Piano History


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 . . .


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