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History of Technology of Music

This file updated 14 October 2014

The C18th

A period begins...
of more hectic technological development

In review: Dave Harker, Fakesong: The Manufacture of British "Folksong" from 1700 to the Present Day. 1995. fire.gif - 12205 Bytes

new1.gif - 3972 BytesAbout 1700: Clarinet is invented by J. C. Denner (1655-1707) in Nuremberg. About 40-50 years after the invention of the oboe. Denner is also thought to have improved the chalumeau, which perhaps resembled a shawm, meaning perhaps a straw, a bagpipe or its chanter.

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1705: Keiser's opera Octavia is seen in Hamburg, an early use of a score including horns.

1707: First known transcriptions of African-derived music: (Item lifted from a history website, Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) was an English physician and collector. In 1687, he went to Jamaica where he spent 15 months as doctor to the governor and collected about 800 new species of plant. He also first encountered drinking chocolate. On his return he published a detailed account of his trip in 1707. This volume also contains the first known transcription of African or African-derived music as heard at 'one of their Festivals...' Much of Sloane’s money for the purchase of coins and manuscripts came from his dealings in sugar and cocoa. ‘Hans Sloane Milk Chocolate’ became well known. Sloane’s wife was a substantial slave owner in Jamaica. His collection at his death in 1753 established the British Museum. Sloane Square in Chelsea, London is named after him.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1709 or before: Innovation: The Piano: "The unconscious inspirer" of the piano is perhaps Panteleon Hebenstreit (1669-1750), who has already perfected the dulcimer with an instrument he called the Panteleon, which had strings which when struck with a hand mallet, made a sound which got attention from musicians, but was laborious to play. Some other sort of mechanism was needed. In around eight years, a new mechanism was developed by three men working quite independently, Cristoforti of Florence in 1709, Marius of Paris in 1716 and Schroter of Dresden in 1717. Barrolomeo Cristoforti was in Padua in 1651 and Florence by 1731. He was a repairer and tuner of harpsichords in the service of Prince Ferdinando de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, and keeper of the prince's collection of instruments.
By 1720, Cristoforti had made a grand pianoforte, which survives and is regarded as the world's oldest piano. Its action was revolutionary but otherwise Cristoforti had followed the traditional harpsichord design. Cristoforti call his instrument "harpsichord with soft and loud", or gravicembalo col piano e forte. That is, pianoforte, contracted to piano. In Germany it is called the klavier. Soon, Lodovico Giustini had written for it, his sonata "for soft and loud harpsichord, commonly called mallet-harpsichord", about 1731 - and 12 more sonatas by 1732. Cristoforti made little from his invention and was forced to go back to making harpsichords. Marius plugged on trying to build pianos, but he disappeared, largely forgotten. In 1721, Christoph Gottlieb Schroter gave two piano actions to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden, hoping the prince would fund him to develop his invention. The prince did not, so Schroter showed them in public, resulting in copying. Schroter's action did not provide for a damper, which Lenker of Rudolstadt added in 1765.

1713: Johann Mattheson, Das Neu-eroffnete Orchestre. Hamburg, 1713.

1716: Francois Couperin, L'Art de toucher le clavecin. Paris, 1716-1717.

1720: J. C. Weigel, Musikalisches Theatrum. c.1720. Ed., A. Berner, Kassel, 1961.

1720: A Bavarian, Hochbrucker, mechanizes the harp with seven pedals to turn hooks with a system of levers hidden in the fore-pillar, enabling modulations while playing. Strings are tuned to scale of E-flat. Further modifications are made to the harp about 1750 in Paris by harp-maker Cousineau and his son, who add extra pedals and tune to scale of C-flat, which modern harps still use.

1722: F. Bonanni, Gabinetto armonico. Rome, 1722.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1724: A fantastic instrument: In 1724, Piechbeck, an Englishman, presents to the world his "orchestra harpsichord", which is said to have had a flute, a trumpet and some drum attachments.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1726: Innovation: The great profiteer of the new instrument, the piano, is an organ builder, Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753) of Klein-Bobritzsch in Saxony. A copyist and adaptor of the work of others, he later went to Frieberg. When imported into England, Silbermann's action became known as "the English action". Silbermann was supported by Frederick the Great, who once bought seven of his pianos. Silbermann in 1726 tried to interest J. S. Bach, but Bach criticised the upper notes as feeble and the heaviness of the action generally. In 1728, Silbermann gave Bach an improved version, which satisfied the musician, though he remained devoted to the harpsichord. It was not the tastes of musicians as much as public taste which helped popularize the piano, the desire for less polyphony and a more emotionally expressive music - lyricism as from Haydn, Mozart and then Beethoven. The piano was also good for providing nuances, as a solo instrument for free improvisation, and song accompaniment (especially in the theatre). Silbermann's work was continued by his nephew, Johann Heinrich (1727-1799), who gave the firm the renown of Europe. Whole series of innovations are now attributed to the family firm.

