The subject mattter in the first part of this paper was first presented in May 2000 at the PIANO 300 Symposium at the National Music Museum, Vermillion SD, under the title 'What is a Pianoforte?' As the proceedings of that meeting were never pulished the following shortened text is given here to make these ideas more widely available. A second paper'The Pantalon, and what it tells us' was given by Michael Cole at an international conference in Lausanne, Switzerland in 2002, developing these materials a little further. Some of that paper is incorporated too.



In this 300th anniversary year [2000] we do well to celebrate the inventive genius of Bartolomeo Cristofori. While working for Prince Ferdinando dei Medici in Florence, he is justly credited with having made the first pianoforte. Instruments he made during the first quarter of the eighteenth century incorporated nearly every feature which we would recognise as being important in our concept of what a Pianoforte should be. In surviving examples from Cristofori's workshop we can see that his pianoforte

  • had a pleasing tone,
  • could be played softly or loud in response to the strength of the player's touch of the keys,
  • was free from defects such as blocking or double hitting,
  • articulation was precise (releasing the key instantly stopped the sound)
  • repetition was virtually faultless.

This was truly a wonderful invention, brought very near to perfection in the hands of one man. But the pianoforte as we understand it today is not quite the same thing.

So the purpose of this paper is to focus attention on the exact nature of Cristofori's achievement, while also drawing attention to the astonishing number of museum instruments wrongly catalogued as pianofortes whose special features have been widely misconstrued, usually resulting in their relegation to store rooms, unseen by the public and disregarded by researchers.

Therefore I pose the question: What is a Pianoforte? My thesis is that this question has been very regrettably neglected, leading to significant misunderstandings about the nature of eighteenth-century musical performances, and to unjustified neglect of a large number of surviving instruments about which few very musicians or students have any knowledge.

A widely accepted definition

Pioneering organologists Horbostel & Sachs developed a classification system in the early twentieth century, which they intended to be objective, thorough and comprehensive. Indeed it appears to be so, and continues to be widely used today in museums, in academic papers, and anywhere else that musical instruments must be classified or catalogued.

Their definition amounts to this:

Pianoforte a keyed chordophone, activated by hammers. That is to say: to qualify as a 'pianoforte' an instrument must:

  • have strings as the sounding medium [a chordophone]
  • be played through a keyboard,
  • and be sounded by hammers.
Keyboard, strings, hammers: this looks satisfactory. It clearly distinguishes between harpsichords (which pluck) and pianofortes (which strike), it does not admit clavichords (which lack hammers), or any instrument whose sound is generated from metal rods or any other material. So, to be classified as a pianoforte an instrument must have exactly those three features.

But is this a reflexive relationship? Does it work in reverse? If an instrument has a keyboard, strings and hammers does this verify that it is 'a pianoforte'. Many museum specialists treat this as self evident, but I will argue that it is not necessarily so. There are many instruments in museum colllections (possessing keyboard, hammers and strings) whose makers did not intend them to be pianofortes. They were constructed for performance with a completely different aesthetic, and made no reference to the instruments invented by Cristofori.

Horbostel & Sachs gave us a definition with three conditions which are necessary, but not sufficient. I shall argue that an early keyboard instrument having all of the three cited features might be a pianoforte; it might be a pantalon; or indeed, it could be something else for which I cannot supply a name.


So, to begin, What is a Pianoforte? To answer this question we first need to recognize that it is always important to listen to what inventors say about their creations. Most important in this respect is to ask: what name did the inventor give to his instrument? The answer should tell us a great deal about what he aimed for. Now, of course, it is accepted that many instrument makers have given outlandish names to their creations, and often made unjustified claims. For example, Matthias Mueller, a pioneering maker of upright pianos c.1800, publicised his instruments under the name Dittanaklassis, and described them in terms which were intended to obfuscate rather than clarify. But there can be no justification for classifying them as anything other than pianofortes. Also, other makers did not adopt his fanciful terminology when they built similar upright instruments. Nevertheless, as we will see, there was throughout Germany during the eighteenth century a terminology for stringed keyboard instruments that has been widely ignored by students of musical developments of the early classical period. In consequence many surviving instruments have been ascribed to the category 'Pianoforte' when they should not be.

To see what has gone wrong we need to re-examine our mental constructs. A psychologist might invite you to consider what features attach to the term 'Pianoforte' in the mind? We may then assess whether all the instruments catalogued and presented as Pianofortes have been justly categorized as such.

