Web Text-ures Logo
Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio

(Return to Web Text-ures)
Click Here to return to
The Old Furniture Book
Content Page

 Return to the Previous Chapter
Kellscraft Studio Logo



THE evolution of the piano from the clavichord occupied the attention of musicians for over three hundred years, or from 1404, when the earliest record occurs, to 1720, when Cristofori's piano was completed in Florence. The next instrument in the upward development after the clavichord was the virginal, a parallelogram in shape, with a projecting keyboard. Then came the spinet. The earliest of these now in existence is in Paris, and was made at Verona in 1523. By 1703 two Englishmen, Thomas and John Hitch­cock, father and son, had made a great advance in the construction of spinets, giving them a wide compass of five octavos from G to G.

It was not until about 1660, after the restoration of the Stuarts, that the name "harpsichord" was given to the long wing-shaped instrument, similar to our grand piano, which had hitherto been called clavecembalo in Italy, flügel in Germany, and clavecin in France. Early in the sixteenth century the progressive Dutch had put into use double keyboards and stops. These were imported into England, and to John Haward is due the credit for the idea of pedals for the harpsichord. This was in 1676. This Haward was a fashionable instrument-maker in the days of the lively Pepys, who mentions him several times. Thus in April, 1668, he records: —

— "Took Aldgate Street in my way, and then did call upon one Haward, who makes virginals, and there did like of a little espinette, and will have him finish it for me; for I had a mind to a small harpsicon, but this takes up less room."

The little espinette took some time to finish; for in July he says:

    "While I to buy my espinette, which I did now agree for, and did at Howard's meet with Mr. Thacker, and heard him play on the harpsicon so as I never heard man before, I think."

On the 15th of July the bargain is concluded; for he states, under that date:

"At noon is brought home the espinette I bought the other day of Haward; cost me £5."

A few days later he combines business with pleasure, for he notes:

"To buy a rest for my espinette at the ironmonger's by Holborn Conduit, where the fair pretty woman is, that I have lately ob­served there'"

Figure 85 shows a very beautiful spinet made by Domenico di Pesaro, in Italy, in 1661. The instru­ment can be taken from its outer case, is of cedar wood, has a projecting keyboard, and is decorated with ivory studs. The outer case is very handsome, decorated with gesso work, (which was so much copied by Robert Adam after his return from Italy) this work being gold on a pale-green ground. The decoration on the inside of the cover is a boating scene, the keys are of light wood, the sharps being black. The instru­ment, triangular in shape, rests on three richly carved and gilt legs, and is four feet eight inches long, by nineteen inches wide. It looks very tiny, even beside a "baby grand'"

The beauty and enrichment of the cases in which these instruments were placed shows with what care and reverence they were regarded. Harpsichords varied much in having one, two, or occasionally three banks of keys, and being placed in upright cases, the covers of which opened like a bookcase, or in a horizontal case, as in the one shown in Figure 86. Each of the three banks of keys has a compass of five octaves, from F to F. The entire case is gilt Louis XV. style, decorated with elaborate carvings and with paintings of flowers and figures in medallions and borders. On the outside of the cover is the coat of arms of the Strozzi family. The name of the maker is engraved on an ivory plate above the keyboards, and reads —


The length of the case is seven feet; it is three feet wide, and nearly ten inches deep.

The harpsichord held its own for fifty years after the invention of the pianoforte, for Bartolommeo Cristofori published his invention as early as 1711. although he did not perfect his piano till 1720. His action has the escapement, without which there can be no vibrating note, and the "check," which was an all-important step toward repeating notes. There are preserved at Potsdam, Germany, three pianos which belonged to Frederick the Great, and which were made by Silberman, who exactly copied the action as well as the structure of Cristofori's invention, In Figure 87 is shown the first piano made by Cristofori. Above the front board is the following inscription:


This instrument, as well as the two previously shown, belong to the collection of musical instruments given by Mrs. Crosby Brown to the Metropolitan Museum, New York.

