The Piano in the United States

TWENTY-FIVE thousand pianos were made in the United States last year !

This is the estimate of the persons who know most of this branch of manufacture, but it is only an approximation to the truth ; for, besides the sixty makers in New York, the thirty in Boston, the twenty in Philadelphia, the fifteen in Baltimore, the ten in Albany, and the less number in Cincinnati, Buffalo, Chicago, St. Louis, and San Francisco, there are small makers in many country towns, and even in villages, who buy the parts of a piano in the nearest city, put them together, and sell the instrument in the neighborhood. The returns of the houses which supply the ivory keys of the piano to all the makers in the country are confirmatory of this estimate ; which, we may add, is that of Messrs. Steinway of New York, who have made it a point to collect both the literature and the statistics of the instrument, of which they are among the largest manufacturers in the world.

The makers’ prices of pianos now range from two hundred and ninety dollars to one thousand; and the prices to the public, from four hundred and fifty dollars to fifteen hundred. We may conclude, therefore, that the people of the United States during the year 1866 expended fifteen millions of dollars in the purchase of new pianos. It is not true that we export many pianos to foreign countries, as the public are led to suppose from the advertisements of imaginative manufacturers. American citizens — all but the few consummately able kings of business — allow a free play to their imagination in advertising the products of their skill. Canada buys a small number of our pianos ; Cuba, a few ; Mexico, a few ; South America, a few ; and now and then one is sent to Europe, or taken thither by a Thalberg or a Gottschalk ; but an inflated currency and a war tariff make it impossible for Americans to compete with European makers in anything but excellence. In price, they cannot compete. Every disinterested and competent judge with whom we have conversed on this subject gives it as his deliberate opinion that the best American piano is the best of all pianos, and the one longest capable of resisting the effects of a trying climate; yet we cannot sell them, at present, in any considerable numbers, in any market but our own. Protectionists are requested to note this fact, which is not an isolated fact. America possesses such an astonishing genius for inventing and combining labor-saving machinery, that we could now supply the world with many of its choicest products, in the teeth of native competition, but for the tariff, the taxes, and the inflation, which double the cost of producing. The time may come, however, when we shall sell pianos at Paris, and watches in London, as we already do sewing-machines everywhere.

Twenty-five thousand pianos a year, at a cost of fifteen millions of dollars ! Presented in this manner, the figures produce an effect upon the mind, and we wonder that an imperfectly reconstructed country could absorb in a single year, and that year an unprosperous one, so large a number of costly musical instruments. But, upon performing a sum in long division, we discover that these startling figures merely mean, that every working-day in this country one hundred and twelve persons buy a new piano. When we consider, that every hotel, steamboat, and public school above a certain very moderate grade, must have from one to four pianos, and that young ladies' seminaries jingle with them from basement to garret, (one school in New York has thirty Chickerings,) and that almost every couple that sets up housekeeping on a respectable scale considers a piano only less indispensable than a kitchen range, we are rather inclined to wonder at the smallness than at the largeness of the number.

The trade in new pianos, however, is nothing to the countless transactions in old. Here figures are impossible ; but probably ten second-hand pianos are sold to one new one. The business of letting pianos is also one of great extent. It is computed by the wellinformed, that the number of these instruments now “out,” in the city of New York, is three thousand. There is one firm in Boston that usually has a thousand let. As the rent of a piano ranges from six dollars to twelve dollars a month, — cartage both ways paid by the hirer, — it may be inferred that this business, when conducted on a large scale, and with the requisite vigilance, is not unprofitable. In fact, the income of a piano-letting business has approached eighty thousand dollars per annum, of which one third was profit. It has, however, its risks and drawbacks. From June to September, the owner of the instruments must find storage for the greater part of his stock, and must do without most of his monthly returns. Many of those who hire pianos, too, are persons “hanging on the verge ” of society, who have little respect for the property of others, and vanish to parts unknown, leaving a damaged piano behind them.

England alone surpasses the United States in the number of pianos annually manufactured. In 1852, the one hundred and eighty English makers produced twenty-three thousand pianos, — fifteen hundred grands, fifteen hundred squares, and twenty thousand uprights. As England has enjoyed fifteen years of prosperity since, it is probable that the annual number now exceeds that of the United States. The English people, however, pay much less money for the thirty thousand pianos which they probably buy every year, than we do for our twenty-five thousand. In London, the retail price of the best Broadwood grand, in plain mahogany case, is one hundred and thirtyfive guineas; which is a little more than half the price of the corresponding American instrument. The best London square piano, in plain case, is sixty guineas, — almost exactly half the American price. Two thirds of all the pianos made in England are low-priced uprights, — averaging thirty-five guineas, which would not stand in our climate for a year. England, therefore, supplies herself and the British empire with pianos at an annual expenditure of about eight millions of our present dollars. American makers, we may add, have recently taken a hint from their English brethren with regard to the upright instrument. Space is getting to be the dearest of all luxuries in our cities, and it has become highly desirable to have pianos that occupy less of it than the square instrument which we usually see. Successful attempts have been recently made to apply the new methods of construction to the upright piano, with a view to make it as durable as those of the usual forms. Such a brisk demand has sprung up for the improved uprights, that the leading makers are producing them in considerable numbers, and the Messrs. Steinway are erecting a new building for the sole purpose of manufacturing them. The American uprights, however, cannot be cheap. Such is the nature of the American climate, that a piano, to be tolerable, must be excellent; and while parts of the upright cost more than the corresponding parts of the square, no part of it costs less. Six hundred dollars is the price of the upright in plain rosewood case, — fifty dollars more than a plain rosewood square.

Paris pianos are renowned, the world over, and consequently three tenths of all the pianos made in Paris are exported to foreign countries. France, too, owing to the cheapness of labor, can make a better cheap piano than any other country. In 1852, there were ten thousand pianos made in Paris, at an average cost of one thousand francs each ; and, we are informed, a very good new upright piano can now be bought in France for one hundred dollars. But in France the average wages of piano-makers are five francs per day ; in London, ten shillings; in New York, four dollars and thirty-three cents. The cream of the business, in Paris, is divided among three makers, — Erard, Hertz, and Pleyel, — each of whom has a concert-hall of his own, to give éclat to his establishment. We presume Messrs. Steinway added "Steinway Hall" to the attractions of New York from the example of their Paris friends, and soon the metropolis will boast a “ Chickering Hall ” as well. This is an exceedingly expensive form of advertisement. Steinway Hall cost two hundred thousand dollars, and has not yet paid the cost of warming, cleaning, and lighting it. This, however, is partly owing to the good-nature of the proprietors, who find it hard to exact the rent from a poor artist after a losing concert, and who have a constitutional difficulty about saying No, when the use of the hall is asked for a charitable object.

