P I A N O   3 0 0
Celebrating Three Centuries of People and Pianos

 

Pianos and Objects in the Exhibition

Instruments

[Composers' Manuscripts and Early Editions]   [Miscellany]
PIANO 300 includes 25 pianos and keyboards from the Smithsonian Collection at the National Museum of American History along with loans from other institutions. All instruments are from the Smithsonian Collection unless otherwise noted.

Invention

Grand Piano, 1722
Maker: Bartolomeo Cristofori, Florence

Lent by
Museo Nazionale degli strumenti musicali, Rome
SI photograph by Hugh Talman

 

This is one of three extant instruments by the inventor Cristofori, keeper of musical instruments for the Medici Court in Florence.

The Amateur Player

Square Piano, 1770
Maker: Zumpe and Buntebart, London

SI photograph by Hugh Talman

 

Johannes Zumpe, a German immigrant who became a successful maker in London, developed this shape of piano which was used not only in the home but also in one of the earliest public performances of piano solo.

Rise of the Public Performer

Grand Piano, 1788
Maker: Jean-Louis Dulcken, Munich

SI photograph

 

Representative of the great South German/Viennese school of the late eighteenth century, this piano is similar to the instruments used by Mozart to play his piano concertos.


Grand Piano, 1794
Maker: John Broadwood & Son, London

SI photograph by Robet C. Lautman

 

Representative of the rival late eighteenth-century London school of builders, this Broadwood grand dates from the year of one of Haydn's visits to London and the type of instrument for which he wrote his last piano sonatas and trios.

Pianos in the Home/Piano Girls

Square Piano, 1850
Maker: Chickering, Boston

SI photographs by Robert C. Lautman

 

Americans preferred square pianos in their homes until the 1870s when uprights came into fashion in the US. This instrument is similar to those used to accompany Jenny Lind at her concerts.


Giraffe Piano, 1809-1811
Maker: André Stein, Vienna

Detail of keyboard and action.

SI photographs by Hugh Talman

 

From the early 19th century, Europeans preferred vertical pianos in the home. This instrument, made by a member of the great Stein-Streicher piano building dynasty, has six pedals and a janissary mechanism for special sound effects.


Sewing Table Piano, 1820-1840,
Maker: unknown Austrian or German

Shown in open and closed positions.

SI photographs by Eric Long

 

With useful compartments and accessories, including scissors, punches, and other sewing materials, as well as a mirror in the lid, this small piano might fit in a lady's boudoir.


The Romantic Superstar

Grand Piano, 1854
Maker: Erard, London

3/4 view by Robert C. Lautman
Front view by Eric Long

 

The Parisian firm of Erard dominated innovative piano technology during the first half of the nineteenth century and their instruments were favored by virtuosos like Liszt and Thalberg. This piano was produced in Erard's London factory and acquired by Queen Victoria for Prince Albert's use at Balmoral Castle.

Piano Making As Craft

Square Piano, 1788-1792
Maker: Charles Albrecht, Philadelphia

SI photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

A piano by the earliest American builder whose instruments still exist, this instrument combines features of both English- and German-style instruments and may have been commissioned by a member of Philadelphia's large German community.

Ingenious Inventions


Portable Upright Piano, 1801
Maker: John Isaac Hawkins, Philadelphia

SI photograph

 

This very early example of an American upright piano, fully portable, was perhaps designed for shipboard. Thomas Jefferson owned one of Hawkins's instruments.


Square Piano, 1832-1837
Maker: Alpheus Babcock for William Swift, Philadelphia

SI photographs by Robert C. Lautman

 

An ingenious craftsman but an unlucky businessman, Alpheus Babcock invented the one-piece iron frame, one of America's chief contributions to piano development. The iron frame allowed for larger, more stable instruments that could produce bigger sounds. One of two known Babcock pianos with an iron frame.

Americans Take the Lead

Grand Piano, 1865
Maker: Chickering, Boston

SI photograph

 

Chickering applied Babcock's one-piece iron frame to grand pianos and became the first American maker to sell grands in quantity. Instruments like this one were played by the first internationally acclaimed American musician, Louis Moreau Gottschalk, during his US tours.


Grand Piano, 1892
Maker: Steinway & Sons, New York

Photo on right shows detail of the Paderewski inscription

SI photographs

 

This fully modern piano incorporates all the innovations introduced by Steinway in the late 1800s: modern grand piano action, cross-stringing, and the sostenuto pedal. Created by Steinway for the Polish pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski for his second tour of the US in 1892-93, the virtuoso traveled across the country in a private railway car equipped with bedroom, dining room, living room, and a staff of servants.


