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FortePianos


Fortepiano by Keith Hill after Walther_0.jpeg

Click here for a Sound Sample of one of my Walther Fortepianos


Over the last fifteen years, I have regularly made both five octave and six and one half octave fortepianos. The one pictured here is a Cristofori style fortepiano of my own design. The models which I offer in this catalogue were selected on the basis of how well, in my judgment, the original maker solved all of the problems of physical design, functional design, and acoustical design. The action had to work smoothly and reliably under every manner of touch. It had to feel light yet secure. It had to function silently. It had to feel positive yet supple. The instrument had to hold its tuning for an extended period of time without being overbuilt. It had to be easy to get the action in and out of the keywell. It had to be easy to regulate and adjust; and it had to hold a regulation within a given season. It had to sound firm and resonant without sounding harsh or dull. It had to have an extremely full yet singing treble, a colorful and full middle range, and a solid, sonorous bass. It had to be loud enough for concerto playing yet be able to play at a pppp range with relative ease and still have that level of volume project to the end of a large room. Finally, it had to be a beautiful piece of furniture.

Each model has two listed prices. One is for a standard finish featuring veneer in cherry, walnut, or mahogany (sawn in the 18th century manner) which has been either waxed or varnished but is otherwise unadorned. The other is for veneer which is finished in a French polish and comes with gilded bronzes and other gilded fittings.

Standard with each Fortepiano are: screw-in legs, a music desk, a tuning hammer, muting strips and wedges, and a packet of spare action parts.

NOTE:

Now that I am offering to teach my acoustical technology to interested young skilled instrument makers, the first price I show for each fortepiano in this catalogue is for those instruments made by me personally, and the second lower price is the price needed to be able to teach my students what they need to learn to build high quality sounding fortepianos. Those second lower prices will not include a music desk, which I consider to be mere furniture and which take time to make that is better spent learning the art of acoustics. Besides, that item can usually be procured for much less money in the location where the instrument will be sent. If you are keen to have an instrument from my shop on this basis, you may have to wait in line because I will not accept orders for instruments at these lower prices until I have a student who is qualified to learn my acoustical technology. So I will be keeping a waiting list.

Click here for a Sound Sample of a Mozart concerto with one of my Walther Fortepianos


Fortepiano - after the 1796 Walther now in Nuremberg.

Walther has carefully solved all the problems of making a piano of this size. The only limitation with this design is that it can't play the Waldstein sonata. To remedy this, I have added four notes to the top (as Walther himself later did) to make that possible.

5 1/3 octaves from FF to a''', bichord from FF - a', trichord from b flat' on up, strung in iron.; ebony naturals with bone topped sharps, and two knee levers (moderator and dampers).

L = 90", W = 40", H = 10", Wt. = 190 lbs. Basic price is: $58,600.00.

Price which includes French polish finish and gilded bronze ornaments is: $64,100.00

For the same instrument made as part of my program to train young instrument makers to master my acoustical technology, the price is: $45,000.00


Click here for a Sound Sample of my Graf inspired pianos



Fortepiano - after Conrad Graf, 1824, now in Florence.

I admire Graf's pianos more than all others. He knew exactly what he was doing. This particular original is an incredibly inspiring instrument to play. The sound is confident, evocative, effusive--I love it. The sound is so spacious that you always feel like you have enough time to express your intentions. In other words, there is always something interesting happening in the sound so you don't feel compelled to charge ahead in the music just to fill in the empty spaces.


Click here for a Sound Sample of one of my Graf inspired 6 and 1/2 octave fortepianos


6 octaves from FF to f'''', trichord throughout, strung in iron. With pedal lyre and three pedals (una chorda, moderator, and damper), bone naturals and ebony topped sharps. L= 96", W = 44", H = 14", Wt. = ca. 275 lbs. Basic finish price is : $80,600.00. Price when finished with French polish and gilded bronze ornaments and some exotic veneering is: $89,100.00.

For the same instrument, but without the ornaments, made as part of my program to train young instrument makers to master my acoustical technology, the price is: $58,000.00


Fortepiano - after Conrad Graf, 1835, now in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

61/2 octaves from CC to g'''', trichord throughout, strung in iron. With pedal lyre and three pedals (una chorda, moderator, and damper), bone naturals and ebony topped sharps. L= 96", W = 52", H = 14", Wt. = ca. 300 lbs. Basic finish price is : $88,000.00. Price when finished with French polish and gilded bronze ornaments and some exotic veneering is: $95,500.00.

For the same instrument, but without the ornaments, made as part of my program to train young instrument makers to master my acoustical technology, the price is: $69,500.00



PianoForte after Cristofori Based on the 1726 Cristofori now in Leipzig.

