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The First Fleet Piano: Volume One

Descriptive Conventions

The Term ‘Piano’1

During the eighteenth century, there was no commonly used term for the piano. Stewart Pollens identifies 20 different eighteenth-century titles for the piano:

Gravicembalo col piano e forte (Maffei, 1711), Arpicembalo col piano e forte (Medici inventory, 1700), gravecembalo à martelli (Italian dictionary, second half of the eighteenth century), Cimbalo di piano e forte di martelletti (Giustini, 1732), cembalo à martellino (testament of Farinelli, 1782), clavecin à maillets (Marius, 1716), clavecin à marteau (F. E. Blanchet’s inventory), Pantalone (Schröter, 1717), Cymbal-Clavir (Ficker, 1731), Fortbien and Bienfort (Friederici, ca. 1745), cravo de martelos (Antunes, 1760), clavicordio de piano (testament of Maria Barbara of Braganza, 1753), clave piano (Madrid newspaper, 1777), Pantalon, Hämmer-pantalone, Hämmerwerke, Pandoret, and Claveçin Roial (the last five terms by Daniel Gottlob Türk, 1789), Banlony (J. C. Jeckel and C. Jeckel, Worms, ca. 1790).2

Moreover, in 1770, Franz Jacob Spath (Späth)3 (1714–86) named his new invention ‘Clavecin d’Amour’.4 In 1774 in New York, Johann Sheybli offered a ‘hammer spinet’ for sale ‘by which he … meant a … piano’.5 A contemporaneous title page for piano music composed by Joseph Antonin Steffan (1726–97) indicates ‘Clavi Cembalo d’espressione’.6 Furthermore, ‘Johann Andreas Stein [1728–92] always described himself as a faiseur de clavecins, [maker of harpsichords] … whether he placed his signature label on a harpsichord or piano’.7

During the 1700s, the words ‘piano’ and ‘forte’ (and their variants) were quite interchangeable, and subject to many permutations. For example, the periodical L’Avant-coureur (The Forerunner), dated Monday, 6 April 1761, refers to the ‘clavessins a piano e forte’ of Gottfried Silbermann (1683–1753);8 Silbermann called his pianos ‘piano fort’ and ‘piano et forte’.9 In Strasbourg, Johann Heinrich Silbermann called his pianos ‘forté-piano’.10 In Zürich, Jean Caspar Maag (1744–1822) referred to his pianos as ‘forte piano’. Jacob Adlung (1699–1762), in his Musica Mechanica Organoedi, uses the term ‘piano forte’.11 Johann Adam Hiller (1728–1804), in his Wöchentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend (Weekly News and Notes on Music), uses the terms ‘fortepiano’ and ‘pianoforte’ interchangeably on the same page when describing the pianos of Gottfried Silbermann and Johann Andreas Stein respectively.12 Certain solo keyboard works and concerti composed by Joseph Anton Steffan indicate on their title page ‘forte piano’, ‘forte e piano’ or ‘Cembalo di Forte Piano’.13 Sometime before 1774, a ‘cembalo a piano e forte’ made by the Neapolitan priest and organ maker Donato del Piano (fl. 1720–85) was sent as a gift to the Queen of Naples.14 ‘Spanish piano owners in 1780 refer to their “fuerte-piano”.’15 In Madrid, Francisco Fernández (1766–1852) and Francisco Flórez (d. 1824) called their instruments ‘fortes pianos’.16 In an advertisement published in the Public Advertiser of Monday, 21 January 1765, Friedrich Neubauer (d. 1774) calls his square piano17 a ‘pyano forte’. In the Public Advertiser of Friday, 1 March 1771, the Dutch-born London-based keyboard instrument maker Americus Backers (d. 1778) called his piano (with its distinctive ‘English’ type of hammer mechanism) a ‘forte piano’. Making pianos that were identical to those of Backers, the Scottish-born Robert Stodart (1748–1831) described his instruments as ‘piano forte’. In an advertisement published in the New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury of Monday, 10 October 1774, Johann Sheybli claimed to make ‘fortepianoes’.18 An extant tuner’s notebook from the 1770s uses the terms ‘forte piano’ and ‘piano forte’ on successive pages when referring to the same instrument, and a few pages later adopts the shorter form ‘piano’.19 In 1780, Johann Christoph Zumpe (1726–90) described his epoch-making invention as a ‘piano-forte’.20 ‘Among the major Viennese builders, Joseph Dohnal [1759–1829] in c. 1795, and Conrad Graf [1782–1851] in c. 1820 referred to themselves as makers of the Fortepiano.’21

For the purposes of this study, the terms ‘fortepiano’ and ‘piano’ are used interchangeably to denote the eighteenth to early nineteenth-century wooden-framed touch-sensitive stringed keyboard instrument whose strings are sounded by pivoted hammers. The instrument’s frame may include gap spacers and/or iron tension bars.

The term ‘modern piano’ denotes the type of ‘grand’ or ‘upright’ instrument whose design, touch and sound characteristics were fundamentally established during the late 1880s (and have remained basically unchanged since), now commonly encountered in conservatoria, concert halls and homes.

Differences in the sound, touch and design of the piano’s many incarnations not only prove that the instrument’s history is not that ‘of the single-minded pursuit of an ideal form’,22 but also that ‘every piano is historical … no piano embodies the history of the instrument … [and] there is no such thing as the modern piano any more than there is such a thing as the early piano’.23

Note Names

Note names are identified in the following way:24

Source: M. Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), p. xii. Reproduced with permission of Michael Cole.

