Almost 100 years after the invention of the Pianoforte by Italian inventor Bartolomeo Cristofori (circa 1709) came the invention of the Upright Piano. In the early part of the 19th century, in Philadelphia, the Upright piano we know today was perfected by way of stepping stones from the first Pianoforte. First came the Introduction of the cast iron frame by Steinway & Sons in New York, then came the domesticated version of the Pianoforte – the Square Grand and finally the Upright Piano. Further perfections were made to the internal mechanisms within the next 100 years and then not much has been changed in the overall design since then.
Arthur A. Reblitz, commonly known as a leading authority on pianos, distinguishes pianos in three types. 1720-1850 – The Victorian Piano. 1850-1900 – The Antique Piano and 1900 to the present – The Modern Piano.
Upright pianos were manufactured by thousands of companies from 1800 to the present day. There were streets upon streets of piano makers each with the ambition to sell this marvelous “King of instruments”. Some companies specialized in making the most intricate of cabinetry utilizing the best craftsmanship of the day, while others concentrated on the functionality of the instrument and the quality of construction materials. There were weird and interesting pianos, odd and different designs and ambitious ventures to “reinvent the wheel” but the piano we know today was beginning to reach a specific standard as the 20th century approached.
It was the Upright Piano that began to make pianos appealing for home use and Piano Making was big business. With the further invention of Player Pianos – the height of sales was surely in the first part of the 20th century and the large decline in sales came around the time that cars were being popularized, along with the Radio and the Phonograph.
Upright Piano making was forced to adapt as best as possible. People wanted better priced pianos after the World War and also one that could fit into any apartment or smaller home. Thus was born the Spinet Piano (The Internal “Action” being below the keys rather than on top as most upright boast) which was truly a terrible design – not only in functionality but also in its lack of string length causing terrible inharmonicty and the inability to put it In Tune to any form of good standard.
Over time Piano making shifted further towards cheap designs, cheap materials and cheap labour which was usually found in the far East. The 1980s and 90s lent itself to terrible piano making and a decline in sales though it is certain that the best have prevailed. China has some companies producing good quality product and of course “the greats” still stand – Steinway & Sons in New York and Hamburg, Bosendorfer in Austria (now owned by Yamaha) and C. Bechstein in Berlin.
Yamaha and Kawai, with their Japanese quality lines specifically, lead the industry with their good quality for good value instruments that can be found more frequently than others.
Some Fast Upright Piano Facts
The “Upright Grand” was a marketing ploy in the early 20th century. There was nothing “Grand” about the Upright Piano of the day except that they were very large and heavy pieces of furniture with a piano inside.
Some of the best constructed Upright pianos were made between 1890-1930 in Europe and the U.S. There was no shortage of wood it seems and quality of functionality was paramount. Their quality was so good that they are excellent candidates for restoration in our current day and age.
It is very rare to find an upright piano with a “Sostenuto” pedal! The middle pedal on most uprights operates a long piece of felt that comes in front of the hammers thereby reducing the sound to almost nothing. It is often called “The Practice Pedal”
All the weight in an upright piano is in its back – where the Cast Iron Frame is. An Upright Piano will most often fall backwards rather than forward on its keys and even slight movements, done improperly, can result in major damage – not to mention the danger this is to any human being in its way.