This upright grand bookcase piano is the first of its type to enter the Powerhouse Museum's collection and the earliest upright piano to be found in it. Dating from 1809 it is made by one of London's leading piano manufacturers, Matthew and William Stodart, and one of the few examples of this type of piano to be found in Australia. Apart from its rarity it is significant for its construction and design showing the transition from the standard horizontal grand piano to the cabinet piano, which then developed further into the upright piano known today.
This style of upright grand is also unique as it was purposely designed to incorporate a bookcase and therefore had the dual function of musical instrument and drawing room furniture. The style was first patented by William Stodart, one of the makers of this piano, in 1795. Rosamond Harding recounts that Joseph Haydn visited the Stodart shop and "expressed himself delighted with the new possibilities it foreshadowed in case-making and with the quality of tone." (Harding, p.63).
Unlike later upright pianos the design is similar to a horizontal grand which has been inverted to the vertical from the keyboard. This accounts for the great height of these instruments, having approximately the same string length as horizontal grand pianos of the time. The bookcase piano was an ornate instrument and expensive to buy as well as produce. This together with their unwieldy height and lack of portability as well as tuning difficulties contributed to bookcase grands only being produced up until about 1825. From this time the upright idea evolved further into the cabinet piano where the string and soundboard section of the piano was dropped to floor level thus reducing the height. This created other problems related to the position the hammers needed to be in to strike the strings to produce an optimum tone. This lead to further developments in piano action design to overcome the problem.
However, the trend to make pianos as ornate pieces of domestic furniture continued well into the 19th century when cabinet pianos would continue to be decorated with ornate fabric fronts or large mirrors, suitable for large domestic rooms.
WF Bradshaw & S Symons; The Pianoforte Past exhibition catalogue (Queen Street Galleries, Sydney, n.d.)
Martha Novak Clinkscale; Makers of the Piano 1700-1820 (Oxford University Press, 1993).
Rosamond E.M. Harding, The Piano-Forte, 2nd edition, (Gresham Books, England, 1978).
Stanley Sadie (ed); The New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments (MacMillan, London, 1984)
Curator, music & musical instruments