In Germany there are no manufactories of pianos on the scale of England, France, and the United States. A business of five pianos a week excites astonishment in a German state, and it is not uncommon there for one man to construct every part of a piano, —_a work of three or four months. Mr. Steinway the elder has frequently done this in his native place, and could now do it. A great number of excellent instruments are made in Germany in the slow, patient, thorough manner of the Germans ; but in the fashionable houses of Berlin and Vienna no German name is so much valued as those of the celebrated makers of Paris. In the London exhibition of 1851, Russian pianos competed for the medals, some of which attracted much attention from the excellence of their construction. Messrs. Chickering assert, that the Russians were the first to employ successfully the device of “overstringing,” as it is called, by which the bass strings are stretched over the others.

The piano, then, one hundred and fifty-seven years after its invention, in spite of its great cost, has become the leading musical instrument of Christendom. England produces thirty thousand every year; the United States, twenty-five thousand; France, fifteen thousand ; Germany, perhaps ten thousand ; and all other countries, ten thousand ; making a total of ninety thousand, or four hundred and twentytwo for every working-day. It is computed, that an average piano is the result of one hundred and twenty days’ work ; and, consequently, there must be at least fifty thousand men employed in the business. And it is only within a few years that the making of these noble instruments has been done on anything like the present scale. Messrs. Broadwood, of London, who have made in all one hundred and twenty-nine thousand pianos, only begin to count at the year 1780 ; and in the United States there were scarcely fifty pianos a year made fifty years ago.

We need scarcely say that the production of music for the piano has kept pace with the advance of the instrument. Dr. Burney mentions, in his History of Music (Vol. IV. p. 664), that when he came to London in 1744, “ Handel’s Harpsichord Lessons and Organ Concertos, and the two First Books of Scarletti’s Lessons, were all the good music for keyed instruments at that time in the nation.” We have at this moment before us the catalogue of music sold by one house in Boston, Oliver Ditson & Co. It is a closely printed volume of three hundred and sixty pages, and contains the titles of about thirty-three thousand pieces of music, designed to be performed, wholly or partly, on the piano. By far the greater number are piano music pure and simple. It is not a very rare occurrence for a new piece to have a sale of one hundred thousand copies in the United States. A composer who can produce the kind of music that pleases the greatest number, may derive a revenue from his art ten times greater than Mozart or Beethoven enjoyed in their most prosperous time. There are trifling waltzes and songs upon the list of Messrs. Ditson, which have yielded more profit than Mozart received for “ Don Giovanni” and "The Magic Flute ” together. We learn from the catalogue just mentioned, that the composers of music have an advantage over the authors of books, in being always able to secure a publisher for their productions. Messrs. Ditson announce that they are ready and willing to publish any piece of music by any composer on the following easy conditions: “Three dollars per page for engraving; two dollars and a half per hundred sheets of paper ; and one dollar and a quarter per hundred pages for printing.” At the same time they frankly notify ambitious teachers, that “ not one piece in ten pays the cost of getting up, and not one in fifty proves a success.”

The piano, though its recent development has been so rapid, is the growth of ages, and we can, for three thousand years or more, dimly and imperfectly trace its growth. The instrument, indeed, has found an historian, — Dr. Rimbault of London, — who has gathered the scattered notices of its progress into a handsome quarto, now accessible in some of our public libraries. It is far from our desire to make a display of cheap erudition ; yet perhaps ladies who love their piano may care to spend a minute or two in learning how it came to be the splendid triumph of human ingenuity, the precious addition to the happiness of existence, which they now find it to be.

“ I have had my share of trouble,” we heard a lady say the other day, “but my piano has kept me happy.” All ladies who have had the virtue to subdue this noble instrument to their will, can say something similar of the solace and joy they daily derive from it. The Greek legend that the twang of Diana’s bow suggested to Apollo the invention of the lyre, was not a mere fancy; for the first stringed instrument of which we have any trace in ancient sculpture differed from an ordinary bow only in having more than one string. A twostringed bow was, perhaps, the first step towards the grand piano of today. Additional strings involved the strengthening of the how that held them; and, accordingly, we find the Egyptian harps, discovered in the catacombs by Wilkinson, very thick and massive in the lower part of the frame, which terminated sometimes in a large and solid female head. From the two-stringed bow to these huge twelve-stringed Egyptian harps, six feet high and beautifully finished with veneer, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl, no one can say how many centuries elapsed. The catgut strings of the harps of three thousand years ago are still capable of giving a musical sound. The best workmen of the present time, we are assured, could not finish a harp more exquisitely than these are finished ; yet they have no mechanism for tightening or loosening the strings, and no strings except such as were furnished by the harmless, necessary cat. The Egyptian harp, with all its splendor of decoration, was a rude and barbaric instrument.

It has not been shown that Greece or Rome added one essential improvement to the stringed instruments which they derived from older nations. The Chickerings, Steinways, Erards, and Broadwoods of our day cannot lay a finger upon any part of a piano, and say that they owe it to the Greeks or to the Romans.

The Cithara of the Middle Ages was a poor thing enough, in the form of a large P, with ten strings in the oval part; but it had movable pegs, and could be easily tuned. It was, therefore, a step toward the piano of the French Exposition of 1867.

But the Psaltery was a great stride forward. This instrument was an arrangement of strings on a box. Here we have the principle of the soundingboard, — a thing of vital moment to the piano, and one upon which the utmost care is bestowed by all the great makers. Whoever first thought of stretching strings on a box may also be said to have half invented the guitar and the violin. No single subsequent thought has been so fruitful of consequences as this in the improvement of stringed instruments. The reader, of course, will not confound the psaltery of the Middle Ages with the psaltery of the Hebrews, respecting which nothing is known. The translators of the Old Testament assigned the names with which they were familiar to the musical instruments of the Jews.

About the year 1200 we arrive at the Dulcimer, which was an immense psaltery, with improvements. Upon a harpshaped box, eighteen to thirty-six feet long, fifty strings were stretched, which the player struck with a stick or a longhandled hammer. This instrument was a signal advance toward the grand piano. It was a piano, without its machinery.

