The Upright Piano

Unknown PianoUnknown, probably Vienna c1835, giraffe piano. The giraffe piano was invented in Vienna and first appeared around 1798. This instrument could have been made by Schlimbach, Seuffert, Ehrlich or possibly Wachtl, all keen exponents of the giraffe piano. The hanging Viennese (or hanging German) action is developed from the basic Viennese action, but with the hammers suspended below the level of the keys, enabling it to respond to a very light touch. This instrument once belonged to Dr. Helmholtz, the eminent physicist and physiologist.

Sauer UprightLeopold Sauer, Prague c1805, pyramid piano. Built in Prague by Leopold Sauer, this pyramid piano is fairly typical of the genre, although it is somewhat unusual to find a clock mounted in the upper casework. This instrument marks a revival in the pyramid shape, which originated with Christian Ernst Friederici and his fellow piano makers in the first half of the 18th century, and which died out around 1760. The piano uses a 'hanging German' action, which makes it comparatively light to the touch, although this instrument is no longer in a playable condition. Sauer primarily made only pyramid and upright grand pianos and this is one of the very few of his instruments to have survived.

The Upright grand piano has strings that run vertically. In effect it is a grand piano with the strings, soundboard and frame assembly raised up to the vertical and the action adapted accordingly. Early upright grand pianos had the strings rising straight up from the keyboard. From the end of the 18th century, however, manufacturers started to bring the whole broad end of the grand almost down to the ground. In some instances, as in the case of certain giraffe and lyre pianos, the strings ran obliquely rather than vertically.

There are four main types of upright grand piano. One of the earliest was the 'pyramid' piano (Pyramidenflügel), with a triangular case that tapered to a flat top. Another approach was represented by the 'bookcase' piano. These are extremely tall, rectangular instruments. The strings run vertically up from the keyboard, and the empty space on the treble side would often be filled with shelves. The 'giraffe' piano (Giraffenflügel) has its strings perpendicular to the keyboard. Its case slopes down elegantly from an extremely tall left side to the short treble side. The fourth type of upright grand piano is the 'lyre' piano (Lyraflügel). This evolved from the pyramid, and was built almost exclusively by Berlin piano makers in the second quarter of the 19th century.

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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