Robert Adelson’s new book “Erard — A Passion for the Piano” is a concise, fascinating exploration of the history of the Erard company.
Adelson has had a lifetime interest in this famous French piano maker. And with comprehensive access to both the extensive company and family archives, he has produced an academic, yet highly readable account of one of the truly great piano houses.
The book is partly based on Adelson’s earlier edition The History of the Erard Piano and Harp in Letters and Documents, 1785-1959, which was published by Cambridge University Press in two volumes. However original documents from this work do not appear in the new book
Robert Adelson is Professor of Organology and Music History at the Conservatoire de Nice-Université Côte d’Azur. Between 2005 and 2016 he was curator of the collection of historical musical instruments at the Musée du Palais Lascaris in Nice. A musicologist, his numerous publications explore the history of the piano, the clarinet, the harp, opera and the sociology of music.
Erard — a place in history
The Erard story is an extremely interesting one. It largely takes place during the most active evolutionary period of the piano. It incorporates major political events such as the French Revolution and also features many of Europe’s greatest composers.
The book kicks off with a young Sébastien Erard working as a passionate apprentice for instrument makers the Silbermann brothers in Austria. He subsequently sets up his own piano workshops in Paris and London and establishes “Erard Frères” with his brother Jean-Baptiste.
Sébastien Erard, with the possible exception of Cristofori, could be considered the most accomplished inventor/innovator in the history of the grand piano. His double-escapement action was revolutionary, and is, in principle, the basis of all modern actions.
Erard often gave his pianos to great pianists/composers as a means of promoting them. He was also great friends with the likes of Liszt and Mendelssohn, and the book details these, and other, relationships.
The Erard company officially ceased to be in 1959 when it merged first with the Gaveau Company and then with Pleyel. However, this Erard story ends effectively in 1900. The subsequent slow decline of the company over the ensuing 60 years is given just a couple of paragraphs.
The book has just 19 illustrations, mostly portraits of various family members, grand pianos and reproductions of documents. These are monochrome and printed inline, i.e. within the run of the book and not on photographic paper. And as such, they (especially the images of the pianos, and the documents) are not very clear.
The cover shows the beautiful 1856 grand piano from the Royal Collection which was originally made for Queen Victoria. More information about this instrument can be found here.
Robert Adelson’s book is an enjoyable effortless read, probably because it tends to be more “social” than “technical”. Other than the family tree, there are no diagrams in the book, so those looking for detailed examinations of the intricacies of Erard’s inventions won’t be rewarded. But thanks to the author’s access to the family archives here we have a more intimate look-back at this great institution.
See also Frits Janmaart’s excellent, and epic volume Sébastien Erard: the greatest harp and piano builder of all time.
Title: Erard — A Passion for the Piano
Author: Robert Adelson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Print Length: 264 pages
Dimensions: 22.1 x 3.81 x14.99cm
Price: £47.99 / $74.00
(this publication is also available as a Kindle Edition)
List of Illustrations
Erard Family Tree
1. Making a harpsichord sound like a piano
2. Founding a workshop
3. Square pianos and piano-organs
4. A modern business
5. Harps, the Revolution, and London
6. The French grand piano
7. Gifts for Haydn, Beethoven, and many others
8. Financial struggles
9. Faster and louder: The double-escapement action.
10. Liszt and the introduction of the new piano
11. Piano wars
12. Family strains and secrets
13. Mendelssohn and the Erards
14. Passing the flame
15. Camille Erard and the end of the Erard Empire
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