ADAM BEYER

Adam Beyer was one of the most prolific and successful piano makers in London during the eighteenth century. Most of his output was in the form of square pianos, instruments which he manufactured to extremely high standards and sold at premium prices to discerning clients. His workshop was located in Compton Street, Soho from 1768 to 1800.

 

Square piano by Adam Beyer, 1774 [No.122]

An example of his early period square pianos is shown above. It has a 58 note keyboard, three hand-operated stops at the left (just visible) and rests on a simple trestle base. This example is noteworthy for being the oldest known square piano equipped with an original pedal. It operates a series of levers to raise the front flap of the lid, enabling the performer to create contrasts of loud and soft, or more accurately speaking, muted or open tone. But what distinguishes this instrument from ordinary pianos by Zumpe & Buntebart, or Pohlman is the marvellous accuracy of the workmanship. This can be seen immediately in the quality of the ivory keys, the scrupulously neat inlay work. The same attention to detail will be found in the hammers, dampers and every internal part.

 

Notice in the keys shown here how Beyer has carefully tapered the height of the sharps from front to back; an unusual feature in English instruments. About half of Beyer's surviving pianos are now in museums of one kind or another. For those seeking more detail, or specialist technical information please follow the link 'Adam Beyer, Pianoforte Maker'.

Many reference books state, as if it were an established fact, that Adam Beyer was an economic migrant from Germany, and that he was one of twelve piano makers from Saxony who had worked for Gottfried Silbermann, allegedly arriving as a group in London in 1760 (collectively dubbed in popular histories 'The Twelve Apostles'). This 'information' is probably sourced from Harding, but there are gaping holes in the credibility of this story. First, it can be shown that Beyer did not arrive in London in 1760. During the 1750s he was resident in St Pancras parish, working as an organ builder. Second, it is clear that when he bought a house in Pond Street, Hampstead in 1782 he must have been a British citizen yet, unlike foreign-born instrument makers such as Jacob Kirckman, or Burkat Shudi, there is no record that Beyer ever applied for Naturalization. There is, of course, no compelling reason why he would need to do so to set up in trade, but only British citizens could legally buy or inherit land — which he did. On his death he left a quarter share in his house in Hampstead to each of his four daughters, devolving upon 'their heirs and assigns forever' - a standard legal phrase. So it is beyond doubt that he owned the freehold, and therefore it appears he was a British citizen. Yet strangely, the piano maker James Shudi Broadwood, writing in 1838, says that Beyer was a German. Searches in the archives of every city in Germany proposed as his birthplace have proved negative, as have similar searches in English church records. This mystery is still unresolved.

Adam Beyer died in January 1804 and was buried in the church yard at Hampstead, where his younger brother Lorence, also involved in the piano-making business, had been previously interred. From Adam's marriage with Ann Lewis (St Anne's, Soho, on January 13th, 1760) there were four daughters, and there are many living descendents. One of them is a baroque violinist with an extensive discography, so the musical connection lives on, while another line has produced eminent academics. Adam Beyer also had a son, Adam Samuel Beyer baptised on 2 January 1774, but unhappily this child died as an infant. His mother also died by 1782. Lorence Beyer was never married. So the piano business died with Adam. Yet the instruments were so well made, and so durable, that their owners often cherished them long after they had ceased to be useful. One example, No. 440, made in 1779, stood at the foot of the stairs at Cusworth Hall, Doncaster, for 180 years, never opened, and simply used as a side table. It is now in the Bate Collection at the Faculty of Music, Oxford.

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