The next thing, obviously, must have been to contrive a method of striking the strings with certainty and evenness ; and, accordingly, we find indications of a keyed instrument after the year 1300, called the Clavicytherium, or keyed cithara. The invention of keys permitted the strings to be covered over, and therefore the strings of the clavicytherium were enclosed in a box, instead of being stretched on a box. The first keys were merely long levers with a nub at the end of them, mounted on a pivot, which the player canted up at the strings on the see-saw principle. It has required four hundred years to bring the mechanism of the piano key to its present admirable perfection. The clavicytherium was usually a very small instrument, — an oblong box, three or four feet in length, that could be lifted by a girl of fourteen. The clavichord and manichord, which we read of in Mozart’s letters, were only improved and better-made clavicytheria. How affecting the thought, that the divine Mozart had nothing better on which to try the ravishing airs of “The Magic Flute” than a wretched box of brass wires, twanged with pieces of quill ! So it is always, and in all branches of art. Shakespeare’s plays, Titian’s pictures, the great cathedrals, Newton’s discoveries, Mozart’s and Handel’s music, were executed while the implements of art and science were still very rude.

Queen Elizabeth’s instrument, the Virginals, was a box of strings, with improved keys, and mounted on four legs. In other words, it was a small and very bad piano. The excellent Pepys, in his account of the great fire of London of 1666, says : “River full of lighters and boats taking in goods, and good goods swimming in the water ; and only I observed that hardly one lighter or boat in three that had the goods of a house in it, but there were a pair of virginalls in it.” Why “ a pair ” ? For the same reason that induces many persons to say “ a pair of stairs,” and “ a pair of compasses,” that is, no reason at all.

It is plain that the virginals, or virgin’s clavichord, was very far from holding the rank among musical instruments which the piano now possesses. If any of our readers should ever come upon a thin folio entitled “ Musick’s Monument,” (London, 1676,) we advise him to clutch it, retire from the haunts of men, and abandon himself to the delight of reading the Izaak Walton of music. It is a most quaint and curious treatise upon “ the Noble Lute, the best of instruments,” with a chapter upon “ the generous Viol,” by Thomas Mace, “one of the clerks of Trinity College in the University of Cambridge.” Master Mace deigns not to mention keyed instruments, probably regarding keys as old sailors regard the lubber’s hole,— fit only for greenhorns. The “ Noble Lute,” of which Thomas Mace discourses, was a large, heavy, potbellied guitar with many strings. We learn from this enthusiastic author, that the noble lute had been calumniated by some ignorant persons; and it is in refuting their calumnious imputations that he pours out a torrent of knowledge upon his beloved instrument, and upon the state of music in England in 1675. In reply to the charge, that the noble lute was a very hard instrument to play upon, he gives posterity a piece of history. That the lute was hard once, he confesses, but asserts that “it is now easie, and very familiar.”

“ The First and Chief Reason that it was Hard in former Times, was, Because they had to their Lutes but Few Strings ; viz. to some 10, some 12, and some 14 Strings, which in the beginning of my Time were almost altogether in use ; (and is this present Year 1675. Fifty four years since I first began to undertake That Instrument). But soon after, they began to adde more Strings unto Their Lutes, so that we had Lutes of 16, 18, and 20 Strings ; which they finding to be so Great a Convenience, stayed not long till they added more, to the Number of 24, where we now rest satisfied ; only upon my Theorboes I put 26 Strings, for some Good Reasons I shall be able to give in due Time and Place.”

Another aspersion upon the noble lute was, that it was “a Woman’s Instrument.” Master Mace gallantly observes, that if this were true, he cannot understand why it should suffer any disparagement on that account, “but rather that it should have the more Reputation and Honour.”

There are passages in this ancient book which take us back so agreeably to the concert-rooms and parlors of two hundred years ago, and give us such an insight into the musical resources of our forefathers, that we shall venture to copy two or three of them. The following brief discourse upon Pegs is very amusing: —

“ And you must know, that from the Badness of the Pegs, arise several Inconveniences ; The first I have named, viz. the Loss of Labour. The 2d. is, the Loss of Time ; for I have known some so extreme long in Tuning their Lutes and Viols, by reason only of Bad Pegs, that They have wearied out their Auditors before they began to Play. A 3d. Inconvenience is, that oftentimes, if a High-stretch’d small String happen to slip down, t is in great danger to break at the next winding up, especially in wet moist weather, and that It have been long slack. The 4th. is, that when a String hath been slipt back, it will not stands in Tune, under many Amendments ; for it is continually in stretching itself, till it come to Its highest stretch. A 5th. is, that in the midst of a Consort, All the Company must leave off, because of some Eminent String slipping. A 6th. is, that sometimes ye shall have such a Rap upon the Knuckles, by a sharpedg’d Peg, and a stiff strong String, that the very Skin will be taken off. And 7thly. It is oftentimes an occasion of the Thrusting off the Treble-PegNut, and sometime of the Upper Long Head ; And I have seen the Neck of an Old Viol, thrust off into two pieces, by reason of the Badness of the Pegs, meerly with the Anger and hasty Choller of Him that has been Tuning. Now I say that These are very Great Inconveniences, and do adde much to the Trouble and Hardness of the Instrument. I shall therefore inform you how ye may Help All These with Ease ; viz. Thus. When you perceive any Peg to be troubled with the slippery Disease, assure your self he will never grow better of Himself, without some of Your Care; Therefore take Him out, and examine the Cause.”

He gives advice with regard to the preservation of the Lute in the moist English climate: —

“ And that you may know how to shelter your Lute, in the worst of III weathers (which is moist) you shall do well, ever when you Lay it by in the day-time, to put It into a Bed, that is constantly used, between the Rug and Blanket ; but never between the Sheets, because they may be moist with Sweat, &c.

“ This is the most absolute and best place to keep It in always, by which doing, you will find many Great Conveniencies, which I shall here set down.....

“ Therefore, a Bed will secure from all These Inconveniences, and keep your Glew so Hard as Glass, and All safe and sure; only to be excepted, That no Person be so inconsiderate, as to Tumble down upon the Bed, whilst the Lute is There; For I have known several Good Lutes spoil’d with such a Trick.”

