A charming and beautiful antique Piano.
I found this interesting article “The Growth of the Market for Domestic Music” on Lee Jackson’s website “The Victorian Webb“. This article examines the rise of middle class wealth and how “the first musical fruit of middle-class prosperity appeared in the form of a piano.”
The importance of the piano in the middle class home shouldn’t be under estimated:
It was the acquisition of pianos in large numbers which was to vastly extend the market for drawing-room ballads, and to standardize the genre as a song with piano accompaniment (rather than, say, harp). In the early part of the nineteenth century it was taken for granted that a song published with piano accompaniment was intended for home music-making, or ‘at home’ functions such as soirees, since songs at public concerts were normally performed with an orchestral accompaniment until the 1840s.
The tradition of publishing music heard at concerts in versions aimed at amateurs stretched back into the previous century: then the passion for the German flute among gentleman amateurs had lain behind such remarkable publications as Handel’s complete Messiah arranged for flute. The piano seemed to attract the middle class in its earliest arrival in England: Charles Dibdin introduced it at Covent Garden in 1767, and Drury Lane gained an official pianist in 1770.
By way of contrast, the piano did not replace the harpsichord in the King’s Band for another twenty-five years. In the 1830s there was a great variety of pianos available (grands, squares, upright grands, upright squares, cabinet pianos, table pianos, giraffe pianos, lyre pianos), but the design that won the day was Robert Wornum’s cottage piano. Its small size was not created at the expense of tone quality, and its pleasant shape made it a satisfying piece of furniture. Wornum had been working on his cottage design [45/46] since 1811.
The action on an upright piano is unavoidably more complex than the grand, where the strings lie in the horizontal plane, and he continued to make improvements in the late 1830s: for example, his ‘tape-check’ action, which formed the basis of the upright action used in pianos today. Further improvements were made to upright design in the 1840s, and henceforth the softer-toned square piano began to lose favour. The grand piano, however, continued to be the first choice for the concert platform; the upright was considered a domestic instrument.
As today, pianos back then did not come cheap, although despite there being more pianos in the home in the 19th century than today, electronic keyboards and pianos can be bought fairly cheaply ( such as second hand) and require little to no maintenance.
Pianos cost around 25 and 40 guineas in 1856: a lot of money!
The piano became the pre-eminent bourgeois instrument for a variety of reasons. At first, it was a luxury instrument; therefore, its possession indicated worldly success. It was, as already remarked, a pleasing piece of furniture, gleaming in its mahogany or rosewood case. A fondness for excessive ornament emphasized this purely visual appeal; indeed, the decorative parts of pianos were the first to be mass produced: in the second decade of the nineteenth century Broadwood bought cast-brass moulding by the foot and stamped brass ornaments by the dozen. The extremes to which this decorative interest could stretch may be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, where there is a satinwood piano decorated with Gothic ornament, inlaid and gilded, with three silk panels at the front (probably the design of Charles Bevan). The piano had established itself as a luxury item of furniture in the 1830s.
The beauty of 19th century pianos still inspire our admiration today, with their beautiful carvings and adornments. They appeal to our sense of nostalgia and romance.
As public playing was not considered as seemly for women, despite there being concert pianists and composers like Clara Schumann, it tended to be women who were the main home musicians. Domestic music making was often to accompany singing and a lot of sheet music was published ( ballads especially) for home entertainment. In fact, some of the composers of these pieces were women. I attended a Victorian song concert around 4 years ago where a tenor sang Victorian songs/ballads written by women, accompanied by a pianist. He was even dressed in 19th century style.
You can find a fascinating article on women ballad composers on “The Victorian Webb” entitled “The Rise of the Woman Ballad Composer“:
The piano too, featured in literature of the time, and women especially could express themselves through piano playing as it was considered an accomplishment for young ladies to be able to play at family gatherings and parties.
