#10: True Love since 1802

How much do you love your piano? And for how long are you going to love it…? For one year? Two years? A hundred years? Two hundred years…?

Today, I want to introduce you to a little gem of a ‘Tastenfreund’ (keyboard friend) – a small instrument that show countless marks of having been loved since its origin around 1802.

Since I have not yet removed the action to check the production numbers, my assumption around 1800-1805 is based on the outer characteristics of this piano. But the signs of true love poured into this little piano are more important than its exact birth date. When I picked up this piano from its previous owner – an elderly couple who could not keep it anymore – it showed so many signs of true love! In this post, I simply want to share with you some signs of a well-loved piano.

Who was Muzio Clementi?

Last week, I wrote about period pianos appropriate for Mozart’s music. Muzio Clementi, the builder of this square piano, was born in Rome just 4 years prior to Mozart. Did you know that, on Christmas eve of 1781, these two gentlemen had a piano duel in Vienna, invited by Emperor Joseph II?

Clementi (1752-1832) was brought to England when he was around 14 years old. Prior to this, he is supposed to have held a position as an organist in Italy for several years! In England, Clementi spent his years not only playing keyboard instruments and composing, but also editing and publishing music, and even venturing into piano production.

To promote his own business, Clementi would tour Europe with pianos from his own factory. He would perform himself and accept orders for pianos, his own piano manual and printed music by himself and other composers. Not the least because he was such a keyboard virtuoso himself, this special marketing approach worked like a charm!

A square piano was probably never used for public concerts, but it was the perfect home instrument. It was relatively cheap (Clementi made it even cheaper) and it did not take up much space.

Here he is, Muzio Clementi. If you wonder why he isn’t wearing a wig like everyone else in those days, I’m afraid I don’t know. If you happen to know the reason, would you please take the time to write a comment below to enlighten us all?

Satirical drawing from 1801

The picture below is quite amusing – and gives us an idea of how an evening around a square piano might have been! The instrument is definitely an English square piano, although perhaps not by Clementi. The British Museum exhibits this satirical drawing in a print from 1801.

Does it still play…?

Now that we know a little bit about the maker and how it was used, maybe you want to know if this little gem still plays. The answer is….well, not really. It is possible to get some sounds out of it, but you cannot make real music on it.

I just tried:

…and then, the bass:

As you can hear, not only is the tuning off, but we are at least a fifth below the intended pitch. And, unfortunately, the piano has some serious injuries that prevent me from simply bringing it back in tune. But look at the little hammers! And the funny dampers that kind of dances on top of the strings!

To be fair, this square piano is OLD! But the music stand still works perfectly, even after 220 years:

And the lid support is also in perfect shape:

Signs of true love

Did you notice an idiosyncrasy in the last photo? A part which is not really original? The previous owner loved the piano so much that he attempted to cut out a new decoration in the name board when the original one fell to pieces! How adorable is that – a real sign of true love!

But there is more! Taking a close look at this instrument once again, made me realize more signs of true love. Take these strips of magic tape, for instance. When bits of the veneer came off, the previous owner wanted to make sure that they were not lost. Another sign of true love!

Some of the signs go far back. This signature by ‘W. Butt’ is from 1914:

The only reason I can think of for a prominent signature like this, is that the piano had gone through a major repair, or upgrade. Perhaps strings were changed or replaced, hammer coverings may have been replaced and the action adjusted. I can also imagine that the iron braces (left) were added to regain some stability to the old structure, perhaps after the piano had moved, or been moved around how many times in the previous century.

Love needed!

About 110 years after the last major repair, this little square piano is certainly in need of love, once more. The tuning pins are rusty and the soundboard has cracks:

The tuning block is cracked up (at least in the veneer, probably deeper), and re-stringing is needed:

When I picked up this piano from their previous owners, in whose possession it had been for 2 or 3 generations, they had collected spare parts that had fallen off over the years – and placed them inside the piano:

A sign of true love, indeed! Now, the Clementi square is eagerly awaiting more love and another restoration, to be able to shine again. Its sound will witness of a time long gone, of a society we only know from the history books at best – and through surviving instruments that sing the lost tunes.

Do you think such a humble instrument is worth a restoration? It is not the perfect piano for Mozart sonatas or large concert halls. Rather, it gladly plays the tunes of everyday life in a time where they knew how to dream, how to love and how to connect through art and music.

If you are the proud owner of a piano, please take a close look at it once more. Does it show signs of true love? Please let me know in the comments, and I will collect more signs of true piano love!

Christina Kobb, 16 June 2023

Legg igjen en kommentar

Din e-postadresse vil ikke bli publisert. Obligatoriske felt er merket med *

error: Content is protected !!