We may infer from Master Mace his work, that the trivial virginals were gaining in popular estimation upon the nobler instrument which is the theme of his eulogy. He has no patience with those who object to his beloved lute that it is out of fashion. He remarks upon this subject in a truly delicious strain : —

“ I cannot understand, how Arts and Sciences should be subject unto any such Phantastical, Giddy, or Inconsiderate Toyish Conceits, as ever to be said to be in Fashion, or out of Fashion. I remember there was a Fashion, not many years since, for Women in their Apparel to be so Pent up by the Straitness, and Stiffness of their GownShoulder-Sleeves, that They could not so much as Scratch Their Heads, for the Necessary Remove of a Biting Louse ; nor Elevate their Arms scarcely to feed themselves Handsomly; nor Carve a Dish of Meat at a Table, but their whole Body must needs Bend towards the Dish. This must needs be concluded by Reason, a most Vnreasonable, and Inconvenient Fashion; and They as Vnreasonably Inconsiderate, who would be so Abus’d, and Bound up. I Confess It was a very Good Fashion, for some such Viragoes, who were us’d to Scratch their Husbands Faces or Eyes, and to pull them down by the Coxcombes. And I am subject to think, It was a meer Rogery in the Combination, or Club-council of the Taylors, to Abuse the Women in That Fashion, in Revenge of some of the Curst Dames their Wives.”

Some lute-makers, this author informs us, were so famous in Europe, that he had seen lutes of their making, “ pittifull, old, batter’d, crack’d things,” that were valued at a hundred pounds sterling each ; and he had often seen lutes of three or four pounds’ value “ far more illustrious and taking to a Common eye.” In refuting the “aspersion that one had as good keep a horse (for cost) as a Lute,” he declares, that he never in his life “ took more than five shillings the quarter to maintain a Lute with strings, only for the first stringing I ever took ten shillings.” He says, however: “I do confess Those who will be Prodigal and Extraordinary Curious, may spend as much as may maintain two or three Horses, and Men to ride upon them too, if they please. But 20s. per ann. is an Ordinary Charge ; and much more they need not spend, to practise very hard.”

Keyed instruments, despite the remonstrances of the lutists, continued to advance toward their present supremacy. As often as an important improvement was introduced, the instrument changed its name, just as in our day the melodeon was improved into the harmonium, then into the organ-harmonium, and finally into the cabinet organ. The virginals of 1600 became the spinet of 1700, — so called because the pieces of quill employed in twanging the strings resembled thorns, and spina, in Latin, means thorn. Any lady who will take the trouble to mount to the fourth story of the Messrs. Chickering’s piano store in the city of New York, may see such a spinet as Mrs. Washington, Mrs. Adams, and Mrs. Hamilton played upon when they were little girls. It is a small, harp-shaped instrument on legs, exceedingly coarse and clumsy in its construction, — the case rough and unpolished, the legs like those of a kitchen table, with wooden castors such as were formerly used in the construction of cheap bedsteads of the “ trundle ” variety. The keys, however, are much like those now in use, though they are fewer in number, and the ivory is yellow with age. If the reader would know the tone of this ancient instrument, he has but to stretch a brass wire across a box between two nails, and twang them with a short pointed piece of quill. And if the reader would know how much better the year 1867 is than the year 1700, he may first hear this spinet played upon in Messrs. Chickering’s dusty garret, and then descend to one of the floors below, and listen to the round, full, brilliant singing of a Chickening grand, of the present illustrious year. By as much as that grand piano is better than that poor little spinet, by so much is the present time better than the days when Louis XIV. was king. If any intelligent person doubts it, it is either because he does not know that age, or because he does not know this age.

The spinet expanded into the harpsichord, the leading instrument from 1700 to 1800. A harpsichord was nothing but a very large and powerful spinet. Some of them had two strings for each note ; some had three ; some had three kinds of strings, — catgut, brass, and steel ; and some were painted and decorated in the most gorgeous style. Frederick the Great had one made for him in London, with silver hinges, silver pedals, inlaid case, and tortoise-shell front, at a cost of two hundred guineas. Every part of the construction of the spinet was improved, and many new minor devices were added; but the harpsichord, in its best estate, was nothing but a spinet, because its strings were always twanged by a piece of quill. How astonished would an audience be to hear a harpsichord of 1750, and to be informed that such an instrument Handel felt himself fortunate to possess !

Next, the piano, — invented at Florence in 1710, by Bartolommeo Cristofali.

The essential difference between a harpsichord and a piano is described by the first name given to the piano, which was hammer-harpsichord, i. e. a harpsichord the strings of which were struck by hammers, not twanged by quills. The next name given to it was forte-piano, which signified soft, with power; and this name became piano-forte, which it still retains. One hundred years were required to prove to the musical public the value of an invention without which no further development of stringed instruments had been possible. No improvement in the mere mechanism of the harpsichord could ever have overcome the trivial effect of the twanging of the strings by pieces of quill; but the moment the hammer principle was introduced, nothing was wanting but improved mechanism to make it universal. It required, however, a century to produce the improvements sufficient to give the piano equal standing with the harpsichord. The first pianos gave forth a dull and feeble sound to ears accustomed to the clear and harp-like notes of the fashionable instrument.

In that same upper room of the Messrs. Chickering, near the spinet just mentioned, there is an instrument, made perhaps about the year 1800, which explains why the piano was so slow in making its way. It resembles in form and size a grand piano of the present time, though of coarsest finish and most primitive construction, with thin, square, kitchen-table legs, and wooden knobs for castors. This interesting instrument has two rows of keys, and is both a harpsichord and a piano, — one set of keys twanging the wires, and the other set striking them. The effect of the piano notes is so faint and dull, that we cannot wonder at the general preference for the harpsichord for so many years. It appears to have been a common thing in the last century to combine two or more instruments in one. Dr. Charles Burney, writing in 1770, mentions “ a very curious keyed instrument ” made under the direction of Frederick II. of Prussia. “ It is in shape like a large clavichord, has several changes of stops, and is occasionally a harp, a harpsichord, a lute, or piano-forte ; but the most curious property of this instrument is, that, by drawing out the keys, the hammers are transferred to different strings. By which means a composition may be transposed half a note, a whole note, or a flat third lower at pleasure, without the embarrassment of different notes or clefs, real or imaginary.”

The same sprightly author tells us of “a fine Rucker harpsichord, which he has had painted inside and out with as much delicacy as the finest coach, or even snuff-box, I ever saw at Paris. On the outside is the birth of Venus; and on the inside of the cover, the story of Rameau’s most famous opera, Castor and Pollux. Earth, Hell, and Elysium are there represented; in Elysium, sitting on a bank, with a lyre in his hand, is that celebrated composer himself.”

