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Zur Geschichte des Hammerklaviers.

At first glance, this compendium of papers presented at the fourteenth symposium of musical instrument builders at Michaelstein in November 1993 looks like a piano nerd's dream. Technical drawings, string-gauge tables, X-rays, soundgraphs and even some photographs of actual pianos leap from the pages of dense German (and occasional English) reportage on pianos, from the historical study of a Cristofori fortepiano to advice on building a reproduction Hammerflugel.

Piano 'nerdism' is nothing new, of course, and the term need not be entirely pejorative. Rosamond Harding set new standards in historical investigation and technical acumen in The Pianoforte: its History Traced to the Great Exhibition of 1851 (1933); her superb technical drawings became a baseline for succeeding work on piano actions. Specialist studies followed, notably Walter Pfeiffer's Vom Hammer (1948). It is not surprising that echoes of Pfeiffer's work can be found in some of the contributions in the volume under review, notably Roland Hentzschel's 'Einige Bemerkungen zum Hammerkopfleder'.

Covering a wider field, Franz-Josef Hirt described both plucked and struck keyboard instruments in his magisterial Meisterwerke des Klavierbaus: Geschichte der Saitenklaviere von 1440-1880 (1955; Eng. trans., 1968). The succeeding generation of keyboard specialists has augmented this work with further studies, catalogues of various collections, monographs, and articles in specialist journals. The volume under review complements these, especially as many of the contributors are directly involved with museum collections.

Its unassuming title reflects recent trends in piano research, where new information on makers jostles with changing attitudes to restoration and conservation. In the last century writers such as Rimbault (1860) and Hipkins (1896) were content to provide mere histories. In the succeeding century, makers, collectors, performers and musicologists have joined forces to raise questions about broader issues, and the relentless unearthing of new information has widened our knowledge of hitherto unknown makers and their instruments. The picture is now much more complex, so that new information is put 'towards' a history of the pianoforte; a definitive version may be elusive.

This is a specialized volume, which presupposes a familiarity with organological issues. Broadly, the conference papers deal with four topics: specific important makers, mainly through instruments in collections; the influence and development of the piano as exemplified by minor makers; the relationship between composer and instrument as shown in the repertory; and acoustical issues.

All of the contributors are based on the Continent. Only two articles are in English; one of them, by Michael Latcham of the Gemeente-museum, The Hague, continues that scholar's fine work on the pianos of Stein, and is the longest paper in the book.

The two papers on Stein illustrate the problems of conservation and restoration confronting curators and organologists. Do we treat the instrument as a (silent) historical document, or do we restore it to a state in which it can be played and heard by performers and visitors? When is it feasible to restore an instrument? Should we be restoring at all? Should instruments by key makers such as Stein be left in their original state, and reproductions made? These issues are not new; as long ago as 1980 conservators such as John Barns began rumbling about the destruction of important evidence by the act of restoration (see his 'Does Restoration Destroy Evidence?', Early Music, viii (1980), 213-18). Latcham has been involved in a similar debate, with his 'Soundboards Old & New' (Galpin Society Journal, xlv (1992), 50-58). Most recently, such issues have been admirably and clearly covered by Kate Arnold-Forster and Helene La Rue in Museums of Music (London, 1993).

Latcham's paper on Stein is concerned with dating instruments, and identifies three different phases of this important maker's work. Prior to the development of his famous Prellzungmechanik action, Stein used an action based on those of Cristofori and Silbermann; in what Latcham identifies as a third stage, Stein replaced hollow hammers with leather-covered ones, a technique which, after his death in 1792, was continued by Stein's children until 1804.

Latcham's earlier work on the pianos of Walter places him in an ideal position to assess Stein's work, particularly in relation to Mozart. Walter's earliest instruments have in most cases been altered; the later ones were made after Mozart's death. Latcham's list of surviving instruments by Stein is a useful update of Martha Novak Clinkscale's list in Makers of the Piano, 1700-1870 (Oxford, 1993), which relied on curatorial information for many of the instruments. In some cases Latcham's revised date differs by as much as ten years. There is also useful new information on the interesting vis-a-vis instrument in Verona (a piano-harpsichord dated 1777), complementing John A. Rice's research on a similar instrument in Naples (Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society, xxi (1995), 30-64). The claviorganum housed in the Historiska Museum, Gothenburg, previously dated 1770, is given a revised date of 1781. The instrument in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, recently reattributed to the Geschwister Stein (Matthaus Stein and Nannette Stein Streicher) is found to have been signed by Jacob Friedric Conrad and dated 1793; it was probably finished by Conrad after Stein's death. Elsewhere Latcham has valuable information on stringing, with reference to Stein's notebook. All in all, this essay exemplifies the best of modem organological research, incorporating meticulous attention to technical detail with an engagement with real musical issues.