Figure 84. Organ in St. Michael's Church, Charleston, S. C.

This crude instrument bears testimony to years of patient endeavour. Like so many old and valuable treasures this one was harboured many years for senti­mental reasons only, and because it had been given to an only daughter by her father. The story of the discovery of its value came about as follows, as told in a letter by Signor Martelli, to whose mother the piano belonged.

"For the sake of economy during the time that Florence was the capital of Italy, we rented the first floor of our house, No. 3, Via del Melarancio, and occupied the second floor. In 1872 Signora Martelli (my mother) again changed her apartments from the second to the first floor, and at the moment the transfer of our furni­ture was taking place from one floor to the other, Prof. Cosimo Conti, a scholar and intimate friend of ours, came to visit us. The professor, who was in close correspondence with Cavaliere L. Puliti, who was spending a great deal of his time in trying to discover the origin of the piano, discovered on it to his great surprise an inscription which attested that it had been made by Bartolomeo Christofori. He immediately informed Cavaliere L. Puliti of this fact, and he came at once to examine it. Then it was ascertained that it was one of the rarest and most valuable pianos in existence. We sent at once for a tuner and had it put into good condition."

The piano was bought by Signora Martelli's father, about 1819, from the Grand Ducal Palace at Siena, at an auction sale, held by order of the Minister of the Household, of all such things as he considered worth­less and of no use. The piano was shuffled out of the Ducal Palace, much as some of our interesting relics have been shuffled out of the White House, and offered at auction.*

The Christofori piano has a case of cedar, which is painted black on the outside. It stands on three clumsy turned legs. The keys are light-wood naturals and black sharps. The ivory knobs on the side blocks may be withdrawn, and the action removed from the case. There are two strings to each note, and the length of the instrument is seven feet seven and a half inches. It is three feet three inches wide at the front and nine and a half inches deep.

Keyed instruments at first found little favor in the ears of the Italians, Who much preferred the violin with its "singing voice" and its superior capacity for expres­sion. Yet they contributed much to the early history of this branch of the art, though the Germans culti­vated more highly these instruments, which were, in their first state, very defective in producing melody. It was Domenico Scarlatti who laid the foundation of modern music for keyed instruments, and his music for the harpsichord was not confined to fugues and fan­tasias, as was most of the harpsichord music of early times. The real centre, however, in the line of prog­ress for music for this instrument proved to be Ger­many, and Graun, Hasse, and John Christian Bach all wrote for the harpsichord.

In America some of the first instruments to come into use were small organs. They are mentioned as early as 1711. Although large church organs, with three rows of keys and pedals, Were in use in Europe by the opening of the sixteenth century, it was long before they were found here.

The rivalry Which church music seems to inspire in the breasts of those who render it has long existed, and extends even to those who make the instruments. The following story from "Hawkin's History of Mu­sic" bears out this statement.

Figure 85. Spinet

Bernard Smith, or more properly Schmidt, a native of Germany, came to England with his nephews Gerard and Bernard, and to distinguish him from them obtained the name of 'Father Smith.' He was the rival of Harris from France and built an organ at Whitehall too precipitately, to gain the start of them. as they had arrived nearly at the same time in England. Emulation was pow­erfully exerted. Dallans joined Smith, but died in 1672, and Renatus Harris, son of the elder Harris, made great improvements. The contest became still warmer. The citizens of London, profit­ing by the rivalship of these excellent artists, erected organs in their churches; and the city, the court, and even the lawyers were divided in judgment as to the superiority. in order to decide the matter, the famous contest took place in the Temple Church upon their respective organs, played by eminent performers, before emi­nent judges, one of whom was the too celebrated Jeffreys. Blow & Purcell played for Smith, and Lully. organist to Queen Catha­rine, for Harris. In the course of the contest Harris challenged Father Smith to make, by a given time, the additional stops of the vox humana, the cremona or viol stop, the double courtel or bass flute, etc., which was accepted, and each exerted his abilities to the utmost. Jeffreys at length decided in favor of Smith, and Harris's organ was withdrawn. Father Smith maintained his reputation and was appointed organ-builder to Queen Anne. Harris went to Bristol."

