The Square Piano in England
The first type of piano to become popular in England was the square piano. The people who were responsible for making this new instrument popular were primarily Johannes Zumpe, who was engaged in making these instruments, and Johannes Christian Bach, who was a keen performer on the early piano. J C Bach being responsible for the first solo performance on the piano in England in 1768.
English Single Action (Old Man’s Head)
The action that was used in the early English square pianos was called the English Single Action or the “Old Man’s Head” action. It was crude and simple in its design. A metal (probably brass) rod was fixed directly into the rear of the key, acting directly on the hammer butt. On top of this rod was a pad of leather which made contact with the hammer butt. The hammer was the only pivoted part of the action, and this was probably the reason for the name “Single Action”.
The piano was rectangular in shape, rather like the clavichord. There was no escapement or check, and the response of the action therefore was not very efficient, with notes sometimes bubbling. The strings were of iron in the treble section, with brass in the bass - these were sometimes overspun. The hammer heads were covered with leather.
English Double Action (Grasshopper Action)
A patent was taken out by John Geib 1786 for the English Double Action for square pianos. Geib was a workman employed by Longman and Broderip, his double action was a modified form of the 1726 Cristofori action. This action was usually used in better quality square pianos. The advantage with this action over the Single, was the presence of an escapement, and in latter instruments also a check was included. These latter two points would have made the instrument very much more responsive to the player’s touch.
The Single Action and Double Action were both copied in France and in Italy but the Double Action superseded the Single in England. Broadwood started making square pianos in 1773 and made his last in 1864. The square was used mainly as a domestic instrument, rather like the upright piano of today.