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Square Pianos Hear Jo playing the Clementi Hear Jo playing the Stodart Hear Jo playing the Thomas Barton spinet Hear Jo playing the Longman & Broderip Articles Gallery

Squares - How it started

 Joanna talks to Andrew Lancaster  

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More Square Talk

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 Joanna talks to Andrew Lancaster  

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 Featured CD:

John Field Nocturnes

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Stodart, 1823

This piano was made by William Stodart and has five-and-a-half octaves, in a mahogany case with rosewood crossbanding, six turned reeded legs, a pedal leg and plenty of brass embellishments – a very 'Regency' instrument. The sound is more robust and powerful, suitable for the newly emerging repertoire with its emphasis on a bel canto melodic approach, as well as to the earlier works – Scarlatti and Soler sound particularly exciting on such a vibrant instrument. It was in fact Joanna's favourite square on which she delighted in playing the most – particularly the Haydn and Scarlatti CDs.


Clementi, 1832

The third square was manufactured by Clementi & Co in London c.1830-32. This is six octave piano in a substantial case with a heavier gauge string. The hammers are, bar the top two octaves, covered in cloth (not yet felt) which gives a very different tone.

On this piano Joanna and Peter Katin very ably and convincingly demonstrates some of the performance characteristics which express the more romantic qualities which were admired in architecture, landscape, theatre, literature, poetry and, of course, in music. The use of Rubato, where a steady pulse in the left hand would be the bedrock for a more flexible and emotional interpretation of the melody was reported by pupils of Chopin. Mendelssohn's Songs without Words or Schubert's piano works are particularly effective (Peter Katin CDs recorded on the Clementi). Joanna was fascinated by the interplay of different 'voices' across the keyboard that particularly came to life in her playing of Die schone Müllerin with Richard Edgar-Wilson.


Longman & Broderip, 1787

It is interesting to note that this piano predates the French Revolution (1789). It was already quite a sophisticated piano in contrast with the very earliest; the first half century of square piano production were years of great innovation and development. The tone, while still reminiscent of the spinet family, has evolved a long way. A control lever (a precursor to the pedal) on the left side can alter the damping effect - as heard here. This piano has five octaves and is housed in an elegant mahogany case with inlaid stringing and a satinwood name board with inlaid swagging. It has a bright singing quality which perfectly suits the galant style of Mozart, Haydn and their many contemporaries, as well as established composers such as Bach and Handel.


Thomas Barton Spinet, 1727

The spinet used here is a five-octave instrument and was made in London. Like the harpsichord, the sound is produced by a jack being pushed upwards by the key lever and plucking the string with a quill. On the return, the jack has a piece of cloth attached which touches the string and stops it from vibrating, so ending the note – the damper. This means that there is no ability to play the note louder or softer; however hard the note is struck, the volume remains the same. But players were encouraged to be expressive by being rhythmically flexible unless marked measuré. Neither the harpsichord of the spinet has any means of raising the dampers so as to create a sustain. Unlike the harpsichord the spinet has only one string.


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