In the first half of the eighteenth century the salaries paid to organists were small indeed, and it was customary for them to add to their modest stipend in various ways. In Charleston, S. C., in 1739, the organist taught the art of psalmody. A dozen years before this the organist at King's Chapel, Boston, Mass., taught dancing.

Mr. Drake, in his "History of Boston," says that King's Chapel was enlarged and rebuilt in 1713, and an organ was presented by Mr. Thomas Brattle. In 1756 the King's Chapel Society imported a new organ from London, and the old one was sold to St. Paul's Church, Newburyport. It was used there for eighty years, and then sold to St. John's Church, Portsmouth, N. H. The original pipes and wind-chest remain to-day in perfect condition.

The second church organ in New England was one in a case of English oak, presented by Bishop Berkeley to Trinity Church, Newport, R. I., in 1733. It had twenty-three gilded pipes and was fourteen and a half feet high, eight feet front, and eight feet deep. It was made by Richard Bridge, London. This organ was used for a hundred and eleven years by Trinity Church, till 1844, and after a sojourn of a few years in Brooklyn, N. Y., it was bought for a church in Portsmouth, R. I., where it still is, in excellent condition.

South Carolina, with her riches and her close communication with England, had abundant masters to teach not only the more elementary branches, but accomplishments as well. By 1774 there were two hundred persons in the colony engaged in teaching, and according to advertisements a knowledge of English, Latin, and Greek could be obtained at any time after 1712. French and music were constantly taught after 1733. Lessons on the harpsichord, spinet, violin, violoncello, guitar, and flute were all to be had after 1733, and the boys could be perfected in fencing and the girls in needlework before the middle of the century. By 1734 a dancing-school was opened at Charleston, and in 1760 Nicholas Valois gives notice that he still receives pupils in dancing, and that he has received "40 of the newest country dances, jiggs, rigadoons, etc., from London, which he proposes to teach."

Figure 86. Harpsichord

In 1752 the vestry of St. Phillip's Church, Charles­ton, sent to London for an organist. The parish guaranteed him £50 sterling. He was to have the privilege of teaching the harpsichord or spinet, which would add 150 guineas more per annum, and also to have "benefits of concerts which his obliging behaviour to the gentlemen and ladies of the place may amount to 300 or 400 guineas more." The years between 1728 and 1763 were a time of unprecedented prosperity in South Carolina. The luxuries of the day were within reach of modest fortunes, and British modes and manners were eagerly followed. Josiah Quincy, in describing his visit to "Charles Town" in 1774, speaks of the famous St. Cecilia Society, which began as a musical club, all the performers being amateurs. He writes:

"The music was good, the two bass viols and French horns were grand. There were upwards of two hundred and fifty ladies present and it was called no great number. In loftiness of head­dress these ladies stoop to the daughters of the North; in rich­ness of dress surpass them. The gentlemen, many of them dressed with richness and elegance — uncommon with us; many with swords on."

The Carolinians travelled often to England. They were lively and expensive in their dress, and an Englishman visiting Charleston in 1782 writes home that it "was the pleasantest and politest as it is one of the richest cities in all America." The charming old city still retains its two first recommendations, though, alas, the riches have flown. In 1768 the organ seen in Figure 84 was imported from England for St. Michael's Church, Charleston. Within a little frame on one side of the organ is an inscription as follows. JNO SNETZLER FECIT, LONDONI, 1767.

This inscription was found on one of the pipes of the organ when it was taken down during the bombard­ment of Charleston in the Civil War. At this time the organ was stored away in the Sunday-school room of St. Paul's Church, Radcliffeboro, for safe keeping. This is said to be the largest old church organ in the country, and this church probably had the first surpliced choir of boys. They are mentioned in the vestry books as early as 1794. The photograph of this organ was procured through the courtesy of Mr. Charles N. Beesley, of Charleston.