To introduce this process, I propose the following illustration, chosen quite deliberately from outside the field of organology. We will look at transport, and consider the concept 'motor car'. If you ask most schoolboys 'Who invented the motor car?' [or 'automobile' if you prefer], the most frequent and most reasonable answer would be 'Carl Benz'. He is well known to have constructed and ridden in a self-propelled, road-going vehicle as early as 1885, and subsequently he became famous as the patent holder and principal manufacturer of them. His name is still attached to a well-known brand of motor car today. So, consider your mental construct: ask yourself 'what do I understand by the term 'motor car'?' What is it that Carl Benz invented? When you have considered this click on the button below.

In this photograph you see Carl Benz, accompanied by a friend, riding through the streets of Mannheim in 1886. Does this correspond with your idea of 'motor car'? Did you expect the vehicle to have four wheels? Surely you expected it to have a conventional steering wheel. And why does it have such a small wheel at the front? Was that part of your concept? For reassurance let me say there is a petroleum-powered engine under the seat, so at least that is aligned with our expectations. But even that is unusual as it has only one cylinder, which surprisingly is disposed horizontally, driving a transverse crankshaft.

So, not exactly what we expected: but the key to the discrepancies between our a priori concept 'motor car' and this strange contraption is plainly visible in this photograph. Like so many Victorian pictures it has a narrative that you are expected to read. Look across the road. You see there two sportsmen indulging in the popular new activity of bicycling. One rides a 'penny-farthing' or 'ordinary' bicycle; a hazardous activity restricted to the most daring young men. Such machines were not only difficult to mount but extremely dangerous if you fell off. Many riders were seriously injured. His friend, however, rides the recently-invented 'safety bicycle' with a chain drive and equal-sized wheels, allowing a much easier dismount. Both are, of course, dressed in appropriate clothing for a winter ride, and the implication of the picture is that you should compare their strenuous pedalling and sweat-laden brows with the ease and dignified progress of Benz and his companion. So the key to understanding this new invention lies in the comparison with pedal-powered bicycles.

Now, the name that Carl Benz gave to his newly-invented mode of transport was "Velociped". This term signifies precisely what those sporting men across the road were using. The name itself implies nothing more than 'bicycle'. This is all the more evident when you see another of his prototypes.

Clearly, this machine is much influenced by the then-fashionable side-by-side Victorian pedal tricycles that enabled ladies and gentlemen to ride together, both pushing a pair of pedals that drove the back wheels.

Two conclusions: (1) it is very important to know the cultural environment in which the inventor was working. Benz was working during the bicyle craze that took hold in the 1880s. And (2) it is important to have careful regard for the name an inventor assigns to his new creation.


In relation to keyboard instruments, especially those made in Germany in the eighteenth century: if a maker developed a stringed keyboard instrument sounded by hammers but chose not to call it a pianoforte [or any cognate term] we must pay attention. Now, with this in mind we can begin to look afresh at the birth of the pianoforte and focus more clearly on the precise nature of Cristofori's new concept.


Cristofori's invention

Cristofori named his invention gravicembalo col piano e forte, meaning 'harpsichord with soft and loud' — but the tone of his instruments was so different from an ordinary harpsichord that it was soon renamed piano e forte which before 1740 was often contracted to piano forte.

Cristofori's intention was clear: he dispensed with the plectra of the harpsichord and substituted hammers with the stated aim, reported by Maffei as early as 1711, of making dynamic variation available through the player's touch. This was likened to the effects obtained in string concertos by Corelli, so famous at that time, with soft, loud, and featuring every gradation between in crescendo or diminuendo. The nomination 'Piano e forte' is very apposite. Other makers, far from Florence and often unfamiliar with Cristofori's invention, were also interested in making keyboard instruments with strings and hammers, but were motivated by quite different considerations. For this reason they did not name their products 'Piano forte'. Their aims and intentions were perfectly shown in the name they used: PANTALON.


Pantalon is a strange word to encounter in a musical context. There is no entry for it Grove's Dictionary, yet this name was widely used throughout the eighteenth century in German-speaking regions. Its origin lies in the name of a very famous musician who was a contemporary of J. S. Bach. In archival records he first appeared as Monsieur Pandalon, a proficient violinist and dancing master at the court of Weissenfels c.1698. His real name was Pantalon Hebenstreit, his given name being chosen by his parents, we may suppose, in honour of an obscure saint who has a church dedicated to him in Venice. [Campo San Pantalon may be easily located for those who are interested.]

