Sebastian Erard


Sebastien Erard 1752-1831

Sebastien Erard was born in Strasbourg on 5th April 1752 and his name was
originally spelled Erhard. He moved to
Paris in 1768, he worked for an
unknown harpsichord maker. Erard wanted to explore the fundamentals of
instrument making, it soon became apparent that Erard was a genius at
finding ways around mechanical problems, which came to the attention the
Abbe Roussier. His success as an instrument maker caused envy among his
rivals who accused him of working outside the corporation without a licence.
Louis XVI protected him and granted him a licence on his own authority. In
1777 Erard made his first square piano; it was probably a copy of an English
Zumpe piano. There was a portrait of Erard shown at the International
Inventions Exhibition of 1885. Once his reputation was established, Erard
persuaded his brother-in-law to join him in
Paris . Their first pianos were
squares with bichords throughout, a five-octave compass. Erard made a
combination of piano and organ with two keyboards for Marie Antoinette.

The revolution of 1789 destroyed his business in
Paris and in 1792 he opened
a factory in
Great Marlborough Street , London . Seemingly he left his brother
Jean-Baptist to carry on the French branch, According to the London Post
Office Directory, he opened an English branch as early as 1786, at
18 Great
Marlborough Street
. However, this may have been just for selling
instruments at first. In 1802 they moved to
189 Regent Street , then in 1804
moved to 158a
New Bond Street London .

According to popular belief, Sebastian returned to
Paris in 1796, leaving
his nephew Pierre to carry on the
London firm. However, there must be a
mistake, as
Pierre was not born until 1796. He died in 1855. Sebastian
appears to have come back to
London in 1801 as he took out a patent in
England Number 2502 on
16th May 1801 an improvement on the piano action.
However, the bulk of this patent submission is taken up mainly with the harp
this was some of the ground work on his double-action harp.

The harp seemed to be more important to him than the piano. If you look at
most of the patent registrations from Sebastian, the harp comes first and
the piano is just added on in the patent submission. There are exceptions to
this where he just took out patents for Musical Instruments only. On the
covers of the submissions it says pianoforte and harp and yet, when reading
any of these the harp is given preference over the piano. However this is
not surprising as Sebastian sold 25,000.00 worth of harps in the first year
of the release of the new double action Harp.

Finally in June 1810, after 8 years working on it, Sebastian Erard, patent
the double-action harp with seven pedals Number 3332 this is regarded by
most, as the date of invention of the concert harp. There was one pedal for
each note. Each pedal has three positions or two notches, which raise the
pitch of the note by a semitone for one note, or a tone for both notches, by
moving the top bridges to shorten the speaking length of the strings. This
harp had become more versatile than the piano, with the use of the pedals a
player could get 21 sounds to the octave, with the piano 12 was the limit.
It is said, that Erard did not undress for three months before his harp was
finished, snatching meals with pencil in hand and sleeping for an hour now
and again. The concert harp of today is basically his design, as is the
roller action for grand's. He had also an eighth pedal for opening the back
of the sound box working as a swell. At this time the harp was almost as
popular in the home as the piano and Erard made quantities of both. He was
also regarded as a master organ repairer. For more on the Harp see
International Sebastian Erard Society

Erards was the first maker in Paris to fit pedals and like other continental
pianos, this one had a number. There was the usual sustaining pedal, an
action shift, celest and a bassoon pedal, putting leather against the
strings to make them buzz. A knee lever moved the action further than the
action-shift pedal, making the hammers strike only one string.