Figure 87. Cristofori Piano

In the homes in various parts of the country, besides the virginal, were found the hand lyre, large and small fiddle, the recorder, flute, and hautboy. Some of these were imported, some were home-made. The first church organ built in New England was made for Christ Church, Boston, by Thomas Johnson, in 1752, and indeed by this time music in churches was pretty general all over the country. The puritans, with their hatred of anything secular, or, as it seems now, of anything that could ornament or beautify this none too joyous stay on earth, condemned music. In his "History of Music in New England", Mr. Hood says that before 1690 music was mostly written in psalm-books, the number of tunes rarely exceeding five or six. At the beginning of the eighteenth century New England congregations were rarely able to sing more than three or four tulies,  and even these were sung by the doleful process of "lining out". The deacon would read one psalm, and the congregation would sing it. Then he would read the next, and so on. About 1720 an effort was made to improve this method of singing, but it met with violent opposition. Some of the objections advanced were that "it grieved good men and caused them to behave disorderly;" that it was "Quakerish and Popish"; that "the names of the notes were blasphemous;" etc. Yet after a while the congregations were soothed by the publication of several "Letters of Pacification", written by ministers, and some books were published like that of the Rev. Thomas Walter of Roxbury, Mass., entitled;

"The Grounds and Rules of Musick Explained. Or, An Introduction to the Art of Singing by Note Fitted to the Meanest Capacity By Thomas Walter. A.M. Recommended by Several Min­isters. 'Let everything that hath truth praise the Lord.' Ps. 150. 6. Boston."

Singing-Schools for the instruction of the young were opened, and music, the only science allowed, crept into the church, "The Newport Mercury" for January 8, 1770, contains the following:

"The Public are hereby informed That a Singing-School will be opened at Mr. Bradford's Schoolhouse next Thursday evening by a Person who has taught the various Branches of Psalmody in the Provinces of New York, Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut, and those Gentlemen and Ladies who have an inclination to improve in this Excellent Art may expect all that Care and Diligence which is necessary to their being rightly instructed in the same."

William Tuckey of New York was a schoolmaster in that city about 1753, and taught singing to children. In 1766 the trustees of Trinity Church paid him £15 for performing the music for the opening of St. Paul's Chapel in New York.

By 1775 choir singing had become more general, and the old system of lining out was dying, but dying hard. In several parishes the singers, male and female, were requested to sit in the gallery and "carry on the singing in public worship." Many anecdotes are given in Dr. Ritter's "Music in America", showing how the choir, once called into being, soon became a thorn in the ministers flesh, sometimes being rebuked from the pulpit, and in retaliation refusing to sing.

That the music was bad goes without saying, for the singers were ill-trained under incompetent teach­ers, and the music was often incorrect. Dr. Ritter gives the proportion of women voices to men as about twenty to one hundred and thirteen. The proposition to let women sing the air was not to be considered for a moment, since men had a "prescrip­tive right to lead, and women were forbidden to take the first part in song or any other religious service."

Figure 88. Harp

S. Howe published in 1804 the "Farmer's Evening Entertainment", and in it gives directions for beating time:

"To beat crotchets in common Time, let the fingers fall on the table six inches, then bring the heel of the hand down gently, then raising it a little higher, throw open the fingers to begin the next bar. For triple Time, let the fingers fall on the table, then the heel of the hand, then raise the whole hand six inches, keeping the fingers straight, which fills the bar."

But while religious music was undergoing Violent changes, secular music was having a more peaceful time, and instrument-builders were becoming more numerous and successful. In 1774, in the "New York Gazette" is this advertisement.

"John Shybli, Organ-builder at Mr. Samuel Princes' Cabinet-makers in Horse-and-Cart St. New York. Makes, repairs and tunes all sorts of organs, harpsichords and Fortepianos, on the most reasonable terms. N. B. He has now ready for sale one neat chamber organ, one hammer spinet, one common spinet.