Upright Piano, 1876
Maker: Weber Piano Company, New York

SI photograph by Robert C. Lautman

 

This piano's case features elaborate carving, inlay, and marquetry created by the famous New York cabinetmakers, Herter Brothers. Albert Weber emerged as a new rival of Steinway in the 1870s and created this piano especially for the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia.

Piano as Design

Grand Piano, 1939 "Worlds Fair"
Maker: Steinway & Sons, New York

SI photograph by Robert C. Lautman

 

With its beautiful art deco case designed by Walter Teague, this instrument was commissioned to represent American industrial progress in the American pavilion (also designed by Teague) at the 1939 New York Worlds Fair.

The African American Legacy

Grand Piano, 1960 "Duke Ellington"
Maker: Steinway & Sons, New York

Lent by Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

On loan from the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, New York City, this grand once stood in Ellington's New York apartment where he used it to compose his Sacred Concerts. Ellington's larger compositions always featured the piano and in performances he always played those parts himself, directing the orchestra from the keyboard, just as Mozart and Haydn had done centuries before.

Tin Pan Alley

Upright Transposing Piano, 1940
Maker: Weser, New York
Photo on right shows lever.

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

This upright piano was customized for Irving Berlin with a special transposing lever beneath the keyboard, allowing the pianist to play in any key using only white or black keys.

Pianos without Pianists

Upright Player Piano, 1923-25
Maker: Gabler & Bros, New York

SI Photograph by Robert C. Lautman

 

During the 1920s production of player pianos outpaced normal piano production in the US as the instrument began to compete with the nascent electronic media.

Electrifying!

Mark I Stage Piano, 1971-1973
Maker: Fender-Rhodes Company
Fullerton, California

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

"Electronified" pianos were first developed for USO concerts in the 1940s. Harold Rhodes invented his electric piano with hammers but no strings. The plastic hammers strike metal rods and then electric pickups transform the vibrations into electric impulses and send them out as sound through the amplifier and speakers.


DX 7 Electronic Keyboard, 1999
Maker: Yamaha, Hamamatsu

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

Triton Electronic Keyboard, 1999
Maker: Korg, Melville, New York

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

XP-80 Electronic Keyboard, 1999
Maker: Roland Corporation, Hamamatsu

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

In the late twentieth century, the piano's continuing technological development has spun off new musical instruments. These instruments shows that electronic keyboards are no longer pianos, since they have neither hammer nor strings. Keys activate sounds digitally programmed on microchips and the sound can be heard only through an amplifier or earphones. However, the keyboard has not changed.

The Asian Experience

Upright Reproducing Piano, 1988
Maker: Yamaha, Hamamatsu

Photo on right shows "Disklavier" equipment that writes to a 3.5" diskette

SI Photograph by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

The Japanese adopted the piano with enthusiasm when it was introduced to Japan, with China and Korea soon to follow. Since WW II, the majority of piano manufacture has shifted to Asia. Yamaha, one of the oldest Asian manufacturers (opened 1900), helped to pioneer the application of digital technology to the piano during the 1980s. The style of this piano is typical of contemporary Yamaha uprights, but the "Disklavier" reproducing equipment uses a 3.5" diskette to record whatever the pianist plays and to play it back instantly, or at a later time.

Mass Entertainments, Mass Audiences

Liberace Grand piano, 1984
Maker: Baldwin, Cincinnati

Lent by Baldwin Piano Company
Photograph on right by M. Erixon-Stanford

 

Liberace (Wladziu Valentino), 1919-87, built his musical career on the romance of the piano, dressing himself in lavish consumes and placing extravagant candelabra on his pianos. He made his name in the 1950s with romantic, nostalgic performances broadcast to the mass audiences of television. To harmonize with Liberace's glittering image, Baldwin customized this fine grand with 125 pounds of Austrian rhinestones for Liberace's Radio City Music Hall appearances.


Miniature Grand Piano, 1851
Maker: Kirkman & Son, London

SI Photograph by Hugh Tallman

 

Kirkman and Son made this handsome miniature piano for the 1851 Crystal Palace world exposition in London to display their current developments. It is said that the midget General Tom Thumb, promoted by P.T. Barnum, played upon a piano similar to this.


(Exhibited in the Hall of Musical Instruments, National Museum of American History)

Grand Piano, 1903, "White House"
Maker: Steinway & Sons, New York

SI Photograph

 

This piano was given to President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903 as a gift to the American people in gratitude from the Steinway family on the fiftieth anniversary of the firm's founding. Designed by R. H. and J. H. Hunt and carved by Juan Ayuso, the lid was decorated by Thomas Dewing with a depiction of the nine muses.


Other Objects in the Exhibition: [Composers' Manuscripts and Early Editions]   [Miscellany]


 

[Introduction] [Performances, Tours and More] [Exhibition] [Timeline]
[Credits] [Donors and Collaborators ] [Play Some Music!] [Piano Resources]

Piano 300
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