20 · Grand Piano

Full Description

French, 19th century
By Erard Cie., Paris, 1881

Compass: seven octaves and one note: AAA to a’’’’
Length 239.7 cm; width 131.4 cm; depth of case 34.4 cm; octave span 16.5 cm
String scale: 32.8 cm

The nameboard bears the decal: “Erard”. The case is veneered in rosewood with brass band inlay. The string tension is born by a composite iron frame—a system of bars bolted at one end to the hitchpin rail plate and at the other to the pin plate. The instrument is strung with steel wire: single strung from AAA to GG, duple strung from GG# to C#, and triple strung from D to a’’’’. The strings from aaa to F# are overspun with close winding of copper. The action is the Erard repetition mechanism with underdampers. The hammers are covered with felt. There are two pedals: the left shifts the action to the right (una corda); the right raises the dampers. [Survives in playing condition]

Throughout the first two decades of the 19th century, two rival hammer mechanisms vied for the favor of pianists. The “German” or “Viennese” action found on the two Austrian instruments in this exhibit (nos. 15 and 16) was very light and rapid in response to the touch. By contrast, the English action propelled a larger and more heavily padded hammer with greater force to produce a fuller, more sustained tone.  The “repetition action” patented by Erard in 1821 combined the virtues of the two older actions, resulting in a mechanism that responded to the bravura style of the early 19th-century virtuosos and thus helped launch the great age of romantic pianism that culminated in the piano performances and compositions of Chopin and Liszt.

Sébastian Erard (1752-1831) left his native Strasbourg and apprenticed to a harpsichord maker in Paris in 1768.  In 1777 he built his first piano.  His workmanship so impressed connoisseurs that he aroused the jealousy of the conservative Parisian guild of luthiers, obliging King Louis XVI to grant him a special license in 1785.  Two years later, Erard made a special transposing piano for Marie Antoinette, but in 1792 he had to flee Revolutionary Paris for London, where he set up an instrument-making firm. Returning to Paris in 1794, he re-established the French branch of his establishment. During the next three decades Erard made a series of improvements in the mechanisms of the piano and the harp that brought both instruments to a stage of development close to their modern form.

Gift of Howard M. Schott, ‘44                                    
Accession No. 4994.1992

Musical Example:

Madeleine Forte performing Barcarolle, op. 60, by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 22 April 2001