This distinctive piano, with its centred arched opening in the lower front of the case, is affectionately referred to as niche de chien (dog kennel) or piano pont (bridge piano). The design was first introduced by the firm of Roller et Blanchet in 1827, and was so popular that it was copied by many other makers.
François Soufléto established his piano business in Paris in 1827 after having worked for the famous piano firms of Érard Frères and Roller et Blanchet. Much-needed restoration will bring back the rich, burnished glow in this piano’s mahogany cabinetry and highlight its beautiful inlays.
As to the sound, the Frenchborn, British travel writer Francis Hervé in his midnineteenth century book, How to Enjoy Paris in 1842 provides modern music lovers with an idea of what they can expect to hear:
Formerly the inferiority of French pianos to ours was most evident, and perhaps, generally speaking, I should still say it was the case, but there are a few manufacturers, the tone of whose instruments is superb; of such a description are those of M. Soufléto.
It is really surprising how he has been enabled, in a small upright piano, to produce the force and depth of tone which has found the means of uniting in comparatively so small a volume, the bass having absolutely the power and roundness of an organ; but that part of an instrument which most frequently fails, is that which is composed of the additional keys or the highest notes, which are apt to be thin and wiry, but with Mr. Soufléto’s pianos it is not the case, the tone being soft and full, with a proportionate degree of force with the rest of the instrument.
His merit has been duly acknowledged, having not only received the King’s patent, but having been twice presented with medals, and appointed manufacturer to the Queen. As most English families who come to Paris for the purpose of residing or sojourning for a certain time, are desirous of hiring or purchasing a good piano, I can assure them that such they will find at M. Soufléto’s, No. 171, Rue Montmartre, and that his terms are extremely moderate in consideration of the excellence of his instruments.
With generous support for its restoration, the ‘soft and full’ tones of this dog kennel piano could once again be heard in a recital setting – with its donor enjoying pride of place in the audience.