Austrian, 18th century
By Johann Jacob Könnicke, Vienna, ca. 1795
Compass: five octaves & one note, FF to f’’’
Length 231.1 cm; width 91.1cm; depth of case 26.0 cm; octave span 15.6 cm
String scale: c’’ = 28.3 cm
A porcelain plaque on the nameboard is inscribed: “Joh. Jacob Koennicke / Buergerl. instrumentenma / cher in Wien”. The case is veneered with rosewood; the lid is of walnut. The four turned legs are not original. The instrument is duple strung from FF to a, triple strung from b-flat to g’’’. The mechanism is the “Viennese action” (Prellzungenmechanik). The natural keys are covered with ebony, the sharps with bone. There are two knee levers: the left activates a “piano stop;” the right raises the dampers.
The Florentine harpsichord maker Bartolomeo Cristofori invented the first successful hammer-acction keyboard instrument around 1700. His gravicembalo col piano e forte allowed the player to inflect dynamically with varied finger pressure, which is not possible with the plucked action of the harpsichord. But Cristofori’s sophisticated and highly efficacious mechanism was “ahead of its time.” Musicians initially considered it too expensive and difficult to maintain in adjustment. it remained for German makers in the middle of the 18th century to simplify the hammer action and allow the piano to become popular. Johann Andreas Stein of Augsburg is credited with refining the primitive German action to the point that it impressed the young Mozart, who played Stein’s piano when he passed through Augsburg in 1777 and extolled its responsive touch in a letter home to his father.
The Viennese maker Könnicke modelled his instruments closely on Stein’s pianos. This instrument is a good example of the the five-octave Viennese “fortepiano,” which represents the flowering of the first stage in the history of the piano during the last quarter of the 18th century. Könnicke emigrated from his native Brunswick to Vienna in 1790. He is known to have built in 1795 an elaborate six-manual Piano-forte pour la parfaite harmonie with a compass of six octaves, which permitted playing in all tonalities “in perfect tune.” The instrument attracted the attention of amateurs as well as musicians; Haydn and Beethoven are said to have played it.
Gift of Morris Steinert
Accession No. 4971.1900
Malcolm Bilson performing Allegro from Sonata in F major, K.332, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 6 April 2008