This gay instrument was at Paris. In Italy, the native home of music, the keyed instruments, in 1770, Dr. Burney says, were exceedingly inferior to those of the North of Europe. “ Throughout Italy, they have generally little octave spinets to accompany singing in private houses, sometimes in a triangular form, but more frequently in the shape of an old virginal; of which the keys are so noisy and the tone is so feeble, that more wood is heard than wire. I found three English harpsichords in the three principal cities of Italy, which are regarded by the Italians as so many phenomena.”

To this day Italy depends upon foreign countries for her best musical instruments. Italy can as little make a grand piano as America can compose a grand opera.

The history of the piano from 1710 to 1867 is nothing but a history of the improved mechanism of the instrument. The moment the idea was conceived of striking the strings with hammers, unlimited improvement was possible ; and though the piano of to-day is covered all over with ingenious devices, the great, essential improvements are few in number. The hammer, for example, may contain one hundred ingenuities, but they are all included in the device of covering the first wooden hammers with cloth ; and the master-thought of making the whole frame of the piano of iron suggested the line of improvement which secures the supremacy of the piano over all other stringed instruments forever.

Sebastian Erard, the son of a Strasbourg upholsterer, went to Paris, a poor orphan of sixteen, in the year 1768, and, finding employment in the establishment of a harpsichord-maker, rose rapidly to the foremanship of the shop, and was soon in business for himself as a maker of harpsichords, harps, and pianos. To him, perhaps, more than to any other individual, the fine interior mechanism of the piano is indebted ; and the house founded by Sebastian Erard still produces the pianos which enjoy the most extensive reputation in the Old World. He may be said to have created the “action” of the piano, though his devices have been subsequently improved upon by others. He found the piano in 1768 feeble and unknown ; he left it, at his death in 1831, the most powerful, pleasing, and popular stringed instrument in existence; and, besides gaining a colossal fortune for himself, he bequeathed to his nephew, Pierre Erard, the most celebrated manufactory of pianos in the world. Next to Erard ranks John Broadwood, a Scotchman, who came to London about the time of Erard’s arrival in Paris, and, like him, procured employment with a harpsichord-maker, the most noted one in England. John Broadwood was a “good apprentice,” married his master’s daughter, inherited his business, and carried it on with such success, that, to-day, the house of Broadwood and Sons is the first of its line in England. John Broadwood was chiefly meritorious for a general improvement in the construction of the instrument. If he did not originate many important devices, he was eager to adopt those of others, and he made the whole instrument with British thoroughness. The strings, the action, the case, the pedals, and all the numberless details of mechanism received his thoughtful attention, and show to the present time traces of his honest and intelligent mind. It was in this John Broadwood’s factory that a poor German boy named John Jacob Astor earned the few pounds that paid his passage to America, and bought the seven flutes which were the foundation of the great Astor estate. For several years, the sale of the Broadwood pianos in New York was an important part of Mr. Astor’s business. He used to sell his furs in London, and invest part of the proceeds in pianos, for exportation to New York.

America began early to try her hand at improving the instrument. Mr. Jefferson, in the year 1800, in one of his letters to his daughter Martha, speaks of “a very ingenious, modest, and poor young man ” in Philadelphia, who “ has invented one of the prettiest improvements in the forte-piano I have ever seen.” Mr. Jefferson, who was himself a player upon the violin, and had some little skill upon the harpsichord, adds, “It has tempted me to engage one for Monticello.”This instrument was an upright piano, and we have found no mention of an upright of an earlier date. “ His strings,” says Mr. Jefferson, “are perpendicular, and he contrives within that height” (not given in the published extract) “to give his strings the same length as in the grand forte-piano, and fixes his three unisons to the same screw, which screw is in the direction of the strings, and therefore never yields. It scarcely gets out of tune at all, and then, for the most part, the three unisons are tuned at once.” This is an interesting passage ; for, although the “ forte-pianos ” of this modest young man have left no trace upon the history of the instrument, it shows that America had no sooner cast an eye upon its mechanism than she set to work improving it. Can it be that the upright piano was an American invention ? It may be. The Messrs. Broadwood, in the little book which lay upon their pianos in the Exhibition of 1851, say that the first vertical or cabinet pianos were constructed by William Southwell, of their house, in 1804, four years after the date of Mr. Jefferson’s letter.

After 1800 there were a few pianos made every year in the United States, but none that could compare with the best Erards and Broadwoods, until the Chickering era, which began in 1823.

The two Americans to whom music is most indebted in the United States are Jonas Chickering, piano-maker, born in New Hampshire in 1798, and Lowell Mason, singing teacher and composer of church tunes, born in Massachusetts in 1792. While Lowell Mason was creating the taste for music, Jonas Chickering was improving the instrument by which musical taste is chiefly gratified ; and both being established in Boston, each of them was instrumental in advancing the fortunes of the other. Mr. Mason recommended the Chickering piano to his multitudinous classes and choirs, and thus powerfully aided to give that extent to Mr. Chickering’s business which is necessary to the production of the best work. Both of them began their musical career, we may say, in childhood ; for Jonas Chickering was only a cabinet-maker’s apprentice when he astonished his native village by putting in excellent playing order a battered old piano, long before laid aside; and Lowell Mason, at sixteen, was already leading a large church choir, and drilling a brass band. The undertaking of this brass band by a boy was an amusing instance of Yankee audacity; for when the youth presented himself to the newly formed band to give them their first lesson, he found so many instruments in their hands which he had never seen nor heard of, that he could not proceed. “ Gentlemen,” said he, “ I see that a good many of your instruments are out of order, and most of them need a little oil, or something of the kind. Our best plan will be to adjourn for a week. Leave all your instruments with me, and I will have them in perfect condition by the time we meet again.” Before the band again came together, the young teacher, by working night and day, had gained a sufficient insight into the nature of the instruments to instruct those who knew nothing of them.

Jonas Chickering was essentially a mechanic,—a most skilful, patient, thoughtful, faithful mechanic,—and it was his excellence as a mechanic which enabled him to rear an establishment which, beginning with one or two pianos a month, was producing, at the death of the founder, in 1853, fifteen hundred pianos a year. It was he who introduced into the piano the full iron frame. It was he who first made American pianos that were equal to the best imported ones. He is universally recognized as the true founder of the manufacture of the piano in the United States. No man has, perhaps, so nobly illustrated the character of the American mechanic, or more honored the name of American citizen. He was the soul of benevolence, truth, and honor. When we have recovered a little more from the infatuation which invests "public men” with supreme importance, we shall better know how to value those heroes of the apron, who, by a life of conscientious toil, place a new source of happiness, or of force, within the reach of their fellow-citizens.

