This page has information about pano maker John Zumpé, and his associates Gabriel BUNTEBART, Christopher SIEVERS, and the SCHOENE brothers.

The oldest known square pianos that have been reliably authenticated were made in London in 1766 by 'Johannes Zumpe'. Showing below is a specimen from that year. It has almost five octaves, no pedals, and only one hand stop, inside at the left, to engage or disengage the dampers – and it is very plain externally. Unhappily in this example the top or lid is not original. This was the earliest form of piano known to most musicians.

Photo copyright CWF

John Christopher Zumpé (as he chose to be known) was born in June 1726 in Fürth, a small market town a few miles from Nuremberg. He arrived in London in the early 1750s, not as an economic migrant from Saxony, as widely stated, but as a qualified cabinet maker, having previously served an apprenticeship in his home town. (Many books on piano history state that Zumpe had worked for Gottfried Silbermann in Saxony but no evidence for this has ever been produced — it is nothing more than a specultaion, and it seems very unlikely.)

In London he found employment with Swiss-born harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi, in Great Pulteney Street (in the house where John Broadwood was to work later). The precise year of his arrival is not known, but happily we have the writtings of an acquaintance – musician and teacher Charles Burney, who lived nearby and bought several pianos from Zumpe. He later wrote that 'Zumpé ... had long worked under Tschudi' [before he established his own workshop] This implies, we must presume, not less than five years, probably about ten. This would indicate that he arrived in London in the early 1750s. This conclusion is supported by a small guide book , Von und für Franken, printed in his home town in 1792, relying on information from his friends and family. It says he left Fürth 'about forty years ago and settled in London'. This suggests that his arrival in London was about 1752. He was then in his mid twenties – all very credible. The same source says that he amassed a huge fortune, which indicates how high his reputation was in Fürth.

While working for Shudi he integrated well into English society. He never returned to live in Germany, contrary to what you may read in some Victorian histories of the piano, and unfortunately often repeated since. The truth is that in September 1760 he married twenty-six year old Elizabeth Beeston, and they lived happily together in London until he died. From the date of this marriage Zumpé was able to quit his employment with Shudi to set up his own business at 7 Princes Street, Hanover Square, a fashionable location in west London, just south of Oxford Street. This was on an annual lease, renewable at Michaelmas (end of September). To launch this business he would have needed more money than he could ever have earned while working for Shudi, so perhaps he received help from his bride or her family. (They were not wealthy, but they did own some property in Hampshire.)

Leopold Mozart visited 'John Zumpe' in 1764/5, with little Wolfgang and his sister, but whether they saw any keyboard instruments in Zumpe's house is unclear. An entry in Leopold's travel notebooks records the trade sign hanging in front of the house was 'The Golden Guittar'. This corresponds exactly with his known output from the 1761-65 period, comprising citterns or 'English Guittars', similar to those used today by Portuguese fado singers. An example is shown right. These instruments, fitted with metal strings, are well suited for accompanying simple ballads, and were very fashionable for ladies in England around 1760. Such female clients would be important for Zumpe's future prosperity.

However, by 1768, after the launch of his newly invented square pianos, Guittar making was abandoned. With sales booming, harpsichord maker Gabriel Buntebart joined the business, and the sign hanging in front of the house was changed. The Golden Guittar was taken down and a new sign 'The Queen's Arms' went up in its place. Zumpe & Buntebart made pianos here until September 1778.

Today there are only four houses in Princes Street that remain largely as they were in the eighteenth century, but happily one of them is No. 7, Zumpe's home and workplace. In the picture below it is the white-painted house regrettably disfigured in the twentieth-century with a dark glass window at street level. Such thoughtless alteration is unfortunate because this is indeed a historic house: the first building in the world devoted wholly to piano manufacture. The red brick house next door, with white doors, probably gives a better idea of how Zumpe's house looked in the 1760s. Behind the house there was a stable yard and a timber-framed workshop.

