250 Years in the History of Broadwood Pianos

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Broadwood Pianos

The year 1978 marked the 250th anniversary of the firm which has the longest history of piano making in the world.

The firm's first instruments were not pianos, however. BurketShudi, whose name was originally spelt Tschudi, was born on the 13thof March 1680 at Schwanden Blarus, Switzerland. He was a joiner bytrade but deforestation forced many men there into the new trade ofcotton weaving. Shudi came to London in 1718, working as acabinet maker. At some point he joined the harpsichord maker Tabel,and then started up on his own in Meard Street in 1728. Aharpsichord made by Shudi in 1729 still survives today, showing he hadsimplified the spelling of his name by then. He was helped in his career byHandel and became maker to the royal family. A Burket Shudiharpsichord, number 94 and dated 1740, went to Windsor Castle andanother went to Frederick the Great. He moved to Great Putney Street in 1742. John Broadwood started working for Shudi in 1761.He was born in Cocksborn Park, Haddington, Scotland in 1732 and diedin 1812 in London. He gained Shudi's favour and in 1769 marriedShudi's daughter Barbara. In the following year Shudi took him intopartnership and the firm of Burket Shudi and Johannes Broadwoodoperated in Carnaby Street, Soho. Shudi appears to have often worked with about four other men turning out some 18 instruments ayear. By 1793, the year the firm stopped making harpsichords,they had made 1,155 of them.

The Venetian swell worked by pedal wasapplied to their harpsichords in 1769 and was Broadwood's invention,although something of the sort had been used on the continent slightlyearlier. Many well-known composers were familiar then as now withthe firm's products. Mozart played one of their harpsichords inLondon in 1775 and Haydn owned a Shudi and Johannes Broadwoodharpsichord number 176, dated 1775.

Their single manual of 1770 costbetween 35 and 40 guineas, 50 guineas with Venetian swell, and 80 guineas for a double-manual with swell. Shudi died in 1773 but ayear or so before Broadwood and his apprentice Robert Stodart arethought to have worked out the details of an idea by Backers of1771 for a grand action, probably collaborating with Backers.Broadwood did not begin to make grands himself until 1781. Thisaction became known as the "English" portion of the "English direct" action. It was direct because the jack was centred to the key and worked directly against the notch with no intermediate lever. Authorities differ as to when Broadwood made his first square piano. Some say1771, others 1772. It was probably modelled on those by Zumpe whohad also worked for Shudi. The "old man's head" or "mop-stick"action was very simple with no escapement. The hammers were knockedup to the strings by pads of leather fixed to the ends of thickbrass wires inserted into the backs of the keys. Like theclavichord the wrest pins were at the right-hand side and thehitch pins at the back. There was either a single hand-stop for raisingall the dampers or two hand-stops for raising the brass and treblesections independently.

In 1780 Broadwood reconstructed thesquare piano, moving the wrest plank and the hitch pin block to theright and fitting an action with under-dampers that were not pushed up to the strings by springs but were counter-weighted. The range of the piano was five octaves and it was patented in 1783. Broadwood began making grands in 1781 with the English action which, with little modification, the firmcontinued using for over 100 years. There was a sustaining pedaland for something like half a century it was a divided pedal, eachhalf raising its own section of dampers.

The player could depress the pedaleasily if he wished. The dampers were the stick types similar tothe harpsichord jack but with no plectrum and with a stop railabove. Some authorities, including the Oxford Companion, state that Merlin patented the una corda pedal in 1774 and that Broadwood invented the sustaining pedal in 1783, so I was fascinated a few years agowhen I heard there was a Backers grand of 1772 in the RussellMuseum, Edinburgh with two pedals. One of our students at the Royal National College for the Blind was nearby and in 1976 he kindly agreed to visit the museum. He reported that it has two pedals, one on each front leg pointing inwards. The right is a sustaining pedal, the left an una corda, so we may conclude Americus Backers was the first to use them. The piano is the oldest grand in workingorder in Britain; its number is 29. On his deathbed in 1781 hecommended his invention to his friends Robert Stodart and JohnBroadwood. In 1781 Broadwood shipped to Paris a harpsichord andpiano for Clementi's continental concert tour taking in Strasbourg,Munich and Vienna. John Broadwood became sole proprietor of Shudiand Broadwood in the following year. In 1783 he was experimenting with a box-like soundboard, possibly along the lines of the violin principle, and I should think there must have been a sound post or sound posts between thetwo boards. There is a Broadwood grand of 1787 with the number 203 atthe Colt Clavier Collection which I have been privileged to see,probably the oldest by its maker to survive. Although most sourcesthink metal was rarely used in the construction of pianos until alittle later than this time, there were small pieces of metalbetween the wrest plank and belly head just about at the pointswhere the breakers would be expected to be found on latermodels.

