The English Piano

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Collard PianoCollard & Collard, London, c 1835. From 1822 to 1832, the company Muzio Clementi had set up was known as Clementi, Collard & Collard. However, upon Clementi's death the name was changed to Collard & Collard. Rococo instruments such as this are adorned with shell-like flourishes. The style was prominent in Europe during the 18th century and was revived in the middle of the 19th. This piano is from the revival.

One of the most important of the French piano makers in London was Sébastien Erard. His most important innovation was the 'double escapement' (or repetition) action mechanism. This action allows a note to be replayed without the key being fully released. Erard's double escapement action works by holding the hammer close to the strings while the escapement mechanism re-engages itself ready for the next note. This means that the note can be quickly and easily re-played.

Early action of this type were rather too complex, and consequently unreliable. Erard patented his first repetition action in 1808, and a slightly modified version was patented in France a year later. But the action for which he is justly celebrated was developed and patented in England in 1821.

The English piano makers doubted the durability of this complex action which works through an elaborate system of levers. They failed to realize its potential and ignored it, to their disadvantage, for many decades. Nevertheless, in the early 19th century the English market for grand pianos was still dominated by Broadwood, and to some extent Clementi (renamed Collard & Collard after 1830) and Tompkinson. But the Erard company with its improved action and factories in both Paris and London, soon started to compete most effectively.

The pictures and text in the Virtual Piano Museum are copied with permission from Piano by David Crombie, published by Backbeat Books. This book is a beautiful volume of pictures and piano history. See more about it on its Web Page.

Photos Copyright 1995 Balafon, used by permission. All rights reserved


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