Click here for a Sound Sample of my First Cristofori type fortepiano



I have made four of this type of piano, like that shown in the picture above, in the last years and find that they are more rewarding to build than the Viennese type of piano—a wholly unexpected discovery—for a variety of reasons...all of them musical. The light and resilient parchment hammers make as pure a sound as possible on a piano which translates into a high degree of color or timbre flexibiliy for the player. The sound of brass wires is enchanting, which makes improvising on this piano easy. The action likes to play softly yet the light construction of the corpus gives the tone great resonance which makes for intensely sweet softs. The very light leather dampers silence the strings in such a way as to make using a lever to raise the dampers largely unnecessary. Still, I provide a knee lever for that purpose to make the performance of the later literature possible.

Click here for another Sound Sample from my Second Cristofori type fortepiano. In this perfomance of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata-first movement, you will hear the piece played exactly as Beethoven indicated. That is, senza sordini and una chorda throughout.




Cristofori_0.jpg


Cristofori carefully solved most of the problems of making a piano. The only limitation with his design is that it has only four octaves. Like Silbermann, I make my Florentine style piano with five octaves but with an additional two notes to play all of Scarlatti. My Cristofori type pianos are strung entirely in brass as I believe the original to have been. The tone which results is pure, sweet, extremely colorful, and very resonant, yet easily loud enough to be used for Bach or Mozart concertos. Furthermore, Cristofori designed a powerful but subtle action. The only real defect in his design is his use of a “gang” axle for the hammers, which are fitted with hard leather bushings, supposedly to help silence any action noise--this always leads to a high maintenance, noisy clacking mechanism when the action is pushed to its limits. I have solved this design problem, to eliminate maintenance and noise, in a wholly 18th century manner. The result is an action that provides a controllable gradation from soft to loud (ppppp - fff) without clacking or distorting.

Click here for another Sound Sample of my First Cristofori fortepiano in a Bach Concerto.



What is interesting about this particular piano is that the action is not actually after Cristofori. I patterned the action after Johann Andreas Stein's adaptation of Cristofori's action for his curious fortepiano at one end combined with a double manual harpsichord at the other end made around 1789. This rather odd instrument has an extra manual at the harpsichord end which can be pulled out so the player can play the fortepiano at that end. Stein understood that his own design of action would not work in this application so he borrowed the Cristofori action design and applied his capsule design to this action in a complicated nevertheless ingenious manner. By using his idea, I found that the resulting action was much easier to play than Cristofori's own action design. This compelled me to redesign the Cristofori action to make the playing easier and especially to make the regulation infinitely easier as my actions now can be regulated without removing the action at all. Cristofori's and Stein's actions design require one to remove the action for every single adjustment which makes making such instruments a nightmare not to mention a real pain in the back.


Click here for a Sound Sample of my Third Cristofori type fortepiano beautifully played by Geoffrey Thomas.


One of the least expected benefits of each of these Cristofori inspired instruments is that they tend to stay in tune like a rock!!! At least after the first month of being strung up and put in tune. The first few weeks while the tension is forcing the instrument to get used to it and while the strings themselves are stretching out these instrument are as stable as any instrument experiencing its first taste of tension. But after that point they are vastly more stable than the Viennese instruments I have built or any harpsichord, for that matter.

I offer this type of piano in the original totally bare wood version or with a painted finish over gesso applied in the 18th century manner. Although the 1726 original Cristofori has no lid, I provide one with my version of this piano.

5 octaves and two notes from FF to g''', bichord throughout, strung in brass; Boxwood naturals with ebony topped sharps, or ebony naturals and bone topped sharps, and one knee lever (dampers), 5 turned screw-in legs, and music desk.

L = 90", W = 39", H = 10", Wt. = 120 lbs. Basic bare wood price is: $54,750.00.
Price for the piano with a painted finish over antique style gesso is: $57,500.00.

For the same instrument made as part of my program to train young instrument makers to master my acoustical technology, the price is: $48,500.00

Every fortepiano maker today is faced with the vexing problem of how to obtain suitable leather for voicing fortepiano hammers. I conducted numerous experiments in leather making using vegetable liquors because I find all the currently available leathers to be technically inferior to the original leathers and, not surprisingly, acoustically incompetent. Solving this problem has not been easy because there are so many variables that bear upon the evidence left to us in the piano hammer leathers used by the Viennese piano makers from 1780 to 1840. Now, after countless experiments, I am happy to report, I have a vegetable tanned leather which fulfills my every demand for how a high quality fortepiano hammer leather should behave physically, technically, and acoustically.



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