Books

There are extensive bibliographies posted highlighting books now available on the subject of early keyboard instruments, often without much additional comment. Included here are books and articles that your intrepid webmaster has found particularly useful. Not surprising to most of you, we must be mindful of copyright. For that reason, I will rarely post complete articles unless they have made it to the public domain, nor do I have copies to send out.

New on the shelves is the book from John Watson that accompanies the new exhibit at Colonial Williamsburg “Changing Keys”.

Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America

At a Glance:

  • By John Watson
  • Features transitions of keyboard instruments between 1700 to 1830
  • Hardcover
  • 8″x10-1/2″
  • 144 pages

More Detail:
The transition from harpsichord to piano and the accompanying shift in taste between 1700 and 1830 was a musical revolution in revolutionary times. So, also, was the transition from London’s monopoly on the manufacture of instruments to a burgeoning American industry. Changing Keys: Keyboard Instruments for America 1700-1830 explores furniture design, regional and political influences, market and demographic shifts, manufacturing technologies, and the competition among makers and merchants during the colonial and federal eras.

  • By John Watson
  • Features transitions of keyboard instruments between 1700 to 1830
  • Hardcover
  • 8″x10-1/2″
  • 144 pages

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A recent addition to our understanding of the general history of the music trade has just published, edited by Michael Kassler. With authors such as Jenny Nex, it provides an in-depth look into the business dealings of the trade, and of course much information relevant to early pianos in London is included.

 A synopsis can be found here A New Book on the Music Business in Eighteenth Century England

Among the books covering the development and history of the early piano, three stand out in my mind as being critical to the enthusiast for coming to an understanding of the design and variations on the theme of a percussion based stringed keyboard instrument.

We begin with Michael Cole’s “The Pianoforte in the Classical Era” which is now required reading on the subject. With liberal references and a breadth that touces on all aspects of the pianoforte from the beginnings to the early 19th century, this is the most important book you will have in your library. Sadly, the first printing run was small and the print-on-demand version has inferior reproduction quality, but the earlier run is still available on-line at highly inflated prices of >$200. One way or the other, get a copy!

Next I would recommend Stewart Pollens’ ‘The Early Pianoforte’. Not meant to be so comprehensive as Cole, Pollens focuses on the earliest pianos beginning with the possible inclusion of H. Arnaut de Zwolle’s Dulce Melos and 4th action drawing. The book takes an in-depth look at Cristofori and the extant instruments, plus Silbermann and the early Germans. Coupled with Cole you have the story of the beginnings, well told. Again, only the reprint is readily available and the first printing of 1995 is of significantly higher qualty and nearly unobtainable now.

The last of the three is again by Cole, ‘Broadwood Square Pianos’. Still available, this book focuses on John Broadwood and details his history and life, as well as a thorough treatment of his firms entire square piano production. No other builder left behind so much of a legacy, which continues today under Dr. Alastair Lawrence with the Broadwood crest still open for business.

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