Henry Steinway, the founder of the great house of Steinway and Sons, has had a career not unlike that of Mr. Checkering. He also, in his native Brunswick, amused his boyhood by repairing old instruments of music, and making new ones. He made a cithara and a guitar for himself with only such tools as a boy can command. He also was apprenticed to a cabinet-maker, and was drawn away, by natural bias, from the business he had learned, to the making of organs and pianos. For many years he was a German pianomaker, producing, in the slow, German manner, two or three excellent instruments a month ; striving ever after higher excellence, and growing more and more dissatisfied with the limited sphere in which the inhabitant of a small German state necessarily works. In 1849, being then past fifty years of age, and the father of four intelligent and gifted sons, he looked to America for a wider range and a more promising home for his boys. With German prudence, he sent one of them to New York to see what prospect there might be there for another maker of pianos. Charles Steinway came, saw, approved, returned, reported ; and in 1850 all the family reached New York, except the eldest son, Theodore, who succeeded to his father’s business in Brunswick. Henry Steinway again showed himself wise in not immediately going into business. Depositing the capital he had brought with him in a safe place, he donned once more the journeyman’s apron, and worked for three years in a New York piano factory to learn the ways of the trade in America ; and his sons obtained similar employment, — one of them, fortunately, becoming a tuner, which brought him into relations with many music-teachers. During these three years, their knowledge and their capital increased every day, for they lived as wise men in such circumstances do live who mean to control their destiny. In plain English, they kept their eyes open, and lived on half their income. In 1853, in a small back shop in Varick Street, with infinite pains, they made their first piano, and a number of teachers and amateurs were invited to listen to it. It was warmly approved and speedily sold. Ten men were employed, who produced for the next two years one piano a week. In 1855, the Messrs. Steinway, still unknown to the public, placed one of their best instruments in the New York Crystal Palace Exhibition. A member of the musical jury has recorded the scene which occurred when the jury came to this unknown competitor : —

“ They were pursuing their rounds, and performing their duties with an ease and facility that promised a speedy termination to their labors, when suddenly they came upon an instrument that, from its external appearance,— solidly rich, yet free From the frippery that was then rather in fashion, — attracted their attention. One of the company opened the case, and carelessly struck a few chords. The others were doing the same with its neighbors, but somehow they ceased to chatter when the other instrument began to speak. One by one the jurors gathered round the strange polyphonist, and, without a word being spoken, every one knew that it was the best piano-forte in the Exhibition. The jurors were true to their duties. It is possible that some of them had predilections in favor of other makers ; it is certain that one of them had, — the writer of the present notice. But when the time for the award came, there was no argument, no discussion, no bare presentment of minor claims ; nothing, in fact, but a hearty indorsement of the singular merits of the strange instrument.”

From that time the Steinways made rapid progress. The tide of California gold was flowing in, and every day some one was getting rich enough to treat his family to a new piano. It was the Messrs. Steinway who chiefly supplied the new demand, without lessening by one instrument a month the business of older houses. Various improvements in the framing and mechanism of the piano have been invented and introduced by them ; and, while some members of the family have superintended the manufacture, others have conducted the not less difficult business of selling. To this hour, the father of the family, in the dress of a workman, attends daily at the factory, as vigilant and active as ever, though now past seventy ; and his surviving sons are as laboriously engaged in assisting him as they were in the infancy of the establishment.

Besides the Chickerings and the Steinways, there are twenty manufacturers in the United States whose production exceeds one hundred pianos per annum. Messrs. Knabe & Co. of Baltimore, who supply large portions of the South and West, sold about a thousand pianos in the year 1866; W. P. Emerson of Boston, 935 ; Messrs. Haines Brothers of New York, 830; Messrs. Hallett and Davis of Boston, 462 ; Ernest Gabler of New York, 312 ; Messrs. E. C. Lighte & Co. of New York, 286 ; Messrs. Hazelton and Brothers of New York, 269; Albert Webber of New York, 266 ; Messrs. Decker Brothers of New York, 256; Messrs. George Steck and Co. of New York, 244 ; W. I. Bradbury of New York, 244 ; Messrs. Lindeman and Sons of New York, 223 ; the New York Piano-forte Company, 139. About one half of all the pianos made in the United States are made in the city of New York.

To visit one of our large manufactories of pianos is a lesson in the noble art of taking pains. Genius itself, says Carlyle, means, first of all, “a transcendent capacity for taking trouble.” Everywhere in these vast and interesting establishments we find what we may call the perfection of painstaking.

The construction of an American piano is a continual act of defensive warfare against the future inroads of our climate, — a climate which is polar for a few days in January, tropical for a week or two in Ju’y, Nova-Scotian now and then in November, and at all times most trying to the finer woods, leathers, and fabrics. To make a piano is now not so difficult; but to make one that will stand in America, — that is very difficult. In the rear of the Messrs. Steinway’s factory there is a yard for seasoning timber, which usually contains an amount of material equal to two hundred and fifty thousand ordinary boards, an inch thick and twelve feet long; and there it remains from four months to five years, according to its nature and magnitude. Most of the timber used in an American piano requires two years’ seasoning at least. From this yard it is transferred to the steam-drying house, where it remains subjected to a high temperature for three months. The wood has then lost nearly all the warp there ever was in it, and the temperature may change fifty degrees in twelve hours (as it does sometimes in New York) without seriously affecting a fibre. Besides this, the timber is sawed in such a manner as to neutralize, in some degree, its tendency to warp, or, rather, so as to make it warp the right way. The reader would be surprised to hear the great makers converse on this subject of the warping of timber. They have studied the laws which govern warping ; they know why wood warps, how each variety warps, how long a time each kind continues to warp, and how to fit one warp against another, so as to neutralize both. If two or more pieces of wood are to be glued together, it is never done at random ; but they are so adjusted that one will tend to warp one way, and another another. Even the thin veneers upon the case act as a restraining force upon the baser wood which they cover, and in some parts of the instrument the veneer is double for the purpose of keeping both in order. An astonishing amount of thought and experiment has been expended upon this matter of warping, — so much, that now not a piece of wood is employed in a piano, the grain of which does not run in the precise direction which experience has shown to be the best.

The forests of the whole earth have been searched for woods adapted to the different parts of the instrument. Dr. Rimbault, in his learned “History of the Piano-forte,” published recently in London, gives a catalogue of the various woods, metals, skins, and fabrics used in the construction of a piano, which forcibly illustrates the delicacy of the modern instrument and the infinite care taken in its manufacture. We copy the list, though some of the materials differ from those used by American manufacturers.


