Development of the new instrument - Silbermann

Throughout Western Europe musicians were beginning to look for an alternative instrument which would give them flexibility of dynamic range, and produce a singing quality of tone.  Around this time, Pantaleon Hebenstreit had made himself a reputation as a performer on the dulcimer.  This latter instrument he enlarged and toured Europe playing on it, displaying the ability to produce a graduated dynamic.  

 

It was this instrument, which became known as the “Pantaleon”, that was to have a great influence on makers of stringed keyboard instruments.  Schroeter was certainly influenced by the Pantaleon, and devised two mechanical actions for playing the harpsichord with hammers, one which struck upwards and the other a down-striking action.

 

However, it was a translation of an article by Maffei, an early journalist, that was read with interest by Gottfried Silbermann, who was a great maker of organs, clavichords and Pantaleons.  This article led him to go on and produce two pianos that were also influenced by the instruments built by Cristofori. J S Bach, who knew Silbermann well as an organ builder, pointed out defects in the instruments - heavy touch and weakness of the higher notes. The action devised by Silbermann for these early pianos was called the “Prellmechanik”. This term derives from the word “Prelleiste” which means rebound-rail, an essential element in the action.

 

However, Silbermann’s pianos did not find favour, and it was his apprentices who were to “sell” the piano to the general public.

 

One of these apprentices, Christian Ernst Friederici, continuing with his master’s experiments, eventually produced a small “square” piano that was based on the design of the clavichord.  Although this instrument was of a rudimentary nature, it was relatively cheap to make and it quickly gained in acceptance and popularity.