Kit by Zuckerman Harpsichords International
(Stonington, Connecticut, USA)
Based on instruments of Johann Andreas Stein
Constructed by John Norman
Johann Andreas Stein (1728-1792) perfected the ‘Viennese’ action. Stein’s action dominated piano design in Vienna from the 1770s through to the 1850s. Stein’s success stemmed from his invention of an extraordinarily efficient ‘escapement’ mechanism (which allows the hammer to fall back immediately after it strikes the string, even though the key is still depressed). Stein’s escapement rendered the action very responsive.
Mozart was enthusiastic about Stein’s pianos, judging them to be the best that he had ever encountered. Mozart used and recommended Stein instruments throughout his life.
German grand pianos of Mozart’s time did not have pedals; from the ca. 1780s, knee levers under the keyboard lift the dampers.
A knob protruding through the name-board operates the ‘moderator’. The moderator interposes a series of cloth tongues between the hammers and the strings, so that the hammers strike the strings through the tongues. This creates a hauntingly dark, muted sound.
The conventional five octaves of eighteenth century harpsichords remained standard for Stein.
The action of Stein’s pianos has no ‘back-check’ (a back-check prevents the hammer, once it has struck the string and fallen back, from bouncing up again and re-striking the string). In order to prevent the hammer from re-bounding, pianos with no back-check must be played more gently than those with a back-check.
During the 1780s and 1790s, Stein-type pianos were regarded as appropriate instruments for those pianists who preferred a subtle, ‘melting’, intimate style of playing. Joseph Haydn expressed a preference for Stein-type pianos.
Concurrent with the emergence during the 1970s and 1980s of interest in historical keyboard instruments, several early keyboard instrument-making firms designed and commercially produced harpsichord and fortepiano ‘kits’ as a response to the demand for inexpensive instruments; these kits comprised the plans, instructions and materials (sometimes pre-cut), necessary to build an instrument.
This piano was made by John Norman, in Canberra, in 1981, and derives from a kit manufactured by the American early keyboard instrument-making firm Zuckerman Harpsichords International. The instrument incorporates several features that are not found in Stein’s extant pianos. Significantly, these include a back-check, and a moderator.
The Canberra School of Music acquired this piano in 1981. The instrument entered the collection of the ANU Keyboard Institute in 2005.