Mr. Samuel Blyth of Salem, Mass., made "spinnetts" (they spelled them with two n's in those days) and then gave instruction upon them. He did not require cash payment either, as witness the following bill, now in the possession of Mr. Henry Brooks, author of "Olden-Time Music."

Mrs. Margaret Barton to Sam Blyth          Dr.
To making a spinnett for her daughter                    £18   0    0
                              Supra Cr.
By 34 oz 1 3/4  dwt of Old silver a. 6. pr. oz.          £10   4  11
By cash to Ballance                                                £7  15   1
                                                                           £18    0   0.
                                 Salem 7th Feb'y 1786
                                        Rec'd payment
                                                   Saml Blyth

At Mount Vernon is still to be seen the harpsichord bought for Nellie Custis by General Washington. In 1798, writing to a young friend at Philadelphia, she says:

I am not very industrious, but I work a little, read a little, play on the harpsichord, and find my time fully taken up with daily employments."

There is an old song given in "Historic Landmarks of Maryland and Virginia" as being one which Nellie Custis used to sing, accompanying herself on the harpsichord. We wonder who selected for her.


"A traveler stop't at a widow's Gate,
She kept an inn and he wanted to bait;
She kept an Inn and he wanted to bait;
But the widow she slighted her guest,
But the widow she slighted her guest,
For when nature was forming an ugly race,
She certainly moulded the traveler's face
As a sample for all the rest, as a sample for all the rest.
The chambermaid's sides they were ready to crack
When she saw his queer nose and the hump on his back;
A hump isn't handsome, no doubt;
And though t'is confessed the prejudice goes
Very strongly in favor of wearing a nose,
A nose shouldn't look like a snout.
A bag full of gold on the table he laid,
'T had a wondrous effect on the widow and maid,
And they quickly grew marvelous civil;
The money immediately altered the case,
They were charmed with his hump and his snout and his face,
Though he still might have frightened the devil.
 He paid like a prince, gave the widow a smack.
And flop'd on his horse at the door like a sack,
While the landlady, touching his chin,
Said, 'Sir, should you travel this country again,
I heartily hope that the sweetest of men
Will stop at the widow's to drink."

The names of some other popular songs of this period were "The White Cockade," "Irish Howl," "Hessian Camp," "Nancy of the Mill," "Every Inch a Soldier," "When Nichola First to Court Began," "Baron Steuben's March," "Sweet Village of the Valley," "King of Sweden's March," etc. The Revo­lutionary echoes seemed to be still reverberating.

In the "Domestic Life of Thomas Jefferson" there is a description given of Monticello, which he built in 1770-1772, and a diagram of the lower rooms showing where each piece of furniture stood. It seems very sparsely fitted out, yet it had a great reputation for elegance. The house was but a story and a half 'high, and on the ground floor was a great hall, drawing-room, dining-room, tea-room, sitting-room, and two bed-rooms besides the one occupied by Jeffer­son himself. In this latter room was a couch upon which Jefferson rested when studying, a dressing-table and mirror, a chair near the wall, and beside it a small bookcase. There was no closet, so in one corner was a rack upon which his clothes where hung. The chief ornament to the drawing-room was his daughter's, Mrs. Randolph's, harpsichord. Standing about were many busts, of Alexander of Russia, Ham­ilton, Voltaire, Turgot, and Napoleon, and portraits of Washington, Adams, Franklin, Madison, etc. The house was at least abundantly furnished with chairs, for Jefferson himself leaves an inventory which states that there were 36 of mahogany and 44 of gold leaf. Of small tea and card tables there were 13. In the dining-room, well toward its centre, stood Jefferson's chair and a candlestand. His particular hobby was blooded horses, and he used only the finest Virginia stock.