Around 1700, i.e. exactly coincident with Cristofori's work in far-off Florence, Hebenstreit developed and perfected an exceptionally large dulcimer, and became so renowned for his performances on it that he was invited to appear before King Louis XIV at Versailles in 1705. He clearly excelled himself because the king remarked that he should be justly called not Pantalon but Panta-leon! Subsequently, people believed, then and now, that Pantaleon was his real name, but it was not. So I here retain the form of his name, and eponymous instrument. The spelling Pantalon is used in the overwhelming majority of old documents in Germany. [Note: Variant forms such as Pantelong, and Bandalon, indicate that the stress is on the first syllable. The correct pronunciation is PAN'talon, just as one pronounces the French term for trousers.]

What amazed and delighted Hebenstreit's audiences was the immense resonance that his instrument achieved. It was very much larger and longer than an ordinary hammer dulcimer. It is well attested that it was in excess of nine feet wide from the left side to the right, and had both metal and gut strings. We may be sure that the strings were disposed transversely, as on any dulcimer, and as the strings could not be so long as to require the nine feet dimension I conjecture [I must because there is no detailed description or drawing of it] that its gut strings were on the left, with usual dulcimer layout with the bass strings nearest the player, while a second area of soundboard to the right had metal strings probably with the treble strings nearest. (I will not labour this point but can explain my reasoning in detail if required.) There is contemporary source material for the fact that the gut choir extended down to EE in the bass, while in the treble it had as many as four strings per note, to strengthen the tone. Several reports speak of a Pantalon dulcimer possessing 276 strings. Hebenstreit's performances featured both registers. Gut strings alternated with wire, and for additional variety the player could strike them, in contrasting sections, with hard hammers (of horn or bare wood) alternating with soft hammers, wrapped with wool or other soft material. (Such alternate hammers, or beaters, are standard equipment for dulcimer players.)

So Hebenstreit created a musical sensation and many musicians wanted to follow his lead. However, lessons with the maestro were very expensive, and the long apprenticeship required to master the instrument was a serious impediment. In addition every pupil had to have his/her own instrument, constructed to Hebenstreit's pattern — which was a huge expense. Worse still, its gut strings were apt to break too readily, and spare strings were costly. Such obstacles provoked many instrument makers to consider whether the same effects could be obtained from a harpsichord-like instrument played from a standard keyboard. This would place the aural effects of Hebenstreit's dulcimer within the capabilities of any competent organist. This would guarantee plenty of sales.

By 1731, perhaps earlier, a maker named Wahlfried Ficker of Zeitz had constructed such an instrument. As Prof Ahrens reported some years ago, Ficker advertised in Leipziger Post-Zeitung October 1731 specifically stating that his 'Cymbal-Clavir' would imitate the effects produced by 'the famous Pandalon', meaning Hebenstreit. Contemporary reports describe a large, horizontal, wing-shaped instrument, like a harpsichord but equipped with a down-striking hammer mechanism (replicating the down-beating action of dulcimer players). Its hammers were tipped with bone or horn, completely unlike the hollow, leather-covered hammers used by Cristofori. A special pedal-operated stop was also fitted, advancing cloth under the hammers. This was probably Ficker's method of producing the softer, alternate tone, now known as a 'Moderator'; so it was probably a mutation stop, like Hebenstreit's change of beaters, though it must be admitted that Ficker's ambiguous wording might allow for the pedal to be operating a kind of mute, cancelling the reverberation of the strings, though this is less probable. Ficker's instruments have not survived, but they certainly gained approval from musicians. Jacob Adlung in his 1758 Anleitung described them in some detail, under the name Hammer-Pantalon.

Many such instruments appeared from various organ-builders' workshops in northern Germany: some resembled harpsichords, others were in upright form, like a clavicytherium. Notices of them were collected by Prof Ahrens from Hamburg newspapers of the 1740s and 1750s. Later there were smaller variants, in rectangular form, resembling clavichords, or in leg-of-mutton shape, resembling a spinet. Nearly all were called Pantalon, Pantelong or Bandalon. Their essential features replicated Hebenstreit's dulcimer:

  • hard and soft hammers [sometimes provided as real pairs, but if not then imitated by having the usual hard hammers play through woven cloth or sheepskin];
  • an imitation of gut strings gained by pressing soft materials against the end of the metal strings;
  • and, critically, there were no dampers.

