Research on Fortepianos, Leipzig, April 2000

This was my second visit to the Musikinstrumenten Museum of the University of Leipzig, this time accompanied by my husband Ellsworth, who was also in Germany giving a paper at the International Kant Kongress in Berlin. I was able to fill in some gaps concerning a piano I'd seen before, and discover one which I was not aware of, which is very similar to the ones upon which our 5 1/2 octave fortepiano is based.

The earliest fortepiano at Leipzig to come out of the Streicher shop is a dandy, looking very much like one of papa J.A.Stein's. (There is a Stein there at Leipzig, and we saw one in the collection in Berlin as well) It is however five and one half octaves, not five. It is a "Frère et Soeur Stein", when the shop still had as a partner Nannette's younger brother André Stein. When their father died in 1792, Nannette took over charge of the business with her brother; he was just 16; she was 23. In 1794, Nannette was married to a composer and piano teacher named Andreas Streicher; they moved the business to Vienna, the center of the musical world. Streicher also became a partner, and did the front-office part of the business. They broke off with the brother in 1802, and he opened his own shop (a long tale), so pianos with Nannette's name alone on the nameboard must be from 1802 or later. This early fortepiano is dated 1797; it is playing a bit though not regulated at the moment. The hammershanks are terrifyingly thin, the hammer heads small, covered with three layers of leather. Click here for pictures of this great little instrument. E-mail me with further questions about this and the other fortepianos discussed here.

The other piano we saw closely, and the one we spent most time with, was originally a "Frère et Soeur Stein", they believe, which was modernized by Nannette in the shop in 1804. She has signed her name very legibly on the front of the pinblock (upside down, when the soundboard was out, the place she signed all her instruments) and wrote the year 1804 and the serial number 503. This date puts it between the two pianos upon which our shop's 5 1/2 octave is based, an 1803 and an 1805. The earliest of these three is the 1803 in Nürnberg at the Germanisches Nationalmuseum. It has wooden kapsels, no backchecks, a full sled under the action(unlike the 1797 which has shove-bars to raise the keyboard), double-strung throughout with double-pinning of the bridge up to c2 and single pinning above but no increased side-bearing there. (The 1797 has side bearing increased in the treble where it is single-pinned.) The 1803 has a damper cover box, as did the 1797. It has no oversoundboard (called dust-cover by some) nor evidence of the little blocks on which one would sit. Click here for a couple of pictures of the Nürnberg 1803.

The 1804 we just saw in Leipzig had some interesting revisions in its updating from a Frere & Soeur Stein. It had had a central wooden gap spacer, as did both of the earlier pianos, with a pair of 'dummy strings' over the space taken by it; this was removed and replaced by two iron gap spacers, spaced above and below the middle of the string band, narrow to fit between existing unisons. The evidence of the original wooden gap spacer remains on the front of the bellyrail, and the missing unison's space remains. (The pinblock is new, perhaps from an even more recent restoration.) This piano however retains the original keyboard, flared to allow the space of a unison for the old gap spacer, and has the old shove-bars instead of a full sled. There are no backchecks nor are there any in the two earlier instruments. The kapsels of the 1797and 1803 as well as this 1804 are wood. The damper guide has been updated and there is no damper cover. The ribbing of the soundboard is heavier, of a similar pattern to the 1805. Click here for pictures of the 1804, on the page with the 1803 and 1805 for comparison.

The 1805, which we did not re-visit this time, is currently at the Landesmuseum in Stuttgart. It has been restored in modern times and the pinblock (and I suspect also the sound board) is replaced. It has both metal kapsels (original I think) and individual backchecks. It has no damper cover, and has a full sled. It has the same iron gap spacers as the revised 1804. It has an oversoundboard; the 1804 does not have one but the places where the support blocks were glued can be easily felt on the inside surface of the case sides. The bridge is double pinned all the way up, and the treble is triple-strung. The keyboard is guided by front pins, instead of the rear guide system of all the earlier ones.

There are other differences, many I didn't notice I'm sure. The cases of all three are quite similar; the 1804 is veneered in mahogany instead of the cherry more usual in the earlier times but I didn't see any evidence of reveneering. The 1805 is mahogany, the 1803 is yew. The naturals of the 1797 are ebony, the 1803 ivory(not bone), the 1804 ebony, not changed from the early version, and the 1805 ivory again. I will have to dig out the charts of string lengths to see if they all correspond , and ascertain case dimensions. I would not be surprised if they are all very similar. I will post this information eventually. I hope to get back to look at the more recent three again, as well as an 1807 in Nürnberg, which will give an idea of the transition, begun here, to the rather different instrument of 1810 to 1823.

Return to main page

Margaret Hood Fortepianos 580 West Cedar Street Platteville, Wisconsin 53818 USA (608)348-6410