Figure 89. Bass Viol

This same harpsichord was, as early as 1785, in Jefferson's thoughts, and he writes to his daughter, Polly, from France, that she shall be taught to play on it, as well as to draw and dance, to read and talk French, "and such other things as will make you more worthy of the love of your friends." Even in remote places like Monticello, where everything had to be transported by cart, or at Johnson Hall, Sir John Johnson's home in the Mohawk valley, harpsichords, as well as other expensive luxuries, were to be found. Sir John's harpsichord was confiscated by the government in December, 1777, at the same time with the table which is now at the Historical Rooms in Albany. While musical instruments are only rarely mentioned in the inventories of the great body of the people, yet we have seen that they were here both of domestic manufacture and imported. Thomas Harrison, organist of Trinity Church, advertises in the "New York Mercury" for 1761 that he has "harpsichords and spinets imported and for sale."

The harp was not so often seen as other instruments, on account both of the great cost of the instrument and of the difficulty of tuning it. It was not until 1720 that the pedal harp was invented by a Bavarian named Hochbrücker. By means of the pedal working a small plate set with projecting pins, the performer was able to raise the pitch of each string a semitone. The mechanism was concealed in the front pillar, and each note was affected in all its octaves. Erard made farther improvements. The harp shown in Figure 88 is in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. It is a very handsome one; painted blue, and resting on four claw feet. The pillar is fluted, and the orna­ments, three medallions of dancing girls, with wreaths below, are executed in brass. It has forty-two strings of gut and seven pedals. It was made by Naderman, Paris, France, late in the eighteenth century. Naderman perfected the action of the first pedal harp invented by Hochbrücker. In the South Kensington Museum, London, England, is a harp which belonged to the ill-fated Marie Antoinette; it also was made by Naderman in 1780.

The harp in its various forms is an instrument of great antiquity. The Greeks and Romans, ever alive to the possibilities of everything that tended to grace and beauty, admired this instrument not only for its sweet sound but for its pleasing form. We must look to Egypt for the origin of the harp, as there are representations in their picture writings of stringed instruments of a bow-form that support the idea that the first conception of a harp was drawn from the tense string of a warrior's bow. This very primitive instru­ment was borne on the performer's shoulder and played horizontally. Between this crude instrument and the splendid vertical harps shown in the frescoes of the time of Rameses III., painted more than three thousand years ago, there is a chain of pictures show­ing so many varieties of forms that the growth from the bow-form into the triangular harp is explained. The Assyrians, like the Egyptians, had harps without a front pillar, but differing from them in using sound-holes, and having the sound body uppermost. We assign to King David the harp, but mediæval artists more frequently depicted him with the psaltery, a horizontal stringed instrument, the parent of the piano.

Figure 90. Glass Harmonica

The harp has always been the instrument of the Celtic race, and harpists were held in peculiar venera­tion. For many a long year harpists traveled from one castle to another, sure always of a welcome and seat in a warm corner. In return they not only amused the company with their songs, but brought the news, and isolated and remote families often heard from the outer world by such uncertain means as these. For centuries the English harpers were protected in many ways, and no one has taken advantage of such a picturesque class with the skill of Sir Walter Scott. The most renowned one he introduced as a character was Blondel de Nesle, in the "Talisman," that wonderful picture of the days of the Crusades. The first greeting to the youth when he appeared at Richard's camp shows the estimation in which these knights of the harp were held.

"Blondel de Nesle!" Richard exclaimed joyfully "welcome from Cyprus, my king of minstrels! Welcome to the King of England, who rates not his own dignity more highly than he does thine. . . And what news, my gentle master, from the land of the lyre? Anything fresh from the trouveurs of Provence? Anything from the minstrels of merry Normandy? Above all, hast thou thyself been busy?"

It is also said that Richard Coeur de Lion's place of confinement in Germany on his return from the Holy Land was discovered when Blondel sung beneath the Tower Tenebreuse a tenson which they had jointly composed, and to which the king replied.

Edward I. and his Queen were fond of music and encouraged musicians, as the following entries in their accounts of the household expenditures show:

"To Melioro, the harper of Sir John Mantravers, for playing on the harp when the king was bled, twenty shillings; likewise to Walter Luvel, the harper of Chichester, whom the King found playing on his harp before the tomb of St. Richard at Chichester Cathedral, six shillings and eight pence."

