Ergonomically Curved Keyboards

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The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand is a beautiful new piano with a very special feature – it has a curved keyboard. The piano was developed in Belgium by piano maker extraordinaire Chris Maene in conjunction with the renowned architect Rafael Viñoly, and made its debut at the Verbier Festival (Switzerland) on July 19th, 2022.

studio photo of the Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand Piano
The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand Piano

The curved keyboard is designed to make the piano ergonomically more comfortable to play. The seven-octave plus span of a traditional acoustic piano’s keyboard is impossible to cover without adjusting one’s posture. The radius of the keyboard’s curve matches the natural arc of a pianist’s arms when rotating from the shoulders, and this makes playing across all registers a more natural and comfortable experience.

Straight-Stringing

Chris Maene is an advocate of the straight-strung piano. Here all the strings run parallel to each other. Originally all grand pianos used this format, but for the past 100 years or so overstringing (where bass strings cross over tenor strings) has taken over. Overstringing gives the longest possible string length for the size of the piano.

Chris Maene has brought back straight-stringing. He has used state-of-the-art techniques to develop a contemporary straight-strung instrument with a unique new sound. Originally straight-strung pianos would have a series of metal bars screwed together to support the strings. But like all modern instruments, Maene’s pianos have a single cast-iron frame.

photo showing the curved keyboard of the

Maene’s designs have won him many plaudits amongst prominent artists, and he has developed a straight-strung piano specially for Daniel Barenboim.

In 2016 architect and amateur pianist Rafael Viñoly was talking with Barenboim about his idea for a piano with a curved keyboard that he felt would be more comfortable to play. Barenboim encouraged him to pursue this idea, and Viñoly sought out Maene to help bring his concept to life. Six years later the Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand was born.

plan view of the Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand Piano with its curved keyboard

The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand is also straight-strung with the strings fanning out from the keyboard. And this leads to a considerably larger soundboard than that of a traditional grand piano. The frame is by necessity equally large, and this helps to give the piano its unique sound.

Other Curved Keyboards

The curved keyboard is not a new idea. Experiments with this kind of keyboard date back to the late 18th century. In 1780 Wilhelm Neuhaus, a Viennese pianomaker, constructed a concave keyboard for his piano.

One of the earliest remaining pianos to feature a curved keyboard was developed by Scandanavian piano maker Olof Granfeldt (1793-1850). Granfeldt made several such instruments. The square piano shown here was made in 1827. It is currently on display at the Sibelius Museum, Turku, Finland.

photo showing the curved keyboard of the Granfeldt square piano
Granfeldt square piano, 1827

The Boston-based company of Wilkins and Newhall unveiled a square grand piano with a concave keyboard in 1845. Daniel Newhall was granted an outline patent for this design.

The German (Kalkar) pianomaker W. Neuhaus Söhne (descendant from Wilhelm Neuhaus) produced an upright piano in 1882 with a curved keyboard. It is on display at the Musical Instrument Museum in Brussels.

The first full patent for a curved keyboard wasn’t taken out until 1910 by F. Cludsam (Clutsam) a German manufacturer. His keyboards were more concave than both the Granfeldt and the Maene-Viñoly.

The highly respected firm of Zeitter & Winklemann based in Brunswick, Germany produced a grand piano with a concave keyboard in the mid-19th century.

More recently, the Schimmel K208 Pegasus grand piano, unveiled in 2000, also featured a slightly curved keyboard.

If you are aware of other pianos with curved/concave keyboards please add their details in the comments box below.

The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand

The new Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand is undoubtedly the most advanced piano to feature a curved keyboard. The casework amplifies the curvature of the keyboard and the overall effect is mesmeric. A video of the instrument’s premiere performance with Kirill Gerstein at the keys will be available shortly on the Medici.tv channel.

The Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand piano is hand-made to order, and has a price tag of €333,000 (currently about $333,000) ex-tax, ex-works.

Maene-Viñoly Concert Grand Specifications
Compass: 88 keys, AAA-c5
Keyboard: Kluge, built to Chris Maene specifications
Keys: composite (white). ebony wood (black)
Bass strings: Bespoke brass wound
Action: Renner, built to Chris Maene specifications
Soundboard: Red spruce from the Alps (Chris Maene Workshop)
Rim: Continuous, with straight-grained hard maple and mahogany
Website: Chris Maene Pianos


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One thought on “Ergonomically Curved Keyboards

  1. Doug Cutler

    Rather than a single curve, a more logical ergonomic shape would be compound curve consisting of a straight segment in the middle to reflect two hands at rest sharing a single plane and then discreet curves at each extreme outside to reflect arcing of the individual arms.

    Reply

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