In 1778 Broadwood asked for advice on stringtension and length from two experts in physical science at the British Museum. This resulted in the divided bridge for grands taking the place of the continuous bridge which had previously served for both treble and bass, and the adoption of the ninth proportion ofthe string's length for the striking position, allowing some latitudein the treble. Not all makers took up the divided bridge and it wasusual for Viennese pianos to have the undivided bridge up until 1820. The divided bridge had to be implemented of before cross-stringing could be realised. Broadwood extended the compass to five anda half octaves in 1790 as a note in the company's books from 1793 tells us: "We have made some five and a half octave grands these three years past. The first to please Dussek which being liked John Cramer had one."Three years later they made pianos with six octaves for Dussek, going down to the bottom C. Dussek was the first to play with his right side towardshis audience, and being rather good looking they had the benefit of hisattractive profile. Haydn must have thought much of the Englishpianos, for after visiting London in 1794 he took back three Broadwood Pianos with him toVienna. The firm of Broadwood & Son wasfounded when the oldest son James Shudi joined the firm. Before theend of the century there were 454 piano makers in London. Broadwood produced about 6,000 squares and 1,000 grands between 1780 and 1800. The Industrial Revolution was in full flood and thefirm was the first to adopt some of the new methods of production,including a form of assembly line with workmen assigned particularjobs, and it introduced steam power probably early in the nineteenth century.About the turn of the century they were making some 700 pianosannually as against their nearest Viennese rival's 50. Also aboutthis time they became manufacturers to His Majesty and Princesses. Theearliest tuning fork I can find for C is one they were using with apitch of 107 CPUs, about half a semitone lower than BritishStandard Pitch of today.

Broadwood's business was thriving andinstruments were sent far and wide. A letter of about 1800 says:"The instrument most fashionable here is the Grand Pianofortesold retail at 70 guineas in plain case and ornamented at 85guineas. We send many to St. Petersburg and Moscow but we believethat none have found their way to Copenhagen, if you will permit usto send such a one." Another letter of 1802 sounds as if it hadbeen written yesterday, "We hope to be able to send you a smallPianoforte this or next week. At present, from the great andunexpected demand, we have none to sell." Customers did not alwayspay up even in those days. They wrote to a Dr. Baker of Derby: "ifyou do not pay within a few days you will be arrested." When, in 1802, Broadwood's were offered a harpsichord in part exchange for a pianothey replied: "from their almost total disuse they areunsalable," which shows how completely the harpsichord had fallen fromfavour within only thirty to forty years. By 1804 James Shudi Broadwood had drawn sketches fora cabinet or fairly large upright which he gave to Southwell, themaker from Dublin. Three years later Southwell made a piano derivedfrom the sketches, fitting it with the sticker action of his own invention. There was fire on the 20th of March 1807 at the Clementi factory,with an estimated capital loss of some £40,000 for which theinsurance accounted for £15,000. Broadwood, Clementi's chiefrivals, came to his aid, helping him to fulfil orders, andBroadwood's workmen collected enough money among themselves tore-equip Clementi's men with the tools of their trade.

Thomas joined his brother James Shudiin 1807 in his father's firm and it became Broadwood & Sons.During the following year, on discovering that the framework was distorted by the increased tension from the strings caused by the greater compass,and in an effort to achieve stability, James Shudi added three metalbracing or tension bars in the treble of their grands. They alsobrought out a transposing piano. Under protest in 1810 they made agrand with a swell like Shudi's harpsichord of 1769. Four metalbars were used in 1818, the year Thomas Broadwood wrote to Beethoven,offering him a piano. Beethoven wrote back in February, "I shallregard it as a altar upon which I will place the choicest offeringsof my mind to the Divine Apollo." He was very appreciative of the six-octave grand given him, preferring the bigger tone of the Englishpiano. One wonders how it survived the journey after being shippedto Trieste in the spring and taken to Vienna by mule over mountainpasses and roads no better than rough tracks. It did need attentionand Cipriano Potter, an English pianist in Vienna at the time, wasable to put it into working order. The piano still exists.Incidentally Potter returned to London in 1821, became the firstprofessor of the piano at the Royal Academy of Music and wasappointed its second principal in 1832, where he remained until1859. I wonder how many heads of colleges and academies today could turntheir hands to straightening up such a piano. It seems Broadwood'slowest pitch was A-433 in 1820. In 1821 Samuel Herve, one of thefirm's workmen, hit on the idea of filling up some of the space inpianos with metal plate. He applied the first metal hitch pin plateto their squares while the grands apparently had three to five tensioningbars in combination with the hitch pin plate. Cramer welcomedMoscheles to London and invited him to share a concert and tocontribute the last movement of a sonata. It was probably afterthis concert, for which a Broadwood was used, that Moscheles wrote the following:

"The strong metal plates used inbuilding these pianos gives a heaviness of touch but a fullness ofvocal resonance to the tone." It's not clear to me how the bracingbars and metal hitch pin plate could alter the touch. It ratherreminds me of a client of mine who assured me that a piano withivory-covered keys always sounds better than one with plastic.During the next year, 1823, we find Moscheles borrowing Beethoven'spiano when he played in Vienna. By now it was not in very goodcondition and Conrad Graf agreed to put it in good order again. Aftervisiting Beethoven in 1824 the London harp maker Johann Stumpsaid of the piano: "What a spectacle offered itself to my view!There was no sound left in the treble and broken strings were mixedup like a thorn bush after a gale." Beethoven's deafnessnecessitated heavy playing and whether he could hear anything atall towards the end is doubtful. In 1825 Erard, the great rival firm of the time, obtained a patent in England for a method of fixingiron bars to the wooden braces by means of bolts passing throughholes cut in the soundboard. The iron frame of a modern grand isattached in a similar way, and although Broadwood used bars as early as 1808, controversy was to arise later as to who was firstin the field. Broadwood took out a patent for solid bars incombination with a fixed metal string plate in 1827, sometime aftertheir invention. In 1825 they fitted a curious check action in a squarepiano with a projection below the hammer like a beak.Rising prices are always with us and it is interesting to compareBroadwood's price list of 1815 with that of 1828. The 1815list reads as follows:

"Six-octave Grand £40.10; six-octave ornamented Grand £46; six-octave upright Grand£46; six-octave Cabinet £33.2; six-octave ornamentedCabinet £48; six-octave Cabinet with additional keys £31;Square with rounded corners and compass C to C £22.15; Squarewith double-action £18.3; Square with single-action£17.6; Square (elegant) £26." Now the list for May 11828: "Square F to F in plain case 36 guineas. The same type bandedwith rose-wood 41 guineas. Square in plain case with circular ends38 guineas. Square banded with rose-wood with circular ends 44guineas. New patent six-octave F to F with metallic plate£55. A charge of 4 guineas to be made for fixing drawers toeither of the above. Cottage six-octave F to F square front 50guineas; Cottage Superior with six-octave and square front 55guineas; the same with cylinder front 55 guineas. Cabinet with sixoctaves 65 guineas. Cabinet elegant, 70 guineas. Cabinet with sixoctaves in rose-wood case 75 guineas." In the second list we seethe Cottage mentioned and the dropping of the single-action square.This was the "Old Man's Head" type superseded by the"Double-Action" which had a hopper at the back of the key like thesticker. During Queen Victoria's reign, 1837-1901, on the fallsof their grands, uprights and on the name-boards of their squarescan be found "Manufacturers to Her Majesty and the RoyalFamily."