Woods. From

Oak . Riga Framing, various parts.

Deal Norway Wood-bracing, &c.

Fir Switzerland Sounding-board.

Pine America . Parts of framing, key-bed or bottom.

Mahogany Honduras . Solid wood of top, and various parts of the framing and the action.

Beech England . Wrest-plank, bridge or sound-board, centre of legs.

Beef-wood Brazils Tongues in the beam, forming the divisions between the hammers.

Birch Canada Belly-rail, a part of the framing.

Cedar S. America Round shanks of hammers.

Lime-tree England . Keys

Pear-tree ----Heads of dampers.

Sycamore ----Hoppers or levers, veneers on wrest-plank.

Ebony Ceylon Black keys.

Spanish Mahogany Cuba

Rosewood . , Rio Janeiro

Satinwood . East Indies

White Holly . England }For decoration.

Zebra-wood . Brazils

Other fancy woods . .

Woollen Fabrics.

Baize ; green, blue,

and brown . Upper surface of key-frame, cushions for hammers to fall on, to damp dead part of strings, &c.

Cloth, various qual-

ities . . . For various parts of the action and in other places, to prevent jarring ; also for dampers.

Felt . . . External covering for hammers.



Buffalo . Under-covering of hammers-bass.

Saddle . “ “ tenor and treble.




Seal Various parts of action.



Sole Rings for pedal wires.



Steel Metallic bracing, and in various small

Brass screws, springs, centres, pins, &c.,

Gun metal &c., throughout the instrument.

Steel wire Strings.

Steel spun wire Lapped strings.

Covered copper wire " " lowest notes.


Ivory . White keys.

Black lead To smooth the rubbing surfaces of cloth or leather in the action.

Glue (of a particular quality, made expressly for }Woodwork throughout, this trade) . . .

Beeswax, emery paper, glass paper, French pol}Cleaning and finishing. ish, oil, putty powder, spirits of wine, &c., &c.

Such are the materials used. The processes to which they are subjected are far more numerous. So numerous are they and so complicated, that the Steinways, who employ five hundred and twelve men, and labor-saving machinery which does the work of five hundred men more, aided by three steam-engines of a hundred and twentyfive, fifty, and twenty-five horse-power, can only produce from forty-five to fifty-five pianos a week. The average number is about fifty, — six grand, four upright, and forty square. The reader has seen, doubtless, a piano with the top taken off; but perhaps it has never occurred to him what a tremendous pull those fifty to sixty strings are keeping up, day and night, from one year’s end to another. The shortest and thinnest string of all pulls two hundred and sixty-two pounds, — about as much as we should care to lift; and the entire pull of the strings of a grand piano is sixty pounds less than twenty tons, — a load for twenty cart-horses. The fundamental difficulty in the construction of a piano has always been to support this continuous strain. When we look into a piano we see the “iron frame” so much vaunted in the advertisements, and so splendid with bronze and gilding ; but it is not this thin plate of cast-iron that resists the strain of twenty tons. If the wires were to pull upon the iron for one second, it would fly into atoms. The iron plate is screwed to what is called the “ bottom ” of the piano, which is a mass of timber four inches thick, composed of three layers of plank glued together, and so arranged that the pull of the wires shall be in a line with the grain of the wood. The iron plate itself is subjected to a long course of treatment. The rough casting is brought from the foundery, placed under the drilling-machine, which bores many scores of holes of various sizes with marvellous rapidity. Then it is smoothed and finished with the file; next, it is japanned; after which it is baked in an oven for forty-eight hours. It is then ready for the bronzer and gilder, who covers the greater part of the surface with a light-yellow bronzing, and brightens it here and there with gilding. All this long process is necessary in order to make the plate retain its brilliancy of color.

Upon this solid foundation of timber and iron the delicate instrument is built, and it is enclosed in a case constructed with still greater care. To make so large a box, and one so thin, as the case of a piano stand our summer heats and our furnace heats (still more trying), is a work of extreme difficulty. The seasoned boards are covered with a double veneer, designed to counteract all the tendencies to warp; and the surface is most laboriously polished. It takes three months to varnish and polish the case of a piano. In such a factory as the Steinways’ or the Chickerings’, there will be always six or seven hundred cases undergoing this expensive process. When the surface of the wood has been made as smooth as sand-paper can make it, the first coat of varnish is applied, and this requires eight days to harden. Then all the varnish is scraped off, except that which has sunk into the pores of the wood. The second coat is then put on; which, after eight days’ drying, is also scraped away, until the surface of the veneer is laid bare again. After this four or five coats of varnish are added, at intervals of eight days, and, finally, the last polish is produced by the hand of the workman. The object of all this is not merely to produce a splendid and enduring gloss, but to make the case stand for a hundred years in a room which is heated by a furnace to seventy degrees by day, and in which water will freeze at night. During the war, when good varnish cost as much as the best champagne, the varnish bills of the leading makers were formidable indeed.

The labor, however, is the chief item of expense. The average wages of the five hundred and twelve men employed by the Messrs. Steinway is twenty-six dollars a week. This force, aided by one hundred and two labor-saving machines, driven by steam-power equivalent to two hundred horses, produces a piano in one hour and fifteen minutes. A man with the ordinary tools can make a piano in about four months, but it could not possibly be as good a one as those produced in the large establishments. Nor, indeed, is such a feat ever attempted in the United States. The small makers, who manufacture from one to five instruments a week, generally, as already mentioned, buy the different parts from persons who make only parts. It is a business to make the hammers of a piano; it is another business to make the “action ” ; another, to make the keys; another, the legs ; another, the cases ; another, the pedals. The manufacture of the hardware used in a piano is a very important branch, and it is a separate business to sell it. The London Directory enumerates forty-two different trades and businesses related to the piano, and we presume there are not fewer in New York. Consequently, any man who knows enough of a piano to put one together, and can command capital enough to buy the parts of one instrument, may boldly fling his sign to the breeze, and announce himself to an inattentive public as a “ piano-fortemaker.” The only difficulty is to sell the piano when it is put together. At present it costs rather more money to sell a piano than it does to make one.