Sabine Matzenauer's paper, 'Zur Restaurierung eines Piano-Fortes von J. A. Stein - erhaltene Instrumente im Vergleich', examines the issues of conservation and restoration mentioned above. The instrument in question is a Stein grand piano of 1790 held in the Stadtmuseum, Munich. Photographs show a damaged wrestplank, clearly in need of attention. Matzenauer lays the possibilities before the reader. The first - conservation - would mean the protecting and strengthening of loose and worm-eaten parts; the second - making the instrument playable - would entail some interference; the third and fourth options involve copying some of the parts, or the whole instrument. The exhibition and use of such an instrument in a public collection have to be weighed against conservation ideals. The paper gives an account of the decision taken, and describes the work done by a team of restorers with reference to comparable instruments by the same maker. Given the strong opinions on these issues, it would have been interesting to read an account of the discussion which followed this paper. Nevertheless, this practical account is a useful complement to the overview given in Latcham's paper.

Stein is not the only early maker to receive such attention. Cristofori, always de rigueur at such conferences because of his seminal importance, is represented here by a report by Klaus Gemhardt on the 1726 Cristofori instrument in the University of Leipzig's musical instrument museum. As in many of the other papers, this report comes from an insider, with all the curatorial advantages (and disadvantages) that that entails. In this case we are treated to X-rays of the interior bracing and numerous technical drawings by Ute Singer, although the reduction in size of some of the latter means that some of the labelling is too small to be legible. Also recorded in this paper are previous repairs made during this century.

Konstantin Restle, the author of Bartolomeo Cristofori und die Anfange des Hammerklaviers (Munich, 1991), who with Stewart Pollens (The Early Pianoforte, Cambridge, 1995) has contributed much to our knowledge of the earliest development of the instrument, is here represented by a paper on three square pianos in the Berlin collection, in which makers were experimenting with different types of action, often hybrids. One of the makers studied, P. J. Warth, sought to combine Cristofori's Stossmechanik with the simplicity of the Viennese Prellmechanik. Both Harding and Pfeiffer are invoked, the latter with his cautionary words about the confusion that can arise from action nomenclature. The description of such actions ties in neatly with Latcham's comments on Stein's first stage; Restle's examples are from the next generation, and show interesting experiments with square rather than grand action.

Like Cristofori, Gottfried Silbermann has always attracted interest because of his pioneering activity, as well as for his involvement with J. S. Bach. Modern research into Silbermann goes back to Ernst Flade's study of 1953 (as yet untranslated into English). Silbermann is not himself the subject of an essay here, but he looms large in Dieter Krickeberg's essay, 'Das "ungedgtmpfte Register" bei Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach', an intriguing study of the relationship between a specific instrument and the idiomatic music written for it. Similarly, Philippe Fritsch's essay, 'Hammermechanik und Kontrapunkt bei Johann Sebastian Bach', dwells on the suitability of the piano for the performance of the Art of Fugue. Fritzsch draws on Christoph Wolff's article 'New Research on Bach's Musical Offering' (The Musical Quarterly, lvii (1971), 379-408), where the three-part ricercar was considered 'to be a composition inspired by and conceived for the pianoforte and its new sound effects'. Copious reference is made to C. P. E. Bach's Versuch in an effort to make the same claim for the Art of Fugue, with just one small error (footnote 10 should cite 'II. [not I.] Teil') - which could frustrate English readers referring to the English translation of the Versuch. The obvious point to make here is the way in which this music fits neatly under both hands, an observation made last year by Charles Rosen in a BBC Radio 3 interview.

Other essays concerned with musical questions involving instruments, composers and repertory involve Weber and Brodmann (Dagmar Droysen-Reber, of Berlin), with particular reference to the A fiat sonata. Performers who struggle with seemingly impossible chord spacings on a modern piano would find life easier if they could play the same work on a Brodmann. (Perhaps such difficulties account for the neglect of Weber's piano music by most pianists today.)

