The A-Z of the piano

We celebrate the world's most popular instrument with a look at 26 of its greatest features

S is for Squares, fortes & uprights: the development of the modern piano

Gottfried Silbermann (1683-1753) was the man who built Hebenstreit’s giant dulcimer (see ‘H’). In 1725, having given up on this as a way forward and having heard of Cristofori’s invention (see ‘H’), he set about developing it. During the Seven Years War (1756-63), many German craftsmen moved to England, among them a pupil of Silbermann, Johann Zumpe (1726-90). He worked for the famed Swiss harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi (1702-73) in London, before inventing and then manufacturing the so-called square piano (oblong, in reality).


Zumpe’s was the first pianoforte to be built that was not the same shape as a harpsichord, nor to have its strings running in line with the notes of the keyboard. ‘Squares’ had strings running at right-angles to the keyboard, like clavichords and virginals. Improved by Shudi’s son-in-law, John Broadwood (1732-1812), the square piano held sway until after the middle of the 19th century when it was superseded by the upright piano developed in America by the Derbyshire-born John Isaac Hawkins (1772-1855) and Robert Wornum Jnr (1780-1852) in London. On an upright, the strings run perpendicularly.