In 1846 we find Walter Broadwooddirecting Alfred James Hipkins to instruct their tuners in the useof equal temperament. In 1844 Hipkins found that the tunerswere having trouble relinquishing a variety of the meantone tuning system. Equal temperament had long since demonstrated the advantagesof being able to play in all keys and was used before this date,particularly by German makers, while organ-builders preferred the oldermethod for longer. When Chopin toured in Scotland in 1848 aBroadwood grand was often hired, costing, even in London, 20guineas. Hipkins was the tuner, and he preferred equal temperament, so there is a good chance the piano used by Chopin was in equal temperament. For at least one of his recitals, Chopin was paid 150 guineas. Hipkins wasimpressed with Chopin's playing and immediately afterward bought themusic to find out what he had listened to. Earlier in Vienna Chopin enjoyed playing on pianos by Graf with wooden frames, so itis not surprising that Hipkins says: "He especially liked Broadwood'sBoudoir Cottage Pianos of that date, only two strings but a very sweetinstrument, and he found pleasure in playing on them." We have inour little museum at the RNC a Broadwood Cottage Grand of 1848 witha definitely much sweeter tone than the Erard which Chopin oftenplayed. A thing which strikes one is the short prop-stick oftenemployed at this period allowing the top to be lifted to a heightwhere it has given me more than one nasty bang on the face. A yearbefore Chopin's last visit here they had invented their specialconcert iron frame with diagonal tension bar and transverse tensionbar. This type of frame was used until 1895. On the bass end oftheir grand soundboards of this period is inscribed: "Notice toTuners. Patent pin piece screw pins. Pins being screwed into themetal and wood must not be struck with the hammer. Should a stringbreak take the coils off without drawing the pin then turn the pinone eighth and one sixteenth, cut the new length of wire of threeinches behind the pin and insert the end in the drilled hole." From1849 to 1854 their medium pitch was A-445.9. We quite frequentlyhear music on pianos of that time at a lower pitch, even on the radio, and are told sometimes that it conforms with the pitch used.Around the middle of the century about one third as manyinstruments were being made in France as compared with the totalproduction in England, which was calculated at 23,000. Of theseBroadwood made 2,300 and Collard 1,500 annually. By 1851Broadwood's factory was the biggest of its kind in the world. Thebuilding was three storeys high, 300 feet long, with 300 workbenches, a separate steam-engine house and a weekly payroll of£1,000. There were 600 pianos permanently out on rentals from12 shillings to £2.12.6. a month, ten delivery trucks with muchbusiness on credit, and sometimes there was an annual write-off of£10,000. Many books written about the piano give differentdates for the invention of the iron frame, with Babcok's patent for a square grand of the 17th of December 1826 being the favourite.Hipkins stated in 1851 that Broadwood had been the first to makegrands with a complete cast-iron frame. It seems hard to believebut apparently in 1880 Brinsmead, Broadwood, Erard, and Steinway useda pitch of A-455455.3, although a New York tuning fork of Steinwayis said to have a pitch of 458. So I'm afraid if we really must haveauthenticity in all things, then before Liszt, Brahms, etc. can beperformed on pianos of the age, there are going to be a lot morebroken strings. During his London visit of 1886 Liszt was persuadedto write to Broadwood commending the tone of one of theirinstruments that he heard at Grosvenor Gallery: "No pianofortes last sowell as Broadwood's." Indeed they were well-made to judge by thegreat number still on most tuners' rounds in working order. HenryJohn Shudi Broadwood in 1888 made the first barless steel frameemploying rolled boiler steel of graduated thickness in place ofthe cast iron frame. It had a fine reputation in the trade, and some sayit was the best grand in its various sizes ever made. Sadly becauseof the shortage of materials during the First World War it went outof production. By 1894 they had made 195,420 instruments. TheirConcert Grand was 8 ft. 6 in., the Drawing Room Grand was 7 ft. 9 in, theSemi 7 ft. 3 in., the Boudoir 7 ft. 1 in., and the Short Grand 6 ft. 3 in.The firm became a limited company in 1901 and moved from GreatPuttney Street in 1904 where they had been since Shudi's timeof 1742.

They were one of the few firms to maketheir own player actions, patenting it under the name "ArtistTone." The later models could transpose an accompaniment sixsemitones and sold for £84, while other makes could cost up to£3125. King George V and Queen Mary toured the factory at BowStreet in 1926 and the following year they bought a Broadwood forBuckingham Palace and the Queen bought one for Sandringham. In 1931they, along with other makers, experienced difficulties, and Challens agreed to make their pianos under licence. While the Second World War wason, not many pianos were made in Europe and the British Governmentissued a regulation that production should be concentrated soBroadwood, Marshall and Rose, and Rogers approached Welmar wherethey made pianos at Clapham. Broadwood began making their own pianosafter the war with Kemble's, producing some uprights more recently.After forty years Broadwood's moved from Hanover Street to 12 EdgwareRoad. Under new management and a new coat of paint in 1976 theyintroduced a new upright at the Frankfurt Fair called the "Omega." Part oftheir newsletter of July, 1977, reads: "Here are a few details ofour new grand piano the Model 250 as displayed at the August TradeFair: length 6 ft. 10 in., the scale is based on the superb Model 246,with new bass and treble bridges, and a completely newunder-bracing designed to give greatest ability making theinstrument ideal for concert, hire or home use. The casework hasbeen comprehensively re-modelled with special emphasis on musicdesk and lyre layout, resulting in a grand piano for the 1980s butbrilliantly incorporating all the traditional features which havemade Broadwood a household name for centuries." It was due forrelease the following year, 1978, but the one shown in London at the British Musical Instrument Trade Fair during August was being supplied tothe Queen in her Jubilee year so it is not surprising that theframe was painted silver. I am sure we all wish them success withthe new venture and congratulate them on their anniversary.

W. EdwardWilkins.

Copyright © 1977, W. EdwardWilkins.