I have given the first place in description to Cristofori's actions, instead of to the "cembalo" or instrument to which they were applied, because piano and forte, from touch, became possible through them, and what else was accomplished by Cristofori was due, primarily, to the dynamic idea. He strengthened his harpsichord sound-board against a thicker stringing, renouncing the cherished sound-holes. Yet the sound-box notion clung to him, for he made openings in his sound-board rail for air to escape. He ran a string-block round the case, entirely independent of the sound-board, and his wrest-plank, which also became a separate structure, removed from the sound-board by the gap for the hammers, was now a stout oaken plank which, to gain an upward bearing for the strings, he inverted, driving his wrest-pins through in the manner of a harp, and turning them in like fashion to the harp. He had two strings to a note, but it did not occur to him to space them into pairs of unisons. He retained the equidistant harpsichord scale, and had, at first, under-dampers, later over-dampers, which fell between the unisons thus equally separated.
Cristofori died in 1731. He had pupils, one of whom made, in 1730, the, "Rafael d'Urbino," the favorite instrument of the great singer Farinelli. The story of inventive Italian pianoforte making ends thus early, but to Italy the invention indisputably belongs.
The first to make pianofortes in Germany was the famous Freiberg organ-builder and clavichord maker, Gottfried Silbermann. He submitted two pianofortes to the judgment of John Sebastian Bach in 1726, which judgment was, however, unfavorable; the trebles being found too weak, and the touch too heavy. Silbermann, according to the account of Bach's pupil, Agricola, being much mortified, put them aside, resolving not to show them again unless he could improve them. We do not know what these instruments were, but it may be inferred that they were copies of Cristofori, or were made after the description of his invention by Maffei, which had already been translated from Italian into German, by Koenig, the court poet at Dresden, who was a personal friend of Silbermann. With the next anecdote, which narrates the purchase of all the pianofortes Silbermann had made, by Frederick the Great, we are upon surer ground. This well accredited occurrence took place in 1746. In the following year occurred Bach's celebrated visit to Potsdam, when he played upon one or more of these instruments.
Burney saw and described one in 1772. I had this one, which was known to have remained in the new palace at Potsdam until the present time unaltered, examined, and, by a drawing of the action, found it was identical with Cristofori's. Not, however, being satisfied with one example, I resolved to go myself to Potsdam; and, being furnished with permission from H.R.H. the Crown Princess of Prussia, I was enabled in September, 1881, to set the question at rest of how many grand pianofortes by Gottfried Silbermann there were still in existence at Potsdam, and what they were like. At Berlin there are none, but at Potsdam, in the music-rooms of Frederick the Great, which are in the town palace, the new palace, and Sans Souci--left, it is understood, from the time of Frederick's death undisturbed--there are three of these Silbermann pianofortes. All three are with unimportant differences having nothing to do with structure, Cristofori instruments, wrest plank, sound-board, string-block, and action; the harpsichord scale of stringing being still retained. The work in them is undoubtedly good; the sound-boards have given in the trebles, as is usual with old instruments, from the strain; but I should say all three might be satisfactorily restored.
Some other pianofortes seem to have been made in North Germany about this time, as our own poet Gray bought one in Hamburg in 1755, in the description of which we notice the desire to combine a hammer action with the harpsichord which so long exercised men's minds.
The Seven Years' War put an end to pianoforte making on the lines Silbermann had adopted in Saxony. A fresh start had to be made a few years later, and it took place contemporaneously in South Germany and England. The results have been so important that the grand pianofortes of the Augsburg Stein and the London Backers may be regarded, practically, as reinventions of the instrument. The decade 1770-80 marks the emancipation of the pianoforte from the harpsichord, of which before it had only been deemed a variety. Compositions appear written expressly for it, and a man of genius, Muzio Clementi, who subsequently became the head of the pianoforte business now conducted by Messrs. Collard, came forward to indicate the special character of the instrument, and found an independent technique for it.
A few years before, the familiar domestic square piano had been invented. I do not think clavichords could have been altered to square pianos, as they were wanting in sufficient depth of case; but that the suggestion was from the clavichord is certain, the same kind of case and key-board being used. German authorities attribute the invention to an organ builder, Friederici of Gera, and give the date about 1758 or 1760. I have advertised in public papers, and have had personal inquiry made for one of Friederici's "Fort Biens," as he is said to have called his instrument. I have only succeeded in learning this much--that Friederici is considered to have been of later date than has been asserted in the text-books. Until more conclusive information can be obtained, I must be permitted to regard a London maker, but a German by birth, Johannes Zumpe, as the inventor of the instrument. It is certain that he introduced that model of square piano which speedily became the fashion, and was chosen for general adoption everywhere.
Zumpe began to make his instruments about 1765. His little square, at first of nearly five octaves, with the "old man's head" to raise the hammer, and "mopstick" damper, was in great vogue, with but little alteration, for forty years; and that in spite of the manifest improvements of John Broadwood's wrest-plank and John Geib's "grasshopper." After the beginning of this century, the square piano became much enlarged and improved by Collard and Broadwood, in London, and by Petzold, in Paris. It was overdone in the attempt to gain undue power for it, and, about twenty years ago, sank in the competition, with the later cottage pianoforte, which was always being improved.