When the case is finished, all except the final hand-polish, it is taken to the sounding-board room. The soundingboard— a thin, clear sheet of spruce under the strings — is the piano’s soul, wanting which, it were a dead thing. Almost every resonant substance in nature has been tried for sounding-boards, but nothing has been found equal to spruce. Countless experiments have been made with a view to ascertain precisely the best way of shaping, arranging, and fixing the sounding-board, the best thickness, the best number and direction of the supporting ribs ; and every great maker is happy in the conviction that he is a little better in sounding-boards than any of his rivals. Next, the strings are inserted ; next, the action and the keys. Every one will pause to admire the hammers of the piano, so light, yet so capable of giving a telling blow, which evoke all the music of the strings, but mingle with that music no click, nor thud, nor thump, of their own. The felt employed varies in thickness from one sixteenth of an inch to an inch and an eighth, and costs $ 5.75 in gold per pound. Only Paris, it seems, can make it good enough for the purpose. Many of the keys have a double felting, compressed from an inch and a half to three quarters of an inch, and others again have an outer covering of leather to keep the strings from cutting the felt. Simple as the finished hammer looks, there are a hundred and fifty years of thought and experiment in it. It required half a century to exhaust the different kinds of wood, bone, and cork ; and when, about 1760, the idea was conceived of covering the hammers with something soft, another century was to elapse before all the leathers and fabrics had been tried, and felt found to be the ne plus ultra. With regard to the action, or the mechanism by which the hammers are made to strike the strings, we must refer the inquisitive reader to the piano itself.

When all the parts have been placed in the case, the instrument falls into the hands of the " regulator,” who inspects, rectifies, tunes, harmonizes, perfects the whole. Nothing then remains but to convey it to the store, give it its final polish and its last tuning.

The next thing is to sell it. Six hundred and fifty dollars seems a high price for a square piano, such as we used to buy for three hundred, and the “ natural cost ” of which does not much exceed two hundred dollars. Fifteen hundred dollars for a grand piano is also rather startling. But how much tax, does the reader suppose, is paid upon a fifteen-hundred-dollar grand ? It is difficult to compute it; but it does not fall much below two hundred dollars. The five per cent manufacturer’s tax, which is paid upon the price of the finished instrument, has also to be paid upon various parts, such as the wire ; and upon the imported articles there is a high tariff. It is computed that the taxes upon very complicated articles, in which a great variety of materials are employed, such as carriages, pianos, organs, and fine furniture, amount to about one eighth of the price. The piano, too, is an expensive creature to keep, in these times of high rents, and its fare upon a railroad is higher than that of its owner. We saw, however, a magnificent piano, the other day, at the establishment of Messrs. Chickering, in Broadway, for which passage had been secured all the way to Oregon for thirty-five dollars, — only five dollars more than it would cost to transport it to Chicago. Happily for us, to whom fifteen hundred dollars — nay, six hundred and fifty dollars — is an enormous sum of money, a very good second-hand piano is always attainable for less than half the original price.

For, reader, you must know that the ostentation of the rich is always putting costly pleasures within the reach of the refined not-rich. A piano in its time plays many parts, and figures in a variety of scenes. Like the more delicate and sympathetic kinds of human beings, it is naught unless it is valued ; but, being valued, it is a treasure beyond price. Cold, glittering, and dumb, it stands among the tasteless splendors with which the wealthy ignorant cumber their dreary abodes,— a thing of ostentation merely, — as uninteresting as the women who surround it, gorgeously apparelled, but without conversation, conscious of defective parts of speech. “ There is much music, excellent voice, in that little organ,” but there is no one there who can "make it speak.” They may " fret ” the noble instrument; they “cannot play upon it.”

But a fool and his nine-hundred-dollar piano are soon parted. The red flag of the auctioneer announces its transfer to a drawing-room frequented by persons capable of enjoying the refined pleasures. Bright and joyous is the scene, about half past nine in the evening, when, by turns, the ladies try over their newest pieces, or else listen with intelligent pleasure to the performance of a master. Pleasant are the informal family concerts in such a house, when one sister breaks down under the difficulties of Thalberg, and yields the piano-stool to the musical genius of the family, who takes up the note, and, dashing gayly into the midst of “ Egitto,” forces a path through the wilderness, takes the Red Sea like a heroine, bursts at length into the triumphal prayer, and retires from the instrument as calm as a summer morning. On occasions of ceremony, too, the piano has a part to perform, though a humble one. Awkward pauses will occur in all but the best-regulated parties, and people will get together, in the best houses, who quench and neutralize one another. It is the piano that fills those pauses, and gives a welcome respite to the toil of forcing conversation. How could “society ” go on without the occasional interposition of the piano ? One hundred and sixty years ago, in those days beloved and vaunted by Thackeray, when Louis XIV. was king of France, and Anne queen of England, society danced, tattled, and gambled. Cards have receded as the piano has advanced in importance.

From such a drawing-room as this, after a stay of some years, the piano may pass into a boarding-school, and thence into the sitting-room of a family who have pinched for two years to buy it. “ It must have been,” says Henry Ward Beecher, “ about the year 1820, in old Litchfield, Connecticut, upon waking one fine morning, that we heard music in the parlor, and, hastening down, beheld an upright piano, the first we ever saw or heard of! Nothing can describe the amazement of silence that filled us. It rose almost to superstitious reverence, and all that day was a dream and marvel.” It is such pianos that are appreciated. It is in such parlors that the instrument best answers the end of its creation. There is many a piano in the back room of a little store, or in the uncarpeted sittingroom of a farm-house, that yields a larger revenue of delight than the splendid grand of a splendid drawing-room. In these humble abodes of refined intelligence, the piano is a dear and honored member of the family.

The piano now has a rival in the United States in that fine instrument before mentioned, which has grown from the melodeon into the cabinet organ. We do not hesitate to say, that the cabinet organs of Messrs. Mason and Hamlin only need to be as generally known as the piano in order to share the favor of the public equally with it. It seems to us peculiarly the instrument for men. We trust the time is at hand when it will be seen that it is not less desirable for boys to learn to play upon an instrument than girls ; and how much more a little skill in performing may do for a man than for a woman ! A boy can hardly be a perfect savage, nor a man a money-maker or a pietist, who has acquired sufficient command of an instrument to play upon it with pleasure. How often, when we have been listening to the swelling music of the cabinet organs at the warerooms of Messrs. Mason and Hamlin in Broadway, have we desired to put one of those instruments in every clerk’s boarding-house room, and tell him to take all the ennui, and half the peril, out of his life by learning to play upon it ! No business man who works as intensely as we do can keep alive the celestial harmonies within him,—no, nor the early wrinkles from his face, — without some such pleasant mingling of bodily rest and mental exercise as playing upon an instrument.

The simplicity of the means by which