Such instruments appeared all over Germany, with many regional variants. An especially interesting and attractive type is the single-strung, harp-shaped variety, from Allgau and other southern areas, often attributed to J. M. Schmahl of Ulm, with doubtful justification. (In reality they came from a number of workshops, as we may infer from variant details of construction, but with very few inscriptions that would identify them.)

Pantalons are specifically mentioned in Turk's Clavierschule of 1789, as a distinct category, separate from Fortepiano.


Many such instruments survive, and can often be distinguished from pianofortes very easily.

  1. Whereas pianofortes have a damper for each note [except sometimes in the highest treble], pantalons have no dampers at all, and were never meant to have any.
  2. Whereas the pianoforte has hammers covered with soft leather (or later, compressed felt) a Pantalon generally has harder hammers, often bare wood, whose tone could be modified by interposing soft leather or woven fabric between the hammer and strings — i.e. the moderator as incorporated after 1780 in many Viennese fortepianos. Some instruments have a better system, providing two sets of hammers, hard and soft, selected at will by a hand stop.
  3. Thirdly, the Pantalon has a mutation stop whose aural effect is often likened to a harp or lute. Soft material, woollen fabric or buff leather, is pressed against the end of each string, usually near the nut but sometimes next to the soundboard bridge. This suppresses the higher partials, and reduces the after-sound. N.B. The pianoforte, as understood by Cristofori did not require any mutation stops.

A moment's thought will show that with these three features a keyboard player has the resources to reproduce all the tonal effects of Hebenstreit's dulcimer. There are metal strings and 'gut' strings [simulated]; there are hard hammers and soft hammers [in some examples these are provided as alternate hammers mounted side by side and selected by a handstop, in others the effect is simulated by the moderator]; and, most importantly, there is continuous reverberation. The makers of such instruments did not omit dampers because they could not think how to make them -- they provided none because these instruments were meant to have that special resonance that Hebenstreit managed to such extraordinary effect.]

So, in answer to the question I posed, 'if an instrument has a keyboard, strings and hammers is it therefore a pianoforte?' the answer is emphatically 'no'. It could be a PIANOFORTE, or it could be a PANTALON.

[An aside: if a keyboard instrument looks like a pianoforte but has strings not made of metal but of some other material, for example gut, would one still call it a pianoforte? Surely the resulting sounds would be as different from a pianoforte as a saxophone is from a clarinet, which is why Sax's invention gets a distinguishing name. So, theoretically, there could be a third class of keyed chordophone, sounded by hammers!]


So, where are all these pantalons? The answer, sadly, is that they are mostly languishing in store rooms, forgotten, or ignored, and under-valued. Taking their cue from Hornbostel & Sachs, museum curators have erroneously catalogued hundreds of specimens as 'square piano', or 'Tafelklavier'. As these instruments do not have any dampers they are presumed to be either of inferior quality, or defective, or incomplete. So, as a curator with limited space in your gallery you naturally want to display what you suppose to be the superior, fully developed specimens. This is particularly unfortunate when it comes to those small spinet-like instruments attributed to J.M. Schmahl of Ulm. Their appearance is often so quaint and evocative that there is a strong case for displaying at least one: but regrettably it is not usually the most representative example that is chosen for the gallery. For example, the Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg has an extensive selection of these harp-shaped claviers, but the ones they displayed when I was researching these instruments were the later, more elaborate examples, equipped with dampers. The simplest, most truly representative specimens could be found two floors down in the basement. It was much the same story in Berlin and Leipzig.

In fact when seeking photos to illustrate The Pianoforte in the Classical Era I found it was near impossible to obtain photographs of any damper-less examples from Germany, though by my calculation these were certainly numerous, and probably in the majority. Of thirty specimens I actively examined seventeen had no dampers at all. Some others had dampers that looked suspiciously like later additions. What I believe may have happened is that when a visually attractive Pantalon was acquired by a collector in the nineteenth century it was liable to be modified, providing a set of lever over-dampers that, if you examine them carefully, are not made from the same materials used in the original work, and are often contrived only with great difficulty. A good example of this kind of modification can be seen in the photo below. It can be seen that the damper levers articulate from the upper part of the hitchpin block which, being of the quadrant rounded form, required the levers to have a very awkward shape. It seems to me very doubtful that the original maker had this in mind, not least because it creates difficulties when extracting the keyboard. As I have remarked elsewhere, there is a very similar instrument, presumably from the same workshop, in storerooms of GNM Nuremberg that remains untouched — and has no dampers.

