They have been largely ignored by ill-informed writers who love to compile lists of their favoured 'Twelve Apostles', yet before Zumpe's earliest known work there were pioneering craftsmen making pianos in London. Our paper examines the life and work of three such immigrant craftsmen whose part in the history of keyboard instruments has been largely forgotten. Roger Plenius, Frederick Neubauer and Herman Bernard Vietor [aka 'organist Viator'] — all made innovative pianofortes years before such instruments became fashionable. Their work is certainly worthy of notice. Working from newly-discovered original documents, we have been able to bring each maker into sharper focus, and place their instruments in a historical context. Incidentally, we also resolve the mystery surrounding the harpsichord made to Robert Adam's extraordinary design for Empress Catherine of Russia in 1774! (The design is shown in James, 1930, Plate LIII. Some have suggested that it was never made, but we show otherwise.) If you don't have access to an academic library you may like to know that this paper is currently available to download or read online: there's a direct link to it from the home page, saving you the bother of searching. Have a look: if you have any observations we will be pleased to receive them.
The identity of Rosamond Harding, author of a ground-breaking book on the history of the piano (1933), was for many years a baffling mystery. No one seemed to know who she was until Michael Cole researched and published an account of her life and work, published in the Galpin Society Journal, 2007, pages 71-84. For a basic outline Click here.
Her book, The Pianoforte - its history traced to the Great Exhibition, 1851, is still obtainable as a reprint and contains much useful reference material for those studying the piano. The book was virtually a duplication of her Ph.D thesis at Cambridge, completed 1931, but it can now be seen to have many flaws, which unhappily were never corrected in her 'second edition' of 1978, and persist even today. An archive of her personal papers is held at Newnham College, Cambridge.
This photo shows her as a twenty-year old. The only other known photo, I discovered in her pilot's licence, but that is not how she would like to be remembered! In it she looks like a grumpy old harridan, which I'm sure she wasn't really.
An examination of the crucial role played by women musicians in the latter half of the eighteenth century when the square piano became so popular, working from primary sources to show that by my reckoning eighty per cent of active keyboard players (both harpsichord and pianoforte) were female. Of course, nearly all of them were private players, performing only before their own social group, but in this context it is clear that piano design, especially square pianos, would be much influenced by this seemingly invisible group of musicians. Ask not why Clementi's pianos were so prettily decorated! This paper was given by Michael Cole at a conference at Michaelstein in 2002 and is now published in Geschichte und Bauweise des Tafelklaviers at 34.80 Euros. About half the texts are in German and half in English. See www.kloster-michaelstein.de for further details of contents etc.
This paper, given at the Conservatoire, Lausanne in 2002, traces the origins of the keyboard instruments commonly seen in eighteenth-century German-speaking regions, that were similar to pianos, but tonally and conceptually very distinct. Made with hard wooden hammers and usually fitted with a harp stop and a moderator, but no dampers in the ordinary sense, they gave rise to a distinct manner of performance, with tonal parameters that resulted in a style of performance very different from anything we are acquainted with today, and impossible to achieve on the ubiquitous Walter-style fortepianos of the Viennese school. Published in Instruments á claviers - expresivité et flexibilité
Exhibition Catalogue: SQUARE PIANOS in RURAL PENNSYLVANIA (2000)
This is a commentary on ten square pianos exhibited at Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA in October 2000, made or used in Pennsylvania before 1840. This exhibition, the first of its kind, was organised by Dr Paul Larson, and the catalogue was edited by Dr Carol Trautmann-Carr. An essay by Laurence Libin, Curator at the Metropolitan Museum, New York, gives copious information about the social and cultural background in which the pianos were produced.
A paper given at the 'Piano 300' conference at National Music Museum, South Dakota, marking the 300th anniversary of Cristofori's invention. As the proceedings of this conference have remained unpublished a shortened version of his paper, adapted for web presentation, is now on this website. To view this click What is a Pianoforte?
Three new entries, completely rewritten by Michael Cole, were published in the New Grove Dictionary 2000. The first covers the early piano developments up to 1800, and the following section takes the story on to the mid nineteenth century. These new entries correct numerous errors in earlier editions. The latest online edition also contains other entries by Michael Cole including one on John Pohlman.
Published in the Early Keyboard Journal Vol. 18 by the South-Eastern Historical Keyboard Society, this forty-page paper was originally given at a conference Edinburgh in 1995. It re-examines the basis of various myths and legends that have grown up around this subject since 1860 and exposes their very shaky foundations. The principal conclusions are that there is no evidence whatsoever to support the oft-stated theory the English piano trade was dependant on the earlier work of Gottfried Silbermann in Saxony; nor is there any evidence to show that a party of craftsmen associated with his workshop migrated to London as a consequence of the Seven Years' War. A wealth of new information (i.e. new at that time) reveals the true origins of some of the craftsmen who were prominent in London between 1750 and 1800, very few of whom were born in Saxony or ever worked there.
In the absence of any catalogue or even an accurate checklist from Nuremberg this 25-page essay is the only available description of the holdings of this museum's vast collection of square pianos and related instruments. Published in the Galpin Society Journal this paper was intended as a preliminary report on this much neglected aspect of musical heritage in Germany. It is founded on data collected personally by Michael Cole during a six-day visit in 1995, and a shorter visit in 1993. Briefly the study is limited to a description and analysis of the origins of four types of German square piano, which apparently arose quite independently in the period 1760-1770 in different geographical areas, one of them being the familiar design promoted by the success of J.C.Zumpe in London, who was born only five miles from Nuremberg.
This paper, originally published in the Galpin Society Journal 1995, is now available to read on this website [click here]. Adam Beyer's superbly crafted instruments and their numerous innovations are fully described in this paper, intended for a specialist readership. It also gives copious biographical information which seems to disprove the frequently stated but unsupported assertion that Beyer was a Saxon immigrant who arrived in London in 1760, in a mythical party of twelve piano makers. He was certainly working as an organ builder in London in the 1750s, only later founding his own piano-making workshop in 1768.
Published in Early Music Vol. XXI, no.1, this paper examines the harpsichord by William Smith, presented to the Bate Collection in 1990, showing how it corresponds uniquely with the instrument shown in the most authentic surviving portrait of Handel [by Philip Mercier, c.1728, featured on the cover of the journal]. The article also examines Handel's connection, real or supposed, with other harpsichords. The conclusion suggested is that this simple instrument shows us that, whatever else Handel may have owned or used at various times, the evidence of Mercier's painting shows that the surviving William Smith instrument, or one very like it, would be the composer's own working keyboard, used for everyday composition, and rehearsing with his opera singers. Though Hawkins, in his five volume History of Music, says that the composer owned 'a fine Rucker harpsichord', thoughtful examination of Hawkins' text shows that it clearly was not an enlarged double-manual such as popular imagination credits to him, but a small unimproved instrument, with such a pleasing tone that Handel was prepared to overlook its small compass and badly worn keys.