Inspired by my interest in the Victorian era and love of antique pianos I created a circa 1860s Victorian room, complete with hand made miniature piano and paper Victorian doll. Here she is stood by her stool looking in her sheet music book, deciding what she wants to play:
And now she sits playing:
You can see more photos of “The Victorian Piano Room” on my Etsy store:
French Photographer and pianist Romain Thiery accompanied his own remarkable images of abandoned pianos for his Requiem for Pianos series.
About thirty of his photographs are focused on a central object: the piano; sometimes with some of its keys missing, sometimes completely dismantled but always sitting imposingly. Impressive and incongruous, it is there. It is where, not so long ago, grace, luxury and a respected novelty used to reign.
At first, led astray by the natural aesthetics of the king of the instruments, one could have seen some kind of romanticism that could be at odds with the photographer’s powerful other works. In the latter, the picture does it job, despite the amazing work on the light: the spectator feels a sense of disquiet -despite the beautiful representation. It is obvious: what used to be no longer is.
In a mess that leads us to ask ourselves a hundred questions, a dust-covered piano is erected and its nobleness is striking, its grandeur lies deep within the basics of our culture. The art of the photographer is to show us this arrogant beauty that relegates everything else to the background.
Andrea James, writer at boingboing.net.
There is another photographer, Dutchman Roman Robroek, who also takes photographs of abandoned pianos.
Here is one of his incredible photographs:
(Picture credit, Roman Robroek in an article on the Daily mail online)
What do you see when you look at this haunting photograph? I see loneliness, not the “arrogance” that Ms. James expressed in the above. The sight of this beautiful piano left to decay, discarded and unwanted tugs at my heart strings. Maybe I’m too sentimental but looking at it I think about the hours of music it gave to people long ago. Once it must have been treasured.
Here is Roman Robroek’s website:
When I started my Urban photography journey, I mostly saw empty, abandoned and decayed buildings. It didn’t take long before curiosity struck me. What was the story behind those buildings? Who used to live there?
The artist and story teller in me shares his curiosity. I have always been fascinated with the past, especially the 18th century, Victorian and Edwardian eras, and love listening to music played on antique pianos from these eras. Inspired by all this I created a roombox entitled The Lonely Piano:
In abandoned room in an old Edwardian era mansion a lonely old upright piano stands in the decaying room, with old music sheets piled on top of it and scattered on the floor. Photographs of three women, perhaps they were sisters, hang above the piano. A shadow casts an eerie shape on the wall- the fanciful person might imagine it’s the ghost of one of the women come back to play her beloved piano. Perhaps if you listen one night, the piano will be heard playing an old time melody….
This roombox stimulates the imagination, and the viewer can create a story behind it. Who were the sisters? What happened to them? Why is the piano left in the house all alone and forgotten? Is the house haunted by ghosts of the past?
More photographs of The Lonely Piano roombox can be seen on my art page in my Gallery:
Here’s another miniature Piano I’ve made. The title of this roombox is The Old Piano’s Dream.
In abandoned room in an old Victorian villa a lonely old upright piano stands in the decaying front parlour, with old music sheets, papers and books scattered on the floor around it. Its keys are damaged, it has lost its lid and it is covered with cobwebs.
A photo of a cute baby in a bonnet hangs on the wall behind the Piano and two portraits of a young couple, dating from the 1890s on the wall to the left of the Piano.
The Piano longs for times past when the young couple would play it and fill the room with its music. (Maybe they liked to play the music of Mendelssohn….)
As it dreams of the 1890s it sends musical notes rising into the air as it remembers the young couple ( seen on the wall playing it)…..
You can see more photos of The Old Piano’s Dream on my art page.
Both these piano roomboxes went to loving homes via my Etsy store.
Romain Thiery made a moving tribute called Requiem pour pianos for all the abandoned pianos he had photographed:
His poignant photographs can be seen on his Instagram page:
Trevor Stephenson demonstrates how to tune 18th-century Well Temperament. Shows how to listen for beat speeds in thirds and fifths. Demonstrates the differences between just and tempered intervals.
This is played with wonderful fluidity and emotional depth. I have heard recordings of this piece played by “international pianists” on concert grand pianos, who have music degrees and been to conservatoires etc, but this completely self taught pianist playing on a digital piano plays it so much better in my opinion!