Gemeentenmuseum, Den Haag

However, there are other unmodified pantalons in German museums and happily some are exhibited. An excellent example is the anonymous 'Tafelklavier' at the GNM under the accession number MINe166. It has two hand stops. One moves the hammer rail a few millimetres left or right to select hard [uncovered pearwood] hammers, or soft [buff leather covered] hammers. The other stop puts on or takes off what the museum calls a 'Harfenzug', a wooden frame with taselled fringe that on touching the end of the strings produces a tone reminiscent of gut strings. There are no dampers as such, so every registration has of necessity continuous reverberation. Four registrations are available. Changing from the tinkling hard hammers to the soft ones, and then adding the 'Harfenzug' can have a truly magical effect. Such Veränderungen or register changes can be very useful in the right piece of music. Happily there is an identical instrument in the Reka Collection at Frankfurt an der Oder a photo of which is seen below.

It must be emphasized that the want of dampers is not because they have been lost or the result of a blunder by the maker. He was highly proficient and knew exactly what he was doing. This is not a defective pianoforte but a well made pantalon.

Unhappily I have only one photograph of a 'lying harp' or spinet-shaped pantalon without dampers. It is quite a late example made by Gottfried Maucher in Konstanz, on the Swiss-German border, in 1797. [When giving this paper in 2000 I found that this instrument also had been relegated to a storeroom (at the National Music Museum, Vermillion SD), but soon after I finished speaking it was brought out for examination by delegates at the symposium. The museum has no other example to illustrate this class, so hopefully it will be put on permanent display some time soon. There is another surviving Pantalon by the same maker reported in Italy by Prof Marco Tiella. It appears to be identical. From this I infer that Maucher (who was undoubtedly a competent organ builder) found a ready market for such instruments, even at the very end of the eighteenth century.

harp-shaped pantalon[NMM Copyright]

Interestingly this concept spread to other areas with the migration of German craftsmen. In Pennsylvania there are damperless Pantalons made by German migrants, a good example being the 'square piano' by John Huber in Easton, reported by Laurence Libin, and since examined by Michael Cole. This too is quite a late example, probably c.1790-95, judging by its use of a 2-lever retro Prellmechanik, though its keyboard retains the outdated German compass, C — f3. Its original 'Federal period' stand [with thin, square-tapered legs] was unhappily damaged long ago. It now sits on four bulky screw-in legs, giving it a clumsy Victorian appearance, but there is no doubting its eighteenth-century origins. It has no dampers, thinly leathered hammers, a moderator and a buff stop. Other specimens representing the wide dispersal of this concept can be briefly mentioned: in Brussels they have a double-hammer specimen thought to have been made in Cleves, on the Rhine near the Dutch border. Others have been discovered in Italy, Switzerland and Austria. In New York there is an example by Ferdinand Weber of Dublin. The recently discovered specimen of H.B.Vietor's workmanship, in London, 1767, is also a twin hammer pantalon, though the maker used his own terminology, calling it a 'Piano ex Forte'. There are also dozens of anonymous instruments whose origins cannot be pinpointed.

An interesting specimen in upright form is to be found in Graz, at the Landesmuseum Johanneum. Its pantalon hammers are incorporated inside a mid eighteenth-century chamber organ case, which exhibits symmetrical Pyramide form. Its keyboard has 45 notes, and the organ pipes are entirely enclosed within the cabinet. It has 5 stops: two select the organ ranks, one works the 'Harfenzug', one applies the moderator, and the last is a coupler so that if desired both strings and pipes are heard together. It was undoubtedly made by a master craftsman, the front being in the form of an elaborately carved and pierced baroque screen. Similar masterworks were not uncommon in Hamburg where several advertisements found by Prof Ahrens advertised Pantalons in upright Pyramide shape.


If this type of instrument was so prevalent in the eighteenth century we really ought to consider the implications for the performance of music of that period. Graduates from music conservatories who choose to specialize in keyboard music from the late eighteenth century almost always choose to play on copies of Viennese fortepianos on the now ubiquitous model developed by Anton Walter during the 1790s. Their performance style is that of harmonic pedalling, making frequent use of a knee lever, a style differing very little from the standard technique used on Steinway concert pianos. Such a method could not be used on a pantalon. Nor could it be used on the overwhelming majority of eighteenth-century square pianos. And there is scant support for the notion that Mozart or Haydn played in this way.

