21 · Grand Piano

Full Description

French, 19th century
By Ignace Pleyel, Paris, 1842

Compass: six octaves and ten notes: CC to a’’’’.
Length 201.0 cm; width 125.0 cm; depth of case 29.7 cm; octave span 16.2 cm
String scale: 28.5 cm

The name “PLEYEL” is inlaid into the interior of the nameboard in large brass letters.  The apparent serial number “9531” appears on a number of parts throughout the instrument. The case is framed in European oak and veneered with mahogany; it is supported by three legs turned from solid mahogany. A composite iron frame bears the tension of the strings.  The instrument is strung with steel wire: single strung from cc to EE, duple strung from FF# to E, and triple strung from F to a’’’’. The strings from CC to E are overspun with close winding of copper. The mechanism is a repetition action, but it is quite different from the usual Erard type, probably to avoid patent restrictions. There are two pedals suspended by a mahogany lyre: the left shifts the action to the right (una corda); the right raises the dampers. [restored to playing condition]

By its serial number this piano can be dated to 1842, which is also the date of a similar instrument that was Chopin’s last piano.  Established in 1807 by Austrian émigré composer Ignaz Pleyel, the Pleyel piano-making firm later became the chief rival of the house of Erard.  Pleyel’s son Camille was made a partner in the firm in 1815, and later became a close friend of Chopin.  The Pleyel pianos were considered to have a more velvety sound compared with the more brilliant Erards.

The Erard and Pleyel factories led the French piano-making industry to dominance in the European market by the middle decades of the 19th century. While the large grands produced by these and other prominent French firms were the choice instruments of musicians and the well-to-do, a long list of makers of lesser rank provided a sea of the small upright pianinos that graced the parlors of humbler homes.

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Howard Epstein                       
Accession No. 4999.1997

Musical Example:

Madeleine Forte performing Mazurka in E minor, op. 17 No. 2, by Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)
Yale University Collection of Musical Instruments, 22 April 2001