Accord in to various sources he patented a piano, in the shape of a
secretaire, with two soundboards, one above the other. In that year he
invented a transposing piano with a wooden cylindrical soundboard, moved by
four rollers, so that the strings of the higher or lower notes were struck,
by the same hammers. This patent must have been in France

In France Sebastian Erard patented an improved version of his
double-escapement action whilst his nephew Pierre took out a patent for the
same action in London Number 4631 Date 22nd Dec 1821 this is also the first
patent that Pierre took out.
Pierre took out 9 patented in England they

Name: Number:  Date: Description
22nd Dec 1821    Pianoforte and other keyed instruments.
PIERRE 4670 24th April 1822    Harp.
PIERRE 5065 5th Jan. 1825 Pianofortes.
20th Feb. 1827    Construction of pianofortes.
PIERRE 6962 18th Dec. 1835 Harps.
31st Dec. 1835 Pianofortes and other keyed instruments.
PIERRE 8643  24th Sept. 1840    Pianoforte.
12th Sept 1850    Construction of pianofortes
15th Nov 1851    Pianofortes.

Whilst Sebastian took out only Six in
England :

17th Oct. 1794 Construction of harps and pianoforte.
16th May 1801    Construction of Harp and pianofortes.
ERARD SEBASTIAN 2595  29th March l802  Construction of the harp.
24th Sept. 1808    pianofortes and harps
2nd May 1810 pianofortes and harps.
4th Aug. 1814    Musical Instruments.

And in France

ERARD  975 1809  For the Agraffe
ERARD  1332 1812  Octave Couplers, Hammer Heads
ERARD  1334 1812  Springs for strings
ERARD 3512 1822  Action
ERARD 3345 1821  Duoclav a double piano
ERARD SEBASTIAN  5086 1826 Sordino
ERARD PIERRE  9572  1838  Pressure Barr
ERARD PIERRE 12340 1843  Action

In 1840 patent number 8643 plate number "9" he describes his patent for the
front bat pin with a Key Bushing, a simple thing, now standard on all pianos
today. Great for taking out wear on the key Bushing, its little thing like
this, that the Erards was so good at. Not only did they want to improve the
sound and flexibility of the action and piano, they tried to make the tuners
life easier.

Pierre made some adjustment to the piano, to make life easier. However, not
all were taken up for very long. In 1851 patent number 13,816 is some of
Pierre work this one is for a tuning device.

"Figures 3 and 4 show a plan and section of a new screw apparatus for tuning
the wires of a grand pianoforte. In Figure 4 the tuning end of the string a
is represented as passing through a groove or hole, and coming out at ((b)),
then turning round the stem of a screw (c) and also round the stem of the
screw (d) These two screws c and d, by the pressure of their beads, keep the
wire down. Tight upon the surface of the metal slides (g) in the guides or
sockets (h),(h)and passing under a bridge or rest(i). Behind each of the
slides (g) is a screw (j) abutting with a shoulder (k) against a metal
standard (i), forming part of the socket (h) The screws (j) may be turned
with a key fitting on their square heads, strewn in the end view, Figure 5.
These said screws (j), by screwing up 5 into the sliders (g), draw them
under the bridge i towards the standard 1, and tune up the string to the
proper pitch. By a contrary motion of the screws the wires can be slackened
at pleasure."

Drawings to follow later

This is all he had to say on the mater, personally I have not come across
one of these tuning devices yet. On the same paper he went on to describe
his new flange for grands It is like the Bilnge flange we all love to work
on, instead of brass it is made of wood.

"Figures 6 and 7 show a plan and a side view of a newly-invented hammer butt
for " Erard's Patent Action," with the improvement of a regulating screw 10
m to every separate hammer centre. This arrangement is of great importance,
inasmuch as it admits of every separate hammer centre being regulated with
the requisite degree of tightness, one screw only being required for each
butt. Another advantage in these improved hammer centres is, that they may
be left very free when finishing the instrument. This greatly facilitates in
producing a light touch. The screws (m) are also useful to tighten the
hammers should they become too free from the effects of a warm atmosphere,
or to loosen them should they become too tight from the effect of a moist
atmosphere. (n) is a slit in the butt in which the pin (o) is inserted at
the end, and is of sufficient size to give the slit (n) a tendency to open."