It is interesting to compare such techniques with what CPE Bach wrote in his great treatise on keyboard playing, 1753-60. He speaks of the pianoforte as he experienced it in the instruments of Gottfried Silbermann: 'for extemporary performance [which he rated the true test of a good musician] the undamped register is the most pleasing provided that the player understands how to manage the continuous reverberation'. Observe here that Silbermann's 'piano et forte', an instrument in harpsichord shape, had no pedals or knee levers. Handstops were provided to lift the dampers off, where their suspension enabled the player to build up a great body of sound until the stop was cancelled. One virtue of this is that it not only made an impressive sound, but it also permitted the player to approach artfully to horrible discords, teasing the listener, but never quite falling over the cliff into chaos. Johann Gottlieb Wagner describes a similar a technique when using the Pantalon register of his Clavecin Royal (Dresden, 1775). This instrument had dampers, but in the default position they were 'off'. The skilful player, he asserted, can obtain marvellous harmonic effects with the resultant reverberation, but may press the (damper) pedal to cancel unacceptable discords. This is, of course, the opposite of modern usage, where pressing the pedal disengages the dampers, but the effect is the same.

With the smaller types of pantalon such a style of performance is readily achievable because the sustain on the tenor and bass is not nearly so long lasting and intrusive as on larger instruments. Similarly, the use of a buff stop, or 'Harfenzug', shortened the reverberation, as on a harp, and made the resonance or 'after sound' more acceptable.

The undeniable disadvantage of playing with continuous reverberation is that it is impossible to make proper distinctions between staccato and legato. All notes have a beginning, but where is their end? This was remarked upon, indirectly, as early as 1785 by the musician and author Schubart. In his Aesthetic der Tonkunst he condemns the Pantalon — a kind of dwarf Fortepiano as he calls it — for its want of proper expression, and prophesied its imminent demise. Yet, as we have already seen, ten or fifteen years later such instruments were still in production (and, incidentally, Schubart's book was still awaiting publication). This pantalon-playing tradition even endured into the early part of the nineteenth century, though perhaps not in metropolitan areas with a highly cultured musical society. Such instruments would be fine for private rooms, especially when used in simple songs or dances that had slow or simple harmonic progressions. In extemporary music making they also have a place. Included here is recording made on a pantalon-style folk instrument in Pennsylvania owned by Dr Paul Larson. Its hammers have one thin covering of leather. The music is by Daniel Steibelt.

Audio - Old Browser Version

(This gives an idea of the sound produced by a damperless instrument but I hope to include some more typical Pantalon recordings at a future date.)

Another great loss in the 'fortepiano revival' is the neglect of true registration changes or Veränderungen. On modern pianofortes, and some fortepianos, subtle registration contrasts are often attempted by use of the left pedal (originally una corda) or (often on Steinway grands) by using a restricted palette of gentle touch and staccato. But any contrasts of sonority so obtained are subtle. Stronger registration changes achieved by the use of alternate soft and hard hammers are simply never heard, because even on those fortepianos that have a moderator there is only a restricted change of voice between the usual leathered hammers and a yet softer sound when the moderator is engaged. The harp-like tone made with Harfenzug, or buff stop, is not available on Viennese fortepianos, or on any English grands.

Nevertheless, Parisian pianos, notably those from Erard, do retain these possibilities. Commonly, from 1785 through to 1820, French piano makers tried to put every possible resource at the musician's disposal, usually with an array of four or five pedals. Concert performances on such instruments are unfortunately very rare these days. [N.B. We are well aware that Pleyel chose to disregard this and followed very closely in Broadwood's path, but most other French manufacturers followed Erard's example.]


Attractive features of the Pantalon were often appropriated by piano makers in the late eighteenth century. Gottfried Silbermann may have been the first. After Hebenstreit took legal action to prevent him from making Pantalon dulcimers, Silbermann manufactured what we now call 'grand pianos'. It is very well known that J S Bach was invited to try these instruments. What is much less well known is that Silbermann combined Cristofori's pianoforte concept with handstops that produced mutations that were unknown in Florence. The better known stop he provided lifted all dampers off the strings, resulting in the great resonance that Hebenstreit had become famous for. A second stop, rarely mentioned in music literature, moved little plates next to the strings. The audible effect of this was to make it sound as if the hammers had plain wood tips [or horn]. Use both stops together and you have one of the classic Pantalon registrations.