Henry V. was a performer 0n the harp at an early age, and his wife, Catherine of Valois, shared his taste, as an entry in the Issue Rolls reads:

"By the hands of William Menston was paid £8 13s 4d, for two new harps purchased for King Henry and Queen Catherine."

Figure 91. Geib Piano

These harps were tuned with a key like the more modern instruments, and the player improvised his words to suit the taste of the company in which he found himself. Harpists were employed much at courts, and in 1666 Pepys says that for want of pay to the household —

— "many of the musique are ready to starve, they being five years behind hand for wages; nay, Evens, the famous man upon the Harp, having not his equal in the world, did the other day die for mere want, and was fain to be buried at the almes of the parish, and carried to his grave in the dark at night without one linke, but that Mr. Hingston met it by chance, and did give lad to buy two or three links."

At the present day, though at no instrument does a graceful woman look more graceful, solo performers are very rare; but in the orchestra the harp has an important place on account of its tone, such composers as Gounod, Berlioz, Liszt, and Wagner using it freely in their scores. In this country there are only occasional references in the old papers to it, and an advertisement by Signor Pucci in 1815 that he gives concerts on the "Fashionable and much admired King David's Pedal Harp", seems to be an effort to intro­duce it to the notice of music-lovers of the day.

Madame Malibran, who achieved such a success in opera in New York about 1825, used to accompany herself on the harp when she sang in response to an encore. But it can never be considered a popular instrument.

In Dwight's "History of Music in Boston", he says that at the beginning of the nineteenth century the population of Boston numbered about six thousand families, and that not fifty pianos could be found. Only a few of Boston's churches had organs, while those in country parishes were, almost without excep­tion, without them. The use of instruments had crept slowly into the choir, and if they had a flute and a bass viol they considered they did well. Very often a clarinet usurped the place of the flute. The bass viol was, however, the most popular instrument, and when, some years later, concerts began to be given, and musical societies formed, the bass viol was lugged about, notwithstanding its ponderous size, and duly performed its part in the accompaniment.

The bass viol shown in Figure 89 is an interesting one. It was made by Deacon Justin Hitchcock, and used by him in the choir of the Congregational Church, Deerfield, Mass., in 1778. Both it and the pitch-pipe used by him as leader of the choir are now resting silent in Memorial Hall. Deacon Justin did not con­fine his musical performances to psalmody and the accompanying of hymns. Like all the Deerfield men of that day he was a fighter, as who should not be who was brought up among those silent hills which had seen so much of "ye barbarous enemy" and knew the tales of French invasion? The stories of warfare and captivity were still fresh in the minds of the peo­ple of Deerfield when Deacon Justin responded to the Lexington alarm. His fife it was that inspired the weary Deerfield minute-men to press on to Boston to meet the British. Nor was this the only campaign in which he played a part, for he never wearied of dis­playing the trophies captured after the disastrous experience of Burgoyne, when, harrassed and in flight, he abandoned his baggage.

A very similar bass-viol, but of German manufacture, was played during the latter part of the eighteenth century in a church in Stonington, Connecticut. The sisters of the Hospital General in Montreal, before the conquest of Canada, imported several of these instruments from France for use in the convent choir. So they must have been played upon by women some­times.

92. Nuns Piano

An instrument that is interesting rather than hand­some is the glass harmonica shown in Figure 90. It has thirty-five bowls or glasses arranged on a central rod. Some of the glasses are now missing, but origi­nally it had a compass of three octaves. The case is three feet nine and a half inches long, and one foot four and three quarters inches wide. The interest in this class of instruments arises from the fact that it was invented by Benjamin Franklin. It has about as much capacity for producing music as the "musical glasses". One of these latter instruments consists of twenty-four glasses closely resembling finger-bowls and standing in a wooden table-like case. They are partially filled with water, and the performer produces notes by rubbing on the rim with the finger. They were occasionally to be met with, and date about the first decade, possibly a little later, of the nineteenth century. There is one in a perfect condition in Rochester, N. Y. The case is of handsome mahogany, and the instrument belongs to Mrs. James McKown.

Up to 1760 pianos were made in the wing shape, like the harpsichords, but at that date a man named Zumpe made a square one. By 1800 there were a number of makers in New York, and they turned out many very handsome instruments. Astor, Broadwood, and Clementi were three great makers in London, and sent many pianos over here. There is a slender-legged, fragile, Clementi piano in Memorial Hall, Deerfield, which was given by a father to his daughter. The story still clings to it that he sold a house in order to buy it for her.

John Geib, and his sons, John H., Adam, and William, were among the best-known early makers of pianofortes. They opened a shop in Maiden Lane as early as 1807, and advertised not only pianos of their own manufacture, built on a new plan, but those of London makers as well. They held this shop in Maiden Lane, with a brief interruption of one year, till 1828, when W. Geib moved up to the corner of Nth Street and Third Avenue. It was from this establishment that he sold the handsome piano shown in Figure 91, which is now at the Historical Rooms, Albany. The name-plate over the keyboard has the following inscription.


This piano is mahogany inlaid, and has a handsome brass moulding and brass ornamental bands at the tops of the legs. It has six legs and a pedal, and the top of the lid has a small rest for the music. The stool, very richly carved with pillar and claw feet, belongs to an earlier period than the piano, this shape dating from about 1810-20.

Indeed, from its ornamentation, the stool would seem to go more fittingly with the very elegant piano shown in Figure 92. This is of rosewood, and was made by Robert and William Nuns, and sold by Du Bois and Stodard, New York. It was probably made about 1823-25, for in pattern of carving, moulding, drawers for music, etc., it is very similar to the pianos made at this time by the Geib Brothers. At the top of each leg is a richly engraved band of brass, and rosette, to conceal the place where the pin held the leg to the instrument. The drawer knobs were doubtless brass also, for these are not the original ones. The panel above the keyboard is beautifully painted in metallic lustre, and has two carved panels besides, over velvet. The legs are boldly carved with the acanthus leaf, and everything about the piano is as elegant as possible. By the time these last two instruments were made music had taken a decided advance. Musical societies were organized in all the large cities; there were the Handel and Haydn Society; the New York Philarmonic Society; the New York Choral Society; Beethoven Society of Portland, Maine; Philadelphia Musical Fund; Har­monic Society of Baltimore, and equally flourishing musical organizations in several cities of the South, notably New Orleans and Charleston.

Figure 93. Upright Piano

Music-dealers all over the country advertised their wares; there were instruction-books and sheet music to be had: —

— "Overtures, battles, sonatas, duets for four hands, airs with variations, rondos, songs, glees, catches, sacred songs, original Scotch airs, little ballads, marches, waltzes, dances, and Mozart's songs."

In view of the selection of good music that could be obtained, it is amusing to know how popular were such ditties as "Mary's Tears," "Apollo, thy Treas­ure," and "Sweet Little Ann," written by Shaw, the blind singer of Providence. They seem hardly an advance upon "Bid Me, When Forty Winters," "Little Sally's Wooden Ware," and the "Comic Irish song 'Boston News," which were used as concert selections a quarter of a century earlier.

In Figure 93 is shown an upright piano made by Julius Fiot, Philadelphia, in 1827. The heavy veneered Empire curved posts are noticeable, and an extra old-fashioned appearance is given to it by the movable candle-brackets fastened to either side. In the upper part were little silk curtains to cover the mechanism, and their arrangement does not seem to have been particularly neat. This was a very early example of the upright shape, and is now in Memorial Hall, Philadelphia.

*The writer has seen a very beautiful carved and gilt round mirror, once the property of Dolly Madison, which was bought at a sale of White House furniture for twenty-five dollars.

Book Chapter Logo Click the book image to turn to the next Chapter.