In 1763, or soon afterwards, Zumpe established a firm friendship with John Christian Bach, music master to Queen Charlotte. She was even more popular in those days than Princess Diana was to become in the twentieth century. Gabriel Buntebart, was another valuable associate. He arrived from Mecklenburg-Strelitz in 1761 — at the same time as Princess Charlotte. The teenaged queen-to-be was a good keyboard player, and often sang to her own accompaniment. For this purpose she brought a harpsichord with her when she travelled to meet her intended husband (King George III), and even sang and played in her cabin on the ship that carried her to England. Horace Walpole reports that she obligingly left the door slightly open when the ship was becalmed so that other passengers might hear her music. Clearly someone must have transported and maintained this instrument during her long journey to London, so it seems very probable that Gabriel Buntebart undertook this task. In later years, notably when writing his Last Will & Testament, he described himself as 'Pianoforte Maker to her Majesty'. A grand piano by Buntebart is specifically remembered by lady-in-waiting Charlotte Papendiek in her posthumously published memoirs.

It is not sure exactly when Zumpé made his first pianos (probably 1765), but with friends like Bach, and Buntebart with connections to the queen's music at Buckingham House, he had associates who could give plenty of useful advice. The instrument that he created was sure to appeal to the right people. In fact there is much documentary evidence to suggest that London's busiest and most influential music teachers, Charles Burney and J.C.Bach, were so pleased with Zumpe's little pianos that they recommended them to their pupils and acquaintances everywhere, and sometimes visited the workshop to select specific instruments. In public notices in 1779/80 Zumpé describes himself as 'maker to Her Majesty and the Royal family'.

Through the recommendations of their friends and admirers, the business partners Zumpe & Buntebart sold large numbers of these pianos in France and Germany, and probably elsewhere too. An elaborately decorated example has survived in St Petersburg, dated 1774, at the Palace of Pavlovsk, originally provided for the Empress Catherine. It is thought to have been designed by Robert Adam.

Pianos corresponding exactly to Zumpe & Buntebart's basic design, in plain mahogany, are known from documents in north America as early as 1770. Instrument makers in Switzerland, Spain, Scandinavia and north Germany saw them, admired them, and soon set about copying them. Such was Zumpe's fame that many instruments made in Europe had false inscriptions endorsed 'Johannes Zumpe fecit', some of which survive, the iwners presumably thinking these are genuine. Often these bear a date in the 1770s - but the fraud does not include Buntebart's name.

There may be as many as sixty genuine specimens still surviving, dating from 1766 through to 1782, signed either by Zumpé alone, [1766-1767] or jointly with his partner: from 1768 the instruments are inscribed Johannes Zumpe et Buntebart Londini fecerunt until 1778. But then at Michaelmas the partnership broke up — by mutual consent. Zumpé established a new workshop north of Oxford Street in a pair of newly-built houses next to Cavendish Square. In 1782/3 he assigned this lease and the piano-making business to the brothers Frederick and Christian Schoene whom he recruited from his home town Fürth: like him they had previously served apprenticeships there. Presumably the brothers paid him royalties because the inscription of their pianos reads Schoene & Co[mpany] Successors to / Johannes Zumpe etc. As can be seen on all the nameboard inscriptions of the following years, the name Johannes Zumpe is purposely written much bolder than Schoene, which has sometimes led to mistaken identifications, including in Harding's book. The instrument from which she copied a two-lever action was made by Schoene, but she mistakenly titles it 'Zumpe's Second Action'.







Buntebart meanwhile occupied the old address in Princes Street, Hanover Square, taking a new partner, Christoph Julius Ludwig Sievers, who presumably brought new capital into the business. Their instruments are inscribed Gabriel Buntebart et Sievers Londini fecerunt usually followed by the year of manufacture (see below). Most of them, like many pianos from Schoene's establishment, are equipped with three pedals, rather than handstops.The partnership 'Buntebart & Sievers' lasted only ten years.

It is uncertain whether Zumpe ever made any grand pianos, though Buntebart certainly did. The organist J. Simpson in Newcastle offered for sale in 1778 'a Piano-Forte of the long sort, with pedal, maker Zumpe' - but there is no further information. Buntebart's grand pianos have not survived, though Mrs. Papendiek reports that one was sent to Queen Charlotte at Windsor. It wasn't approved and has disappeared. John Christian Bach was observed playing one of Buntebart's grand pianos with 'pedals for the bass octave' whatever that might mean - reported in John Marsh's Journal.