Playing with continuous reverberation was also built into English square pianos as developed by J.C. Zumpe. He likewise adopted the 'harp stop' or buff from 1768 onwards. So, played with both stops in operation this piano produced a sound that closely resembled a gut-strung harp, or more exactly, the tone of Hebenstreit's dulcimer playing the gut strings. Charles Burney, on a journey through Europe in 1770, was not pleased when his hostess in Paris, Madame Brillon de Joue, insisted on playing every piece with the dampers disengaged. He complained that in such performances the sound is continual, muddled and indistinct, like a carillon; but it was probably a not uncommon performance practice in that period. The sound that he heard may have been very similar to the MP3 file included above. In Zumpe's pianos such effects could be cancelled, using the handstops, so that with the dampers in use, the tonal parameters approximated to a standard 'pianoforte'.

However, Zumpe's creations lacked the contrasting tone colours of hard and soft percussion. European and American makers who entered this field were often so enamoured of Zumpe's concept that they replicated it exactly, so the chosen features of the Pantalon that were incorporated into such pianos were restricted to those mentioned. In Paris, however, and in some German workshops, instruments that incorporated the whole Pantalon package, but with the addition of dampers, and the routine leather covering to the hammers, preserved a fortepiano tradition that rejoiced in multiple registrations. Erard's superbly-crafted instruments retained the full specification of buff, moderator, sustain, changed ad libitum through pedals, until at least 1821.

Some musicians today, seeing historic French or Viennese fortepianos with three, four, or five mutation pedals, are apt to dismiss these accessories as unwanted legacies of a trivial short-lived fad for adding unnecessary gadgets that simply do not belong to the pianoforte tradition.

But now my hope is that you understand that the pianoforte as we now find it is in fact a mongrel or hybrid — an instrument developed from two traditions, the Piano-forte and the Pantalon. In this context these extra pedals can be seen to have a validity than we did not otherwise suspect. Likewise, we must recognise that, without this historic amalgamation of Pianoforte and Pantalon features, there would be no pedals on our modern instruments. The right pedal that musicians find so indispensible on modern pianos is in fact a legacy of the Pantalon.

CONCLUSION: 1. Cristofori's wonderful invention was a 'harpsichord' that played soft and loud at the player's will, simply through the touch. We have no reason to think that Cristofori ever imagined what use musicians might make of an augmented body of sound generated by holding the dampers off the strings. It was German fascination with this aural reverberation that, when added to Cristofori's invention, led to the pianoforte performance technique we know today.

CONCLUSION: 2. Similarly, the frequent addition of pedals, knee levers or handstops to early pianos, particularly in Germany and Austria, has often been interpretted as an ill-concieved attempt by instrument makers to add gadgets to make their pianos more attractive to potential buyers. In fact, when seen in the context of Pantalon development, these seemingly extraneous add-on features may be seen as the natural progression combining the best features of Pantalon and Pianoforte.

CONCLUSION: 3. Hornbostel & Sachs' classification system has great virtues, being objective, and one would think, rigorous. Nevertheless, it has been criticised by several people for taking no account of function or cultural context. For Honbostel & Sachs a musical instrument is reckoned to be any man-made object constructed to make an audible sound. So a bird scare as used by farmers can feature in their system (indeed, if you try to exclude it you run into all sorts of difficulties). Likewise horns or drums used for magical or religious purposes are uncomfortably lumped together with instruments intended for use by musicians simply for entertainment. But in relation to keyboard instruments their system is faulty on a different account: applying their definitions reflexively, as so many do, leads to false attributions, with the unfortunate consequence that perfectly valid Pantalon-style instruments are neglected in most museums, and do not figure at all in modern texts.

A keyed chordophone sounded by hammers is not necessarily a pianoforte. A whole category of instruments has been submerged, and the performance practices used by its devotees have been forgotten.


For further information on the Pantalon and its place in musical history see Michael Cole's paper, The Pantalon -- and what it tells us, in Instruments a Claviers, Proceedings of the Harmoniques International Congress, Lausanne 2002, a publication of the Swiss Musicalogcal Society, (Peter Lang, 2004).


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