Drawings to follow

And finely the bulk of this patient was taken up by his improvement to the
bridge I have see a similar device on Broadwood pianos. On this submission
he is not moodiest about there pianos

NOW KNOW YE, that in compliance with the said proviso, I, the said Pierre
Erard, do hereby declare that the nature of my said Invention, and the
manner in which the same is to be performed, are fully described and
ascertained in and by the following statement thereof, reference being had
to the Drawing hereunto attached, and to the figures and letters marked
thereon, that is to say: -

The comparison made in regard to pianofortes of all nations at the Great
Exhibition has established more fully than ever the reputation and
superiority of my pianofortes over those of the old principle. My original
repetition action, my new proportions in stringing the instruments, and the
more solid construction of the frame have rendered the modern pianofortes so
perfect as to leave nothing to be wished for in mechanical action, tone, and
durability. There is, however, one point which, in my mind, may leave room
for improvement; that is, the pressure of the wires on the sounding board.
It has been hitherto a general practice in pianoforte making to lay the
strings or wires on the bridge of the sounding board with a pressure tending
to press away the sound board, and it follows, that in course of time, the
power of resistance which the sounding board is capable of opposing to that
pressure of the wires upon it becomes lessened, and its power to produce
free and pure vibrations reduced. These alterations from the original
construction obviously prove injurious to the vibrations of the sounding
board, and consequently tend to alter the quality of the tone of the
instrument. In order to remedy such defect, I adopt a different principle of
laying the wires on or against the sounding board, such principle consisting
in making some of the wires or strings to press with a tendency to force the
bridge in one direction, and an equal number of others to force the bridge
in an opposite direction. And I would here state, that I am aware that it
has before been proposed to have wires on either side of the bridge, with a
view to counteract or balance the pressure on either side of the bridge; but
such plan, in addition in some cases having a double quantity of strings or
wires, has other objections, and I consider the plan of construction
employed hitherto is inefficient. An explanation of such former mode is
strewn by the Diagram No. 1, the strings being in two planes (b) (a), (b)
(c). The Diagram No. 2 shows the principle of my improved plan, in which all
the strings between the points of vibration(b) and a being in one lane, the
mechanical arrangements for adjusting the pressure of the wires towards and
away from the sounding board according to my invention may be varied.

Figure 1 shows a plan view of strings a belonging to four notes in the sixth
octave of a grand pianoforte. (d) are metal studs (originally patented by
me) through which the strings pass to be fixed on the wrest plank. Instead
of applying pins so arranged or fixed into the bridge on the sounding board
as to cause the strings to be bent sideways, as shown in Figures 3 and 4, I
so apply studs (f0 e, c, or suitable instruments, that the wires shall be
bent in a direction to and from the bridge, so that in drawing them tight to
tune them they shall exert their force partly to draw the bridge, and
consequently the sound board, towards the strings, and partly to force the
bridge, and consequently the sound hoard, away from the strings, and so as
to keep the Vibrating parts of the strings (c), (d), in one plane. The
middle stud e on the bridge stands higher or lower than the front one (c)
and back one (f) and serves to give to the string passing through the
perforated holes in these studs a bent or an angular direction, either
towards or away from the bridge, as maybe required to adjust or equalise the
pressure of the strings on the bridge of the sounding board. The stud (f) is
kept on a level with the one c, so as to give to the string the due tension
on the bridge, and insure a pure intonation when the string is put in
vibration. These respective positions of the studs and of the 20 wires on
the bridge will be more readily understood by reference to Figure 2,
representing two sections taken through Figure 1 at the dotted lines 1, 1,
and 2, 2, respectively. In order to adjust or equalise the pressure of the
wires on or against the bridge of the sounding board, the bends or angles of
the three wires of one note are caused to be towards the bridge, see section
taken at 2,2, whilst in the next note the bands or angles of the wires are
caused to be away from the bridge. See section taken at 1, 1. The studs may
be fixed into the same board by screws or otherwise, and they may be formed
as strewn, or in any convenient manner, so long as the construction is such
that each string or wire may be bent in a direction towards or from the
bridge and sound board, and so as to admit of the vibrating parts of the
strings to be in the same plane. And I would remark, that although the
Drawing shows the Invention applied only to part of a grand pianoforte, a
workman, from the above description, will readily apply the improvements to
other construction of pianofortes".