Mark Fowler only started learning piano at aged 18, and taught himself to play BY EAR!! Yes, that’s right- he couldn’t read sheet music, had no teacher and learned by himself. At the age of 33 this is what he has achieved. This is how talented he is. Many international pianists started the traditional way at aged 5-8 with teachers, doing music degrees etc.
As someone who struggles with sheet music and sight reading, I love discovering self taught pianists- it is proof that there are many ways to learn Piano- we are often told that we HAVE to have a teacher- that we cannot learn alone; we HAVE to learn the traditional way, must do scales, must learn to read sheet music before we can play Piano- pianists like Mark Fowler show otherwise.
Where and how did you study music?
I am completely self-taught. I simply practiced on a daily basis most of the time throughout my life. I never practiced scales or traditional techniques to enhance my technique or musicality, I often played, or rather attempted difficult pieces that were beyond my level of playing, thus by practicing them I eventually improved my overall playing this way.
There is perhaps no right or wrong; that each of us can reach into ourselves, forge a connection with our pianos, and find that inspiration, let the beauty of the Piano, our hearts and music come together to find our own natural way to play. In Mark’s case his desire to just play flowed…
Mark Fowler was born in the city of Peterborough, England in 1979. He started playing keyboards at a fairly young age but did not take piano seriously until 18. At 21 he bought his first piano and since then has progressed at a phenomenal rate to reach the standard of playing he is at today. Completely self taught, Mark believes his early love and passion for classical music by composers such as JS Bach, Beethoven and Mozart is what motivated and consequently drove him to learn piano by himself.
From a young age Mark could not read sheet music and so developed an innate ability to learn music by listening to it, or to play ‘by ear’ as it’s more commonly known by today. Mark is now capable of both learning music ‘by ear’ or from sheet music/score, and has a vast and constantly expanding repertoire list, most of which he knows from memory.
Recently Dr. Godoy turned the technology on a fascinating question: How were such classical pieces as Mozart’s Variation K. 500 and Hummel’s Etudes, Opus 125, originally played, and how might that have made a difference in sound and in audience reaction?
To find out, Dr. Godoy struck up a collaboration with Christina Kobb, a doctoral candidate at the Norwegian Academy of Music and head of theory at Barratt Due Institute of Music in Oslo. Ms. Kobb has developed an unusual expertise: She has learned how to play the piano according to techniques described nearly 200 years ago.
As a visiting student at Cornell University in 2010, she researched 19th-century pedagogical piano treatises — essentially, instruction manuals for piano playing. The techniques that they described, she realized, differed drastically from those she had been taught.
“I was not following even the most basic instructions given to beginners at the time,” Ms. Kobb said. “I wondered, ‘Would this make a difference in my playing?’ ”
For the next three years, she gradually replaced her modern way of playing with 19th-century technique, gleaned from around 20 treatises. Most were written in Vienna in the 1820s, while a few were published in France and England. Her primary source, however, was “A Complete Theoretical and Practical Course of Instructions on the Art of Playing the Piano Forte,” the seminal 465-page treatise published in 1827 by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, one of Mozart’s students.
While modern players tend to hunch over the keys and hold their forearms nearly perpendicular to the keyboard, 19th-century style dictated that pianists sit bolt upright. The posture prevented players from bringing their weight to bear on the keyboard, instead forcing them to rely on smaller finger movements. The elbows were held firmly against the body, with forearms sloping down and hands askew.
As Ms. Kobb became more fluent in this approach, she found that certain movements — jumping quickly between disparate chords, for example — became swifter and more fluid. “The elbow against your body serves as a sort of GPS, so you always know where you are,” she said.
Chords and scales sound smoother and can be played faster, Ms. Kobb also found, and dramatic pauses between notes — often a matter of physical necessity rather than of style — are lessened. The old style also allows the performer to be more discriminatory and subtle in choosing which notes to stress, Ms. Kobb learned, producing a performance that is subdued by today’s standards.”