Lesser-known makers are featured in other essays, but the emphasis is on those who influenced them and their contribution to the instrument's development. Sabine Katharine Klaus's article on Jacob Pfister (1770-1838) provides new biographical information on this Wurzburg maker, and shows to what extent he was influenced by Walter, Rosenberger and Brodmann, who were his principal instructors, as well as how he asserted his own style. Eszter Fontana provides information on piano-making in Hungary, which, not surprisingly, was influenced by nearby Vienna. She concentrates on the work of the Hungarian Wilhelm Schwab (d. 1856), whose instruments are in the Hungarian National Museum, Budapest. In addition to discussing the actual instruments, Fontana discusses the role of Hungarian makers (there were several besides Schwab) in the light of the proximity of Vienna and of underlying economic and social conditions.

Valuable new information on the Grabner family of Dresden is supplied in Kerstin Schwarz's lengthy study of the brothers Johann Gottfried and Johann Wilhelm Grabner; a list compiled from contemporary sources shows at least a dozen keyboard instrument makers active in Dresden in the last third of the eighteenth century, when the piano began to supersede the harpsichord in popularity and took on an important role at court. Schwarz goes on to compare the Grabner instruments with those of other makers, including Stein, Schiedmayer, Holmann and Walter. Such work, and the examination of Grabner pianos in other collections, provides valuable information for the would-be restorer of the Grabner instrument in the Handel-Haus, Halle.

The work of another Dresden maker, Johann Gottlob Wagner, is explored in Wolfgang Wenke's essay on the 'clavecin royal', a square piano with uncovered hammers and several stops (including lute, pantalon and swell) invented by Wagner. Wenke explores the possible reasons for the invention of this instrument, suggesting intriguing anti-piano politics.

It is not surprising that most of the makers covered in this book are Austrian or German, reflecting the contents of the collections on which many of the essays are based. This has meant that the work of many important makers, especially those based in London, is simply not covered. However, there is one short article on the harps and pianos of Erard, who was active in both Paris and London. In a brief essay, Rudolf Frick, of Basle, finds a link between the invention of the double escapement for piano and the double-action harp. Using a clockwork mechanism as a comparison, Frick draws a connection between the escapement of the piano action with the pedal mechanism of the double harp. Much of Frick's work is indebted to Florence Getrau's work on Erard for the Paris Conservatoire exhibition in 1985. The diagram of the double harp action, reproduced from Pierre Erard's 1821 Dossier unfortunately carries letters but no explanatory labels, although much can be guessed at.

Of the remaining contributions, those by Edgar Lieber ('Klaviermechanik und Spielart'), Bram Gatjen ('Das Hammerklavier - akustisches Bindeglied zwischen Clavichord, Cembalo und modernem Flugel?') and Jobst P. Fricke ('Die Klangcharakteristik von zwei Hammerflugeln ... erklart durch Anschlagbewegung und Saitenanregung') are primarily concerned with acoustical issues, and directed at a specialized audience well versed in physics. Those by Achim Haufe and Michael Walker are concerned mainly with details of concern to those directly involved with making or restoring instruments. After all this technical detail, it was refreshing to discover the unfettered enthusiasm of Odd Anstad, a Norwegian piano technician, whose clear account of his fascination with and love of the instruments he has lived with brought home the reasons for such conferences and such reports.

This, then, is a specialized book for specialists. Many of the contributions are by curators of collections or by technicians attached to them. That most of them are written in technical German is likely to inhibit access for English-speaking readers. Even for those with adequate knowledge of the language it would have been helpful to have had a German-to-English glossary of technical terms, especially as ordinary German - English dictionaries do not run to these. Abstracts in English of the German papers (and vice versa) would have facilitated understanding, especially of technical material. There is no biographical information on the contributors, other than the place name which accompanies each name in the table of contents. For the English reader unfamiliar with Continental curatorships and instrument-maker networks, such information would be invaluable. Nevertheless, there is much of interest here for organologists, curators and students of the piano - and not just for nerds.

DOROTHY DE VAL
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Author:De Val, Dorothy
Publication:Music & Letters
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 1998
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