In 1795 the English piano maker William Stodart took out a patent for “an upright grand piano in the form of a bookcase”. The concept was simple: reconfigure a grand piano into a vertical rectangular case that was perpendicular to its keyboard.
The advantage of this design was obvious: an upright grand took up less floor space than a grand piano. It even had extra space inside its vertical case next to the strings that could be used as shelving – hence its nickname: ‘bookcase grand’.
The mahogany upright grand in the Stewart Symonds Collection, with it’s brass mouldings and deep cast roses adorning turned, fluted legs, was made by the great Muzio Clementi.
This Italian-born, British pianist, composer, publisher, teacher, arranger and instrument maker has been called ‘the father of the pianoforte’, thanks to his visionary work as a promoter of the piano throughout his 50-year career.
Yet Clementi’s influence also extends down through the ages and even today, 185 years after his death, any serious student of the piano will be familiar with Clementi’s sonatas and sonatinas.
Clementi’s three Sonatas Op. 2, published in London in 1779, are widely considered to represent a turning point in the history of keyboard playing. Through their use of the full possibilities of the pianoforte – a new instrument at the time – these works mark the beginnings of the overtly virtuosic piano style. Born in Rome in 1752, Clementi was a musical prodigy.
At nine years old he was appointed an organist and by twelve had composed an oratorio. When Clementi was fourteen, he was sponsored by Sir Peter Beckford and taken to Wiltshire, England to further his musical studies.
In 1773, the 21-year old musician moved to London and met with immediate success as a composer and pianist. The piano had by then become extremely popular in England, and Clementi, by studying its special features, made brilliant use of the new instrument and its capabilities. In 1780 he embarked on a two-year tour that took him to Paris, Strasbourg, Munich and Vienna, where he famously became engaged in a friendly musical duel with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Clementi returned to London to pursue a lucrative career as a performer, composer and teacher. In 1799 he created his own publishing firm Clementi and Co., which also specialised in the manufacturing of pianos from 1800 onwards. Clementi died in 1832 and, due to his great lifetime of service to music, was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Now, through the extraordinary gift of the Stewart Symonds Collection, Perth has the opportunity to restore to playing condition this rare instrument made by ‘the father of the pianoforte’.