Textual Conventions

In order to avoid use of the mannerism ‘sic’ within the context of quotations, misspellings, errors and eighteenth-century typographical idiosyncrasies remain intact (despite the possibility for the emergence of an alluring air of quaintness); insertions are signalled with square brackets.

When a nameboard inscription appears in the text as the conclusion of a sentence, the final full stop may not reflect the acutal presence of a full stop in the original inscription.

Online References

In footnotes, links are provided in order to allow the viewing of source material online. Because the permanency of links cannot be ensured, this study contains sufficient bibliographic data to enable future readers to find a referenced source.

Material is repeated when there is benefit to be gained through reinforcement, reminder or by viewing it from a different perspective.

When needed, the reader may wish to consult the glossary (Appendix Q) at the end of the book.


1 Most of the material in ‘Descriptive Conventions’ is strongly based on, or comprises pronouncements found in, Michael Cole’s acknowledged modern classic The Pianoforte in the Classical Era (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), pp. xi–xiii, and John Koster’s Keyboard Musical Instruments in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Boston: Museum of Fine Arts, 1994), pp. xxi–xxii.

2 S. Pollens, The Early Pianoforte (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 5.

3 In his day, Spath’s surname was usually written without an umlaut. It is probable, however, that ‘both ‘Spath’ and ‘Späth’ were used during the eighteenth century’. G. P. di Stefano, ‘The Tangentenflügel and Other Pianos with Non-Pivoting Hammers’, in The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 61 (April) (London: The Galpin Society, 2008), p. 80, fn. 5. For the purposes of this study, ‘Spath’ will be used.

4 J. A. Hiller (ed.), Musikalische Nachrichten und Anmerkungen auf das Jahr 1770. Erster Theil [Musical News and Notes for the Year 1770. First Part] (Leipzig: Im Verlag der Zeitungs Expedition, 1770), 30 April 1770, p. 142.

5 L. Libin, ‘Early Piano Culture in America’, in R. Bösel (ed.), La Cultura del Fortepiano 1770–1830 Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi Roma, 26–29 maggio 2004 [The Culture of Fortepiano 1770–1830: Proceedings of the International Conference in Rome 26–29 May 2004] (Bologna: Ut Orpheus Edizioni, 2009), p. 381. See also C. A. Hoover, ‘The Workshop’, in J. Parakilas (ed.), Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Nota Bene, 2001), p. 36.

6 See A. P. Brown, Joseph Haydn’s Keyboard Music: Sources and Style (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1986), p. 143.

7 M. N. Clinkscale, Makers of the Piano. Volume 2: 1820–1860 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 471.

8 L’Avant-coureur. Feuille Hebdomadaire, Où sont annoncés les objets particuliers des Sciences & des Arts, le cours les nouveautés des Spectacles, & les Livres nouveaux en tout genre [The Forerunner. Weekly Leaf, Where are Advertised Special Objects of Science & Arts, the Price of New Entertainment, & New Books of All Kinds], 6 April 1761 (Paris: M. Lambert, 1760–73), p. 219. Quoted in A. de Place, Le Piano-forte à Paris entre 1760 et 1822 [The Pianoforte in Paris between 1760 and 1822] (Paris: Aux Amateurs de livres, 1986), p. 14.

9 R. Palmieri (ed.), Piano: An Encyclopedia (New York: Routledge, 2003), p. 345.

10 See M. N. Clinkscale, Makers of the Piano 1700–1820 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), p. 398.

11 J. Adlung, Musica Mechanica Organoedi, das ist: Gründlicher Unterricht von der Struktur, Gebrauch und Erhaltung der Orgeln, Clavicymbel, Clavichordien, und andere Instrumente, in zwei Theilen [Musica Mechanica Organoedi, that is: Thorough Teaching of the Structure, Use and Preservation of Organs, Harpsichords, Clavichords, and Other Instruments, in Two Parts], 2 vols, facsimile edn (Kassel: Bärenreiter, 1961), Vol. 1, pp. 211–12, fn.

12 J. A. Hiller, Wöchentliche Nachrichten und Anmerkungen die Musik betreffend [Weekly News and Notes on Music] (Leipzig: Im Verlag der Zeitungs Expedition, 1768), Vol. 3, pp. 32, 40.

13 See Brown, Joseph Haydn’s Keyboard Music, p. 143.

14 See di Stefano, ‘The Tangentenflügel and Other Pianos with Non-Pivoting Hammers’, p. 92.

15 C. F. Colt and A. Miall, The Early Piano (London: Stainer & Bell, 1981), p. 20.

16 See Clinkscale, Makers of the Piano 1700–1820, p. 398.

17 See Footnote 15 in ‘Introduction’, this volume.

18 See Hoover, ‘The Workshop’, p. 36.

19 See Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, pp. xi, 1.

20 General Advertiser, 1 February 1780; reported verbatim in P. James, Early Keyboard Instruments: From their Beginnings to the Year 1820 (London: The Tabard Press, 1970), p. 80.

21 Clinkscale, Makers of the Piano 1700–1820, p. 398. See also Clinkscale, Makers of the Piano, Vol. 2 , p. 471.

22 ‘Afterword: Making the Piano Historical’ in J. Parakilas (ed.), Piano Roles: A New History of the Piano (New Haven, Conn.: Yale Nota Bene, 2001), p. 325.

23 Ibid., p. 325.

24 Cole, The Pianoforte in the Classical Era, pp. xii. Reproduced with permission of Michael Cole.


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