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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Erard Pianos

Born at Strasbourg in 1752, Sebastian Erard showed a remarkable capacity for learning. Even when he was just 8 years old, he was studying architecture and geometry. In 1768, his father died. At only 16 years of age, Sebastian took upon himself the responsibility to provide for his mother and 3 siblings. 
He travelled on foot to Paris, looking for work that would pay enough to support his mother back home in Strasbourg. He found work with a harpsichord maker who could not have known that he would be introducing an extraordinarily talented young man to his destiny. Sebastian quickly became passionate about the harpsichord, and, equipped with his natural curiosity, began probing the theories of harpsichord design. In a very short time his shrewd questions required far more sophisticated answers than his employer could supply.
The Duchess of Villeroy had engaged him to build a harpsichord, giving him the use of a well equipped workshop in her palace. It was here, in 1777,  he built his first piano. With growing confidence and with his ambitions taking shape, he opened premises in his own name in the ‘Rue de Bourbon’ Paris. 
Soon, an order was sent for Erard to make a piano for Versailles. Erard’s flourishing connections with the upper ranks of the French aristocracy securely established his reputation. With his natural abilities, his astute business brain and his connexions, he had become a formidable figure in Paris. 
At this time, the theories determining an efficient piano mechanism were not clearly understood, the current examples were still very primitive. It was Sebastian Erard with his meticulous attention to detail who formulated the principles of the modern grand piano action.
In 1786, he decided to move to London where he opened a shop at 18 Great Marlborough Street. Setting up a business in London was a golden opportunity to conquer a fresh market. Erard studied the English methods of piano manufacture, and was eager to adapt what he felt were the best methods and practices. He began producing his own pianos in 1792. 

The principles he laid down for the design of the piano mechanism, remain the basis for all modern grand piano actions. Despite the huge advances of technology over the 19th & 20th centuries, his work still stands as steadfast as ever. 

Universal approval of his work took some time to establish. Differing opinions are always interesting to read as they give some context to the debates of the time. Quoted here is an opinion that seems to have been judged more on issues of patriotism than on the objective merits of the case. 
Thirty-six years after Erard had died, a Heinrich Welcker, who did not like French pianos, wrote of the Erard action: “Generally speaking, the action manufactured by Sebastian Erard figures as the oldest and most highly praised sort. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how such a put-up job, combining neither durability nor precision, could possibly have been copied by others, show that Mr. Erard did not have much of a head for mechanical things, but perhaps a great deal of money for people to sing his praises”.
Sebastian Erard died in 1831. His legacy to the piano world was his work with the piano action. To this day, his action is used as the basic template for the modern day piano actions! Erard Pianos are sadly, no longer made.


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