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The Musician's Ultimate Piano

If there exists a platonic idea of the perfect piano, surely it will have to be the concert grand, the artist's piano, the true match for any Olympic sized musical performance.

Pianists dream of being invited into that inner chamber, center stage where the perfect piano awaits. Its incredulous size...one positions oneself in the room, in the world, according to its presence, its being. Its strange posture...the player glides with the piano on a single space odyssey like plane where the strings and soundboard defy gravity and one floats with its massive weight in mid air. The pianissimo touch...a true wonder of mechanical design, but appearing as a magic power through the hands with the keys, producing something so pure that it actually integrates with the soft edges of silence. But this only to give way to the most incredible fortissimo, such that composers will insert the force of abuse into their written pieces. And yet, the grand piano can absorb the trauma and convert that energy into the most exquisite music imaginable.

In the simplest of technical terms, Aldred Dolge has this to say about the perfecting of the grand piano:

The perfecting of the grand piano, or forte piano (flügel, as it was called in Germany), depended entirely upon the development of an action capable of bringing out the greater tone of the longer strings and larger soundboard of the grand... (Dolge, Pianos and Their Makers, Dover. p. 58)

Dolge goes on to describe how the design becomes named as "grand" and how quickly examples of the grand piano emerged with signature variations. The name emerges somewhere around 1777, then immediately versions and innovations along with applies for patents and other trade marks begin to appear:

John Broadwood built his first grand in 1781. Allen and Thom of London patented a grand piano having a complete metal framing system in 1820, followed by the Erards in 1823, who constructed a grand piano with six resistance iron bars, placed over the soundboard, while James Broadwood patented, in 1827, a combination of an iron string plate (hitch plate) with resistance iron bars, thus coming very near the full iron frame.
Meantime, Johann Andreas Stein, and his talented daughter, Nannette Stein-Streicher, who was not only an excellent musician, but also a thoroughly practical and scientific piano maker, had improved the Schroter action so materially that the grand pianos made by them from 1780 on, were preferred by Mozart, Beethoven and other masters, perhaps mainly for the reason that this action not only had a more elastic touch than the Christofori English action, but that it produced a more sympathetic tone, reminding of the the clavichord tone, which all the great players of that period admired so much...(Dolge, Pianos and Their Makers, Dover. pg. 59)

During this time the technical details were worked out, all input combining to produce the ultimate blue print -- the so-called platonic idea -- of the perfect concert grand. Well, it didn't happen so quickly or simply as plato would have imagined. In fact, the Vienna designers didn't seem all that interested in the concert grand's potential to produce forte and especially fortissimo results. Still, innovations coming from very well respected piano makers, like Erard's iron bar support system, their patented repetitive grand action, pressure bar and agraffe, helped bring the concert grand finally into its own.

Such innovations were being tested, if not on real pianos in actual production, at least on paper and in the discussions between thinking, calculating craftsmen. The activity was especially intense at this time throughout the tech community, with large concert sized grand pianos beginning to appear in London, Paris, Vienna, New York, Pennsylvania, New England and other parts of the United States. It is during this time, too, that Steinway & Sons would start what would become the leading name and ultimate heir of the initial innovations.

Sources

1972. Alfred Dolge, Pianos and their Makers: A Comprehensive History of the Development of the Piano. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, pg. 57 - 66.

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