Friday, 13 February 2015

An organized piano reconstruction

Organized pianos were made during the second half of the eighteenth century but by the middle of the nineteenth century had already passed into history. A few survive but almost all are unplayable. An organized grand piano (possibly unique) was recently acquired by Colonial Williamsburg and is undergoing conservative restoration (here) and an organized square piano built around in 1800 has very recently surfaced (here) but will not be restored to playing condition. An organized square in Bristol City Museum no longer has its piano mechanism but is probably a representative example of the kind of instruments made in the 1780s. A playable organized square by Erard (1791) is in a museum in Paris (here) but as some of the the restoration was carried out over 100 years ago it is difficult to know what is original. Incidentally, the use of the term 'organized' might be seen by my British readers as unutterably Amercan but this was the way it was spelled in British newspaper advertisements in the 1790s so that is what I am going with.

One way to have an historical instrument that is in playable condition so that possible repertoires can be explored is to build a copy or reconstruction. In this case my approach is to make a hybrid - use an original square piano (which are not that rare having been built in tens of thousands, particularly by Broadwood) and make a new organ part. My reconstruction will not be a copy of any particular instrument but as the basic layout of the organ seems to have been fairly standard I hope that it will be considered a fair representative of the instrument. Short of taking an historical instrument apart (highly unlikely in this case!) I will have to work out how some of the internal mechanism of the organ might have been laid out.

The first stage is to make a frame to support the piano and into which the organ part will fit. The Broadwood piano is a five-octave square dating from 1801 with a single action. The organ will have a two stops (a stopped 8' and an open 4') and wind will be supplied by a food pedal. The compass of the organ part will be C-f3 (four and a half octaves) which is the same as the Paris and Bristol instruments and seems to have been fairly standard.

Progress thus far has been the fabrication of a building frame in pine. The frame will eventually be covered by removable mahogany panels to allow access for tuning and adjustments. The stack of partially completed bass pipes underneath gives some idea of how much volume these already take up. A bellows and reservoir will be fitted underneath the right hand side.

Further posts will give updates on the project.

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