For more than a century the piano occupied a dominant place in music and society. Professor Ehrlich follows its fascinating history from the forte piano,
of Mozart’s time, through the Victorians’ ‘household orchestra and god’, to
the most sophisticated modern products of the Japanese manufacturers. His protagonists include barnstorming virtuosi, fashionable ladies and aspiring
clerks, the great makers and the back-street ‘Garrett-masters’, distinguished musicians, and hire-buy touts. Originally published in 1976
by Dent, this book has now been updated and revised by the author in the light of developments of recent years.
The piano has been many things and performed many tasks. The predominant musical instrument, for a tyro and virtuoso, it was also once a potent symbol of social advance. Precursor of our coveted goods, it
therefore pioneered the law and finance of hire purchase. Its development, requiring new technologies and systems of manufacture, epitomized the
industrial history of competing nations. If it’s historian, like some of its
makers, cannot afford to be tone-deaf, he should also take note of economic and social contexts. He must stress orders of magnitude (how large?
how many? how typical?), as music historians seldom do, and then attempt to give coherence to the whole. These were my objectives in 1976. A few
changes since then deserve notice, and may prove to be significant; in countries of origin, in patterns of production and trade, perhaps in the
instrument itself. But apart from some tidying of text and bibliography, and updating of the appendices, which many correspondents have welcomed
and helped to revise, I have not attempted to rewrite the book. I have
further explored some of its themes, the closing remarks on cultural change in my later published work. Instead of trying to reconstitute eggs from this
omelette, I offer a preface showing new trends in events, knowledge, and critical comment, and changing or reiterating old prejudices.
The largest industry is still in Japan, but Korea has emerged quite, and was already third by 1985 (see Appendix II). As the statistics catch up with
events, they will see the newcomer to have overtaken the United States, and may even approach Japanese output by the end of the decade. Korea advances on two fronts damaging to Japan, and buttressed by skill, quality
control, large- scale production, and low costs. Cheap serviceable uprights are now joined by small (no longer ‘baby’) grands, which have again
become desirable acquisitions wherever affluence spreads and space
permits. Many of the uprights carry reassuring names, redolent of European culture. The trade press therefore reports such bewildering
happenings as ‘the transition of Weber from Young Chang to Samsung’. Ancient ruses die hard in the piano . . .