Piano

Around 1698 Christofori in Italy began to make harpsichords with hammers to hit the strings, rather than quills, which plucked the strings. His aim was to create an instrument that would provide more tonal variety and that could play both softly (piano) and loudly (forte).

Around 1698 Christofori in Italy began to make harpsichords with hammers to hit the strings, rather than quills, which plucked the strings. His aim was to create an instrument that would provide more tonal variety and that could play both softly (piano) and loudly (forte). News of his invention spread to German-speaking lands, where builders such as Johannes Zumpe created a similar instrument, but based on the shape of the rectangular clavichord, another popular keyboard instrument for the home at the time. These so-called square pianos gradually became ubiquitous in England, where Zumpe among other German makers set up shop from the 1750s on. At approximately one-third the cost of a harpsichord and with makers beginning to make them in quantity, owning one's own keyboard instrument became a status symbol for "nobility and gentry."

The first fortepianos in Canada were imported by Frederick Glackemeyer in 1788. Soon many more arrived in this country, either based on the harpsichord shape of the instrument now known as a grand piano or in the more space-saving square shape. From 1789 on musicians regularly advertised their services as piano teachers and tuners in centres such as Halifax, Québec City and Montréal. The earliest known pianoforte builder in Canada was a German emigrant, Friedrich Hund, who began constructing instruments in Québec City around 1816.

Unlike other musical instruments, the piano assumed different shapes, even after its range of pitches (usually over seven octaves and with 88 different keys) had become established in the 19th century. Demand for the instrument encouraged many Canadians to enter into its manufacture. Mead, Mott & Co. of Montreal was active from 1827 to 1853. By 1851 there were three individual piano builders or companies in Québec City, 10 in Montréal, and four in Toronto. Subsequently, over 240 different models were created in Canadian centres from Atlantic Canada to Victoria, British Columbia. Pianos were moved by York boat to forts of the Hudson Bay Company, by Red River carts across the prairies, or packed on mules to traverse the mountains and into the gold regions of the Cariboo and Klondike.

The most noted piano-manufacturing firms in Canada included the Bell Piano and Organ Company of Guelph (1864-1934), HEINTZMAN & CO LTD (1866-ca. 1982), Lesage Piano Ltée. (1891-1986), Nordheimer Piano & Music Company (1886-1927), Mason & Risch Company (1871-1972) and R.S. Williams é Sons (ca. 1873-1932). Having struggled through the Depression and then the onslaught of imported pianos from Japan and Korea in the late 20th century, the last piano business in Canada to remain operating until 1988 was the Sherlock- Manning Piano Company, begun in Clinton, Ontario, in 1890. It has been claimed that 30 000 pianos were manufactured in Canada in 1912 alone. Whatever the number, the Heintzman piano has been declared among the top 10 pianos built during the 1900s.

With thousands of instruments being constructed and sold in Canada, there was a huge demand for piano lessons. Many musicians in Canada have earned their main income by giving lessons. Among them have been some significant pedagogues such as Boris Berlin, Gladys Egbert, Alberto Guerrero, Lyell Gustin, Yvonne Hubert, May Kelly Kirby, Lubka Kolessa, Germaine Malepart and J.D.A. Tripp.

Many Canadians have become noted pianists. In the 19th century both Harry Field and Salomon Mazurette had extensive international careers. Their example was followed by Ellen Ballon, Gertrude Huntly Green, André MATHIEU and the duo`pianists Bouchard et Morisset in the early 20th century. Glenn GOULD has been the most influential Canadian pianist in the concert field while Oscar PETERSON has had an equally influential role in jazz piano. Many fine Canadian pianists continue to make their mark. They include Janina FIALKOWSKA, Marc-André HAMELIN, Angela HEWITT, Jon Kimura PARKER, Angela CHENGand Andre Laplante, who together comprise Piano Six and who perform in smaller Canadian centres at reduced fees each year. Others include Jane COOP, Anton KUERTI, Louis LORTIE and Oliver JONES.

See also MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS.


Further Reading

  • Wayne Kelly, Downright Upright: A History of the Canadian Piano Industry (1991); Encyclopedia of Music in Canada (1992)

External Links