Franz Liszt is said to have played a six-octave Erard piano in
Paris in
1824. Erard put him under contract from about this time until 1825, so when
he toured
England they sponsored him and he played their pianos. (A common
practice then and still goes on to day) Their grands in 1824 cost 3000
francs, but then went down 10 years later to 2500 francs. They went up in
1843 from 3000 until they were 3500 francs in 1852 by which time the
seven-octave piano was quite common.

In June of 1825 Pierre Erard showed the new action to the pianist Moscheles.
Also in that year Pierre obtained in England on the 5th Jan a patent number
5065 for fixing iron bars to the wooden braces by means of bolts, passing
through holes, in the soundboard, which is still the method used for fixing
the iron frame. Controversy was to arise between Erards and Broadwoods as to
whom was the first with the idea. Also in this submission were improvements
to the wrest plank (Tuning Pin Block) and action. Rarely did piano makers
submit just one painet on a submission, this was probably due to the cost.
In 1875 it was 0.1s. 6d Erard, unlike Brinsmead produced full sized scale
drawings with his patent.

Stodart on the
10 May 1851 , sent a letter to The Times promoting their
patent of 1820 for metal 'compensation' frames composed of plates and
tubular braces. This was to increase stability during changes of humidity.
The tension of the brass strings was borne by brass tubes and that of the
iron strings by iron tubes. Stodart fitted his bars to most of his piano,
and Pierre Erard obtained a related French patent in 1822, but made few
instruments with this device. Stodart's successful use of it was due mostly
to the greater strength of his tubular bars. Stodart abandoned this by 1860.

Because of the revolution the organ at the Tuilleries in
France was
destroyed, and in 1830 Sebastian Erard was appointed to restore it, but he
was unable to complete the restoration, as he died in August 1831. 1835 saw
Pierre Erard petitioning the Privy Council, claiming that in
"certain unfounded notions were circulated to their disadvantage". During
the court of inquiry vowed that Erard's pianos "had a great deal more
strength and power than any other instrument and great effect in
accompanying the voice."

Three years later
Pierre used a metal bridge with holes through which the
upper strings passed. In 1839 trouble was caused when Erards discovered
Broadwoods making pianos with studs, which was Erards invention of 1808. At
the exhibition of 1851 the Gold Medal went to Erard. Four years later Erard,
with 425 men, turned out 1500 pianos. Their
London branch stopped trading in
Great Portland Street in 1890, but a hall bearing the firm's name survived
until modern times. From 1903 to 1953 the firm traded as Blondelet Cie. In
1960 Erard merged with Gaveau . The two great French firms of Erard and
Pleyel amalgamated in 1961. Yet, just years earlier, Erard and Pleyel were
trying to out do each other with a duel of the Harps much to the delight of
the concert going public of the day. Pleyel commissioned Debussy and Erard
commissioned Ravel. Sadly, it seems, they were wound up in 1971. In late
1971 the name Erard was taken over by the West German maker Schimmel.

Dating Erards pianos

In most piano books the serial number shown are for the French pianos below
are some number for pianos made in England. curtasy of Bill Kibby Piano Gen

1850      1,100
1855      3,200
1860      7,000
1865      8,900
1870    12,200
1875    14,900
1880    16,300

Other Sites about Erard you may find interesting
International Sebastian Erard Society
Provides information about all aspects of the harp and some info on the
Erard piano

Christian Haarnack,
was chief Harp mechanic at the Erard factory and showroom in Great
Marlborough Street in 1808.

Barrie Heaton copyright 1998-2002


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