Page images
PDF
EPUB

I am Editor of the Telegraph and Proprietor of fths of that paper, my place of residence Lyons Range.

Mr. H. D. Wilson is the Proprietor of the other 4th and his place of residence is in Merideth's Buildings

I have the honour to be,

Sir,
Your most obedient,

humble servant, CALCUTTA, 15th May 1799.

(Sd.) H. McKENLY.

SIR, -In pursuance of the order of Council for regulating the publication of Newspapers, I beg leave to inform you that I am Proprietor and Editor of the Oriental Star, and that I reside at the house of Mr. Brooke at Belvedere. My office is in the house of Dr. Haunter, Durrumtollah, and my printer's name is John Johnson. May I take the liberty of requesting to know at what hour on Friday evening I am to send the proof sheets for your inspection, if between the Hours of Eight and ten o'clock would suit your convenience, it would Enable me to publish the paper at the usual hour on Saturday Morning, but if those hours should happen to break in upon your time it is my duty to attend to any other you may think proper to mention.

I remain,

Sir,
With most Respect and Esteem,

Yours very obediently,

(Sd.) ARCHD. FLEMING. BELVEDERE, 16th May 1799.

S. C. SANIAL.

Art. IV. -THE BICENTENARY OF THE PIANOFORTE:

A LINK BETWEEN EAST AND WEST. ON the keyboard of the pianoforte there is, through

mutual indebtedness, a meeting of East and West rarely if ever realised by those, be they swarthy or pale, whose hands finger it. For the Western world owes most of its orchestra, especially its brass instruments and those played with a bow, to the East, whence their prototypes were brought by the Crusaders, And the superb pianofortes which now adorn the palaces of Sultans, Caliphs and Maharajahs owe their perfection to the Occidental genius for mechanical construction. In the latter half of the fourteenth century some nameless benefactor of mankind bethought him to apply to a stringed instrument, the monochord, the clavier or keyboard already, in the form of clumsy levers, familiar on the organ. Thereby he begot. not a single

a child of his brain, but a family-a whole tribe of instruments. In course of time so various in form had his progeny become that the wealthy collected themmonochords, clavichords, virginals, spinets, and harpsichords, as curios. Thus in 1598 Alphonso II, Duke of Modena, if organs be included, had fifty-three; and a century later Prince Ferdinand dei Medici at least forty.

Now-a-days there is practically but one such instrument. Music is studied through the medium of the piano more than through the voice and all other instruments put together. With the exception of the organ, the instrument is unknown, solos on which are complete without a pianoforte accompaniment. Three voices or instruments must combine before the performers can bid defiance to the piano. Unaccompanied duets-save as exercises—are virtually unknown. Of candidates for musical examinations, professional and

professional and amateur, a careful scrutiny shows that 82 per cent. are pianoforte students. All other subjects, including theory and singing, only muster the remaining 18 per cent.! The instrument is ubiquitous : the house without one is unfurnished ; so is even the gentleman's yacht and the small passenger steamer.

And all this though compared with the harp, flute, organ, and its prototype the dulcimer, the piano is a thing of yesterday—it is fewer hundreds of years old than they are thousands! Yet though the piano itself is new, its constituent elements are as old as the hills. The Oriental dulcimer, with its little hammers, is of almost prehistoric origin. And it has recently been discovered that a keyboard to be played with the fingers was known 300 B. C. And a piano is nothing more than a combination of the hammerprinciple of the dulcimer with the keyboard principle of the harpsichord, spinet, and clavichord, in which the strings were twanged with a plectrum or struck with a tangent. Thus in the new instrument facility of execution was combined with power of expression, which previous clavier instruments lacked. It was the combination of Oriental art with occidental mechanism, which was new, not the features themselves. To this power of expression the name "piano e forte," meaning “soft and loud," was due. The name had been used before-as early as 1598—but for instruments the character of which is unknown. After much jealous wrangling the searching investigations of Cavaliere Leto Puliti, published in 1874, have left no doubt as to whom the honour of inventing the piano belongs to: it is to the

Italian, Bartolommeo Cristofori, a Florentine instrument maker. The playwright and antiquary Francisco Maffei states in “his Giornale dei Letterarti d'Italia, that he had seen four “gravicembali col piano e forte” made by Cristofori. This was in 1709, so the instruments must have been made in that year or earlier. But the record in the Giornale was not published till 1711: hence, probably, the date commonly assigned for the invention of the piano being 1710. In addition to the instrument named by Maffei, Cristofori is known to have made a piano in 1720, and another in 1726, both of which are still in existence. Their compass is respectively four and four-and-a-half octaves. But his escapement, or means of meeting the rebound of the hammer was very imperfect; he was nearer sixty than fifty when he made the first four instruments, and in the land of its birth pianoforte—making soon came to a standstill. Within some six or seven years of Cristofori's invention, Marius, a Frenchman, and Cristoph G. Schroeter, a German, produced instruments of the keyed-dulcimer type, but they were much inferior to Cristofori's, and neither maker prosecuted his invention to any extent. The first manufacturer to meet with marked success and make any considerable number of instruments was Gottfried Silbermann, who had settled in Frieberg as an organ builder in 1712, His later instruments, though not the earlier, met with the approval of no less a judge than John Sebastian Bach. Despite this, for fifty years after its invention the new instrument appeared almost to have been still-born. needed a man sufficiently gifted, and young enough to master the new touch-totally different from that of the harpsichord-to make the piano bound into a position with which successful rivalry was impossible. Such an

Yet it only exponent the instrument found in John Christian Bach, eleventh son of the “great" Bach, and popularly known as the “ cnglish Bach ” from his long residence in London. It is from his arrival there in 1759 that the rivalry between the piano and harpsichord may be said to have begun. The manufacture of pianos in England to any considerable degree may also be dated from his advent. And for a length of time London was the centre of the piano-making activity. Till the establishment of Erard's factory at Paris in 1777or rather its re-establishment in 1796–France, if not Germany, drew her supplies from the English capital. At first the workmen were mostly foreigners, chiefly Italians, but these were soon replaced by British mechanics.

Hence while the honour of inventing the piano rests with Italy, where, in the cloisters of Santa Croce, a memorial tablet has been erected to Cristofori, that of perfecting it rests wholly with other countries, especially Great Britain America and Germany. Thus an improvement second only in importance to the original invention of the instrument was evolved in London and on that account was known as the “ English Action.” This was the first satisfactory escape

or means whereby the hammer leaves the string free to vibrate after striking it, and at the same time can re-iterate the note with any degree of rapidity. It was the work of the Dutchman, Americus Backers assisted by the Scotsman, John Broadwood, and his apprentice, presumably English, Robert Stodart. And just as no improvement has been made in the violin since the time of Antonio Stradivarius in the early eighteenth century, so no material change has been made in the "

escapement ” of a pianoforte since the English Action ” of 1762. To the House of Broadwood

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »