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
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.