1730: More to come

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1735: French musicians decide to admit the French Horn to the official list of instruments of the orchestra.

1738: J. P. Eisel, Musicus autodidaktos. Erfurt, 1738.

1740: Composition and first singing in Britain of God Save The King as national anthem.

1741: Sweden: Nils Brelin invents an upright harpsichord with eight pedals and 61 keys, with eight shades of volume from piano to forte.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1745: Friederici in Germany produces the forerunner of the upright piano, a pyramidal instrument with a vertical case to replace the upright spinet or clavictherium. He called it the bienfort, and it needed a powerful touch to play.

bluepin1.gif - 947 Bytes1753-1949: Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Essay on the true art of playing keyboard instruments. (Versuch uber die wahre Art das Clavier zu spielen) Berlin, 1753. (Trans. by William J. Mitchell) New York, 1949.

1756-1763: The Seven Years War. Many German piano-makers leave for other countries, especially England.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1755: Approx: Piano progress: The so-called English grand action dates from about 1775, created by a Dutchman, Americus Backers, with assistance from his apprentices, Robert Stodart and John Broadwood. This was a variant of Zumpe's action, but is also supplied with am improved variant of Cristofori's damper.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1758: Invention of the square piano in Germany - about 50 years after the first grand piano had appeared. Its shape is derived from the clavichord and the virginal. It was developed by Christian Ernst Friederici (1709-1780) of Gera in Saxony, and he called it fortbien, a corruption of fortepiano. It had a thin tone and the French called it "the kettle", but it became popular in England and surprisingly, in Turkey, where it was given shorter legs to be played from cushions on the floor. (Incidentally, later variations of piano design became known as: grand, square, the "giraffe", the "pyramidal", and earlier, the upright.)

1759: By one report, the piano first appears in Paris about now. (Probably of English importation, although possibly pianos from Johann Heinrich Silbermann (1727-1799) could be found in France.)


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1760: Approx: A German, Zumpe, who has formerly worked for Silbermann, establishes in London and develops a reputation as "father of the commercial English piano". That is, the English square piano.

1761: Jean-Benjamin La Borde, Le Clavecin Electrique. Paris, 1761.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1762: Youngest son of J. S. Bach, Johann Christian (1735-1782) lives in London from 1762, where he becomes first to play the piano in public and later gives piano lessons to the Queen.

1765: Rodolphe introduces the hand horn to Paris.

1765: Friedrich Wilhelm Marpug, Antleitung zum Clavierspielen. Berlin, 1765.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1766: Innovation in Paris: Virbes fits to the harpsichord, knee-pedals which draw back like jacks, as with the una corda, due corda pedal of the piano.

1767: D. Diderot and J. de R. d'Alembert, Encyclopedie. Paris, 1767, 1776.

1768: Jacob Adlung, Musica mechanica organoedi. Berlin, 1768.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1769: Innovation: Shudi in England patents his "Venetian swell", an inner lid for the harpsichord which has hinged slats which can be opened gradually via a pedal, so producing crescendo and decrescendo.

1767: Piano progress; In 1767, William Collard in England founds a piano-building firm which becomes Longman and Broderip. In the background of the firm was eminent Italian composer Muzio Clementi, who was also interested in building pianos.

1769: Belgium: Piano is played for first time in Liege by Jean Noel Hamal (1709-1778), a chapel master. Piano manufacture in Belgium follows in due course. By 1830, 12 of the 25 Belgian piano-makers work in Brussels.

1770 approx: Probably invention by now of the basset horn by Mayrhofer, of Passau in Bavaria. One example survives at Museum of Hamburg History.

1773: Ex-slaver John Newton writes Amazing Grace, still a much-loved hymn around the western world by 2003. Writer Steve Turner in 2002 produced a book on the song's history and popularity.

1775: North America: Johann Behrend builds the first American square piano, where the design long remained popular, till 1850 or later. By about 1870, American manufacturers were sick to death of making them and wanted change. In 1903 in Atlantic City at an industry congress, they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars buying an enormous number of them, which at Chelsea they made into a piano-pyramid fifty feet high. Then they set fire to it! Piano pyromania!

1776: The celebrated Belgian harpsichord maker, Pascal Taskin, builds his first piano, though he built relatively few in later years.


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1777: Mozart when visiting Augsburg discovers the piano as made by the organ builder Johann Andreas Stein (1728-1792) of Augsburg and soon prefers it to the harpsichord for a solo instrument. Haydn and Beethoven felt much the same way. Special workshops for piano-building did not appear till about 1730. Beethoven visited the Steins in 1787. Stein perfected the German of Viennese action for the piano, which differed from "the English action" derived from Cristoforti. In 1794, Stein's children transferred their workshops to Vienna. Maria Anna (Nanette) Stein became a good friend of Beethoven in Vienna. She married the Viennese piano maker, Johann Andreas Streicher (1761-1833), who improved Stein's action.