For over a decade Buntebart's foreman was John Henry Schrader, and it was he who took over the Princes Street workshop with the remaining stock in 1795. Meanwhile the Schoene brothers' business at the southern end of Cavendish Square continued with great success, at least until 1789 when Revolution in France put an end to Schoene's best market. Sebastien Erard and other Parisian makers thereafter replicated Schoene's design, adding a few distinctively Parisian improvements. About 1790 Frederick Schoene took a new partner named Thomas Vinsen, who from 1799 continued the business with Frederick's son, George Frederick, at new premises in Paddington Street. There are some excellent late eighteenth-century pianos in existence bearing the inscription Schoene & Vinsen, the best ones having a unique escapement action. The last known instrument from Schoene is dated 1805 and now belongs to Easton Historical Society in Pennsylvania. It is inscribed: Georgius Fredericus Schoene / No. 45 Paddington Street, Marylebone / London 1805. However, soon after this he turned his back on piano making and became a successful artist and engraver.

An interesting feature of some surviving pianos by Buntebart is the presence of J.C.Bach's endorsement which appears as a faint but legible signature at the far edge of the soundboard. There can be no doubt that his many published keyboard sonatas 'for Harpsichord or Piano-forte' were chiefly played by his pupils and admirers on pianos supplied by Zumpe & Buntebart. An interesting discovery inside a square piano by Schoene & Co. is a neatly written signature of Charles Rouseau Burney (Dr. Burney's nephew & son-in-law) showing a continuing family patronage of 'the Successors to Johannes Zumpe'.

John Zumpé, as he was known (making his name rhyme with 'lumpy') may have been already in declining health when he transferred his business to the Schoene brothers. From the age of 57 he was able to settle to the life of a prosperous gentleman, residing in a fine new house on Edgware Road, looking out over the fields towards the village of Paddington. He died at home, in London, in 1790. His will reveals that he had invested in long leases on six houses on the northern edge of the city, and had further wealth in bonds and chattels. His wife Elizabeth was well provided for, and in addition his will included bequests to the Marylebone Charity for Needy Children, and also to the Orphan & Charity School in Fürth. The latter provided purchase money for a field and some woodland nearby, giving the school an income from which to buy shoes or boots for destitute pupils for many years. He also left money for his nephews in Fürth [his sister's children] to be apprenticed to some useful trade, a sure indication of the value he placed on the early training he received.

'John Christopher Zumpie' as he is recorded in the church registers, was buried at St Marylebone church on December 5, 1790. His grave was near to Rev. Charles Wesley, the hymn writer, and Stephen Storace, the opera composer (a friend of Mozart). The burial ground has been lost during major church rebuilding in the nineteenth century. A small garden with a memorial tablet names some of the people buried there — but unhappily not John Zumpé, who was presumably unknown to those who erected the memorial long after his pianos had been superseded.

Gabriel Buntebart, resided in nearby Lisson Grove. He died in 1794 and was buried next to his wife several miles away in Hendon churchyard. His age was stated as 68. Neither man had any surviving child. Elizabeth Zumpey [sic] is shown in the Rate Books at the former marital home in Edgware Road until 1804. On her death the remaining property was split between a large number of nephews, nieces and family friends so it is likely that if any portrait of the 'inventor of the small pianoforte' existed it was eventually lost or sold by some later generation, long after his fame was forgotten.


The Location of Zumpe Pianos in public collections

Pianos by Zumpe (or Zumpe & Buntebart) can be seen at the following museums: Colonial Williamsburg, Virginia, USA [2 specimens]; Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart; Russell Collection of Musical Instruments, Edinburgh [2]; Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass.; National History Museum, St Fagans, Cardiff [2]; Museo degli Strumenti Musicali, Rome [4 examples]; Historisches Museum, Basle; National Music Museum (Vermillion, SD), and at Hatchlands Park, Surrey (National Trust), The Gretry Museum in Liege; the Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam; Museu de la Musica, Barcelona. (Note: this is not an exhaustive list)

Pianos by Schoene & Co. can be seen at: Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg; Conservatoire Collection, Paris; Musical Instrument Museum, Brussels; Real Academia de San Fernando, Madrid; Easton Historical Society, Easton, Pennsylvania.

Michael Cole, Cheltenham, 2023

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