedals etc. There was nothing ignored or reduced

on square pianos. So there is no single reason for us today to ignore square

pianos and not taking them serious.

 

 

 

 

 

In the recent decade David Hackett in England and Tom Strange in the

USA have been very active in introducing square pianos to the musicians

and the general public. Square piano weeks have been organised in the

Finchcocks museum in England and books written about square pianos

(by Michael Cole) or essays published in German language about German

square pianos (Alfons Huber and Christian Ahrens etc.).

Several collectors have made private collections of many English square

pianos and introduce them and do their best for restoring them and

bringing them back to their glory.

 

The German square piano is still not introduced well, mostly because

there are very few of them to be found and those who own them are either

private owners who do not want to share any information with others

or a number of them are in cellars of Museums like 

Germanisches National museum lying under dust. Receiving information 

from them is very difficult although there are one or two photos of each on 

europana.eu

 

In this collection luckily there are many square pianos from Germany, Vienna, Paris, London and Italy  from late 18th and early 19th centuries. These are all works in process or some are restored and ready to play. 

Fortunately the photos and information about each of them are on this website free for everyone and each month more and more is updated. Hopefully soon there will be sound and videos from each piano.