1777: Frenchman Pere Amiot in China produces a valuable book on musical instruments of China.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1777: The "genius" of improvers of the piano, Sebastien Erard (Ehrard), builds his first piano. He was born in Strasbourg in 1752 and arrived in Paris in 1768, where he died in 1831. He first worked for an obscure harpsichord maker, then established on his own account and moved from harpsichord to the pianoforte. Marechale de Villeroy installed him in a workshop in her chateau and ordered him to build a piano. Erard at one point is assailed by his rivals, who accused him of working outside their corporation without a licence, but he is protected by the king, who granted him a licence to work on his own authority. Erard shortly brought his brother Jean-Baptiste to work with him. They were soon building small square pianos with double-strings and five octaves. Sebastien once built for Marie-Antoinette an instrument with two keyboards, a "combined piano and organ". When the French Revolution broke out, the Erard brothers removed to London where they took out a patent for Sebastien's grand piano. In 1796 Sebastien returned to Paris, leaving his nephew Pierre in charge in London. Pierre also produced some inventions. Sebastien in 1797 in Paris produced more innovations, but was again in London 1808-1815. Sebastien produced his masterwork, the double-escapement mechanism, in 1822-1823, working on it since 1809. This mechanism prevented a recently-struck key from falling back completely to its rest position, enabling it to be re-struck more quickly, and allowing more efficient repetition. Tremolo and trill were also improved. As part of his research work, Erard had also improved the harp, with "the double-movement harp", eliminating several old pedals and leaving it for its present form. (One of Sebastien's daughters married the composer Spontini.)

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1780s: Appearance of early bass clarinets. Perhaps to be regarded merely as curiosities?

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1780: England: Milchmeyer develops a harpsichord with three keyboards and 250 "changes".

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1780: Salzburg, Germany: Claimed invention of the upright piano by Johann Schmitt, but a disputed claim and without substantiation. A model of the same type is said to have been patented in England by Englishman Robert Wornum, also a disputed claim. Yet another view is that the upright piano is credited to J. J. Hawkins, an English engineer resident in Philadelphia, who patents it in 1800, with an iron frame and named "portable grand". In 1807 in London, William Southwell, earlier of Dublin, builds an upright piano which has the case resting on the ground. Wornum, incidentally, is credited with what became known as "the English action" or piccolo action for piano.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1788: German guitar maker Otto (of Weimar), claims an innovation, the addition of a sixth string to the guitar, but it is likely by now it is already in use in Spain.

1778: Opening year of La Scala Opera House in Milan, the work of Guiseppe Piermarini.


1790s: British naval officer Capt George Vancouver RN takes cattle from California to Hawaii since he thinks the Spanish black cattle would do well there. By way of links within a cattle industry, this is the real seed of the origin of the use of the guitar on Hawaii, later the Hawaiian guitar, and later, the electrified guitar. (See HoTM's associated files on this topic -Ed)

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1790-1794: In this period, the greatest English builder of the square piano is Scotsman John Broadwood (1732-1812), who has become son-in-law of Swiss harpsichord builder in London, Burkhard Tschudi (Shudi) (1707-1773). Broadwood makes the case heavier and stronger. In 1788 he moves the wrest-plank, to which the tuning pins are fixed), from the right side to the back of the case. From 1790-1794 Broadwood extends the keyboard from five to five-and-a-half to six octaves. Broadwood is succeeded by his son James (1772-1851). From their firm's founding to about 1850 the Broadwood makers build more than 100,000 instruments.

1792: Edward Bunting takes on the task of preserving old Irish harp music (airs), and later publishes them with piano accompaniments.

1792: Piano-maker Sebastien Erard (1752-1831) turns to the harp to improve it, leading it to its modern form. Working in London as the French Revolution proceeds, he made a fork mechanism to replace hooks as provided earlier by the Cousineaus. In 1792 he offered his "improved, single-action harp". By 1810, taking out more patents, he produced his "Grecian" model, a double-action harp, with strings given extra semitones. Erard also increased the size and tension of strings. In 1836, Erard's nephew and successor, Pierre, produced a slightly larger harp, a "Gothic" model, which has two extra bass strings and one extra treble.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1794: Elias Schengel builds an oval piano.

new1.gif - 3972 Bytes1796: Piano keyboard is enlarged by Erard to five and a half octaves. Later it is enlarged to six octaves in Germany.

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1797: Birth in Brunswick, Germany, of noted American piano manufacturer Heinrich Steinwig, died in New York in 1871. By 1853 the name is anglicised to Steinway. His sons Karl, Heinrich, Wilhelm, Albert and Theodore are also involved in piano manufacture and sales. Theodore stayed in German and was joined by Friedrich Grotrian - so the firm became known as Steinwig-Grotrian.

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