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This summer I had the opportunity to play a piano in a museum. My home town of Winnipeg, Manitoba has an old fort from the 1850’s where all the workers dress in period clothing. It was owned and operated by the Hudson’s Bay Company and was functioning a decade and a half before the country was even established. Inside the walls of this stone fort are a fur trading post, a general store (where they sold Lea and Perrin’s Worchestershire sauce – established in 1837!) and the governor’s house (among other buildings).
The governor’s house is more opulent. It has fine furniture and lo and behold, a piano! It was a Broadwood (which was the piano maker for royalty by appointment). The details were incredible! Gold gilding, pin striping of inlaid brass and various kinds of woods (mainly mahogany). It was only 5 octaves and had no cast iron. The piano was brought over by boat and ox cart – an incredible feat in the 1850’s.
After taking many pictures, the governor’s wife asked if i know anything about pianos and a long conversation ensued about Broadwood and the construction of this particular instrument. She then said “Would you like to play it?” Apparently few people get to play this piano. What a privilege! Because there is no cast iron to create tuning stability, the piano was pretty out of tune and the pitch was about 4 keys down but was still interesting. It sounded more like a clavichord or harpsichord than what we know as a modern piano. The hammers are TINY! Made out of various layers of what looked like felt and leather. The action was direct blow without any real sort of repetition mechanism and so the key weight was feather light. Also worth noting is that there is no pedals of any kind. They were implemented shortly after this time period.
Beethoven received a gift of a Broadwood piano only 8 years after this one. It’s incredible to hear instruments as they would have sounded in the early 1800’s. Beethoven wrote back with this statement after receiving his piano “I shall regard it as an altar upon which I will place the choicest offerings of my mind to the Divine Apollo.” Such fun to see and hear the earliest predecessors of the piano. Enjoy the pics. BTW, the coolest part on this piano were the built in drawers that hold sheet music. Why don’t we have those today??? Click on the photos for larger images.