A musical instrument, resembling the harpsichord, (of which it is an improvement,) in which the tone is produced by hammers, instead of quills, upon the strings. Of all the keyed instruments, as observed in the Oxford Encyclopaedia, the piano-forte seems to merit the preference, on account of the superior tone, sweetness, and variety, of which, by the ingenuity of British artists, it has now become susceptible. It was, as early as the beginning of the last century, that hammer-harpsicords were invented at Florence, of which there is a description in the Giornale d'Italia, 1711. The invention made-but a slow progress; the first that was brought to England was by Father Wood, an English monk at Rome. The tone of this instrument was so superior to that produced by quills, with the additional power of producing all the shades of piano and forte by the finger, that though the touch and mechanism were so imperfect that nothing quick could be executed upon it, yet the Dead March in Saul, and other solemn and pathetic strains, when executed with taste and feeling, by a master a little accustomed to the touch, excited equal wonder and delight in the hearers.
Backers, a harpsichord-maker, constructed several pianofortes; and although he improved the mechanism in several respects, he failed in the tone. After the arrival of John C. Bach in this country, and the establishment of his concert, in conjunction with Abel, all the harpsichord-makers tried their mechanical powers upon piano-fortes; but the first attempts were always on the large size, till Zumpe, a German, constructed small piano-fortes, of the shape and size of the original, of which the tone was very sweet, and the touch, with a little use, equal to any degree of rapidity. Pohlman, whose instruments were very inferior in tone, fabricated a great number for such persons as Zumpe' was unable to supply. Large piano-fortes afterwards received great improvements in the mechanism by Merlin, and, in the tone, by Broadwood, Stoddart, Clementi, and others. The harsh scratching of the quills of a harpsichord can now no longer be borne. A great number of improvements have been made of late years, which have been the subjects of numerous patents.
Some of these we now proceed to notice.
The first which presents itself to our attention is the patented improvement of Mr. Wheatstone, of Jermyn-street, for augmenting the tone by the introduction of drums, or similar vibrating surfaces, against which the sounds elicited reverberate; these, it is said, not only augment the tone, but improve the melody. For this purpose, wooden frames are fitted to the inside of the instruments, upon which is tightly stretched paper, parchment, vellum, or similar substances, which constitute the drum. These, being placed as near as possible to the sounding-boards of the instruments, are powerfully acted upon by the vibration of the notes given out; and to conduct the sound elicited with greater effect to the ears of the auditory, trumpet-shaped apertures are made through the cases of the instruments.
To give to piano-fortes the rich and lengthened tones of the violin, a patent was taken out by Mr. Todd. This is effected by the pressure of the foot of the player upon a pedal, which puts in motion an endless band (furnished with powdered resin), which is made to rub against the particular wire in connexion with the key that is depressed by the finger of the player; and thus the same effect is produced as by the bow over the strings of the violin. Instruments so constructed will therefore have two distinct sets of tones; that is, when the pedal is acted upon, the lengthened and beautiful tones of the violin will be produced; without it, those of the ordinary piano.
The invention is not, however, confined to piano-fortes, but to all other instruments wherein the sounds are produced by the vibration of wires, or strings of catgut; but the most eligible instrument for its application, is the piano, more especially those of the upright or cabinet kind. The annexed diagram we have therefore selected from the specification, to explain the construction and modes of action of this ingenious contrivance, when applied to piano-fortes of the latter description. The figure gives a vertical section of the part; thus a shows one of the wires stretched across the bridges, by means of tension pins over the body of the instrument. c c is an endless band revolving over two cylinders, which are set in motion by the treadle d, operated upon by the pedal; this band is to be made of cloth, catgut, or other material capable of holding powdered rosin. e e is a frame of wood on which is made to turn a swinging piecef, and there are as many of these frames and swinging pieces as there are keys to the instrument.
On each swinging piece are fixed wires, bent in the manner shown; their ends are reduced to a conical figure to form centres, upon which revolve small brass rollers, as that at g. h is one of the keys of the instrument moving on its fulcrum pin, and its two stops are shown at ii; a vertical stem of wood j is fixed into the key, carrying above it, in a horizontal position, a wire k, which acts upon the swinging piecef; the wire k is fixed to the stem j by means of nuts placed on either side of the stem, which screw on to the end of the wire, and by these means the extent of motion to be given to the swinging piece is regulated. It will now be seen that when any key is depressed by the finger of the player, the little brass roller g is pressed against theendless band, which, bending it a little out of the right line, causes it to rub against the wire a, and thereby produce a similar effect to the drawing of the bow over the strings of a violin.
The next invention which we shall notice is that of Mr. James Stewart, of George-street, Euston-square, who had a patent for it in 1830. It will be observed that there are several motions connected with the operations of a piano which require great precision as to their time, duration, and intensity of action. The hammer must be made to strike the string at the same instant that the damper is withdrawn, and the hammer having done its duty must be instantly removed (even before the finger of the performer has left the key,) from the string, to allow the vibration to take place, and then the damper must return to stop the vibration of the string the moment that the finger is withdrawn from the key. Now as all the motions must be obtained by a very slight touch of the finger, and without any noise, the levers and connecting rods, by which they are transmitted from the keys to the strings, become important considerations with piano-forte makers, and Mr. Stewart has simplified the action, and rendered it more certain, by the introduction of a short lever placed over, and parallel with the interior end of the finger lever.