Grand Pianos
(1895 – 1906)

A detail of a rosewood grand piano. A view of a Knabe grand piano action restoration. A black baby grand piano.

Historiette.

Within the illustrious courts of Prince Ferdinand de Medici of Florence, a man named Bartolomeo Christifori solved a problem that changed the world of music forever. All keyboard instruments of the time, circa 1700, were audible only by the plucking of strings. There was no dynamic control, and the overall volume was soft, even faint by today’s standards. What Christifori created was an action that worked with rebounding hammers. This meant that the strings were struck, and that the musician could determine the force of the blow. The invention was a complete marvel and was hailed as “Gravicembalo col piano e forte,” or “the harpsichord that can play both soft and loud.” Over time this name metamorphosed into pianoforte, then fortepiano, and finally came to be what we know of today as the “piano.” The next century was host to a vast array of pattens. The advent of the cast iron plate was one of the most important improvements in regards to altering the sound of the instrument. This enabled the structure to withstand the incredible string tension, and thereby get enough volume to fill a concert hall.

Why a Grand plays like a Grand.

A Yamaha C3 piano action.

There are many reasons why a grand piano may be chosen over an upright. Since the strings are stretched horizontally, parallel to the floor, the grand action is gravity fed. It does not rely on springs to return the hammer to a resting position after a note is played, as in the upright. This allows the artist greater control and expressiveness. Another factor in the ease of a grand action is that it employs a special “repetition mechanism” that allows it to reset itself for the next stroke of the key much sooner than a vertical action. Although grands are usually the choice for most artists, bear in mind that a well-made, re-conditioned upright will often play and sound better than a mediocre grand.

The Grand Sound.

A Kawai black baby grand piano.

Grand pianos sound so rich and superior because of the length of their strings and the size of the soundboard. In terms of tone quality and resonance, the longer the piano, the longer the bass strings, and thus, a better sound. This is due to the fact that even when a pianist is not playing upon the bass notes, those strings, (and indeed all of the unplayed strings), are reverberating sympathetically to the rest of the sound waves being produced. Although the listener may not always hear the intricacies of the resulting harmonic structure, they are still present and imbue upon the ear and unforgettable experience. This is why the great concert halls only choose Concert Grands.

What Size of Grand would you like?

A lovely Steinway restoration.

The most common way to classify grand pianos is by size. The measurement is taken from the front of the keyboard to the farthest point of the bend at the back of the piano. There are five main groups. Baby Grand piano dimensions are 5’4″ or smaller. Medium Grand pianos are from 5’4″ to 5’11″. True Grand piano dimensions are when pianos reach 6′ or longer. The Small Concert grands are also known as Artist Grands, and they begin at a length of 7′. The largest piano used in concert halls are of course, Concert Grands, and they are 9′ long. There is sometimes confusion about what constitutes a “Baby”, or a “Grand”. The most concise way is to describe each grand piano by its overall length, or by its model – i.e. “A 5’8″ Baldwin Grand” or “A Steinway Model L Grand”.

The Grand Furniture Aspect.

The cast iron artistry of a Knabe grand piano, what makes an older piano magnificent.

The first grand pianos, created for royal courts, were beacons of exquisite design and embellishments meant to impress. The Victorians carried on this tradition, enraptured with the furniture of the instrument. Ornately carved, the cabinets were usually made from rosewood or other expensive, exotic woods. Throughout the years of depressions, wars, a depletion of materials, and shifts in style trends, the look of the piano simplified and became streamlined. Inlays and carvings of serpentine scrolls and garlands, the intricate filigree of the music racks and the heavy, fluted, round or cabriole legs gave way to simple, straight-lined cases with square tapered legs, or to modified period styles.

A vintage Steinway piano restoration. A rosewood grand piano with an ornate music rack. A Chickering grand piano with a highly figured walnut cabinet.
One of the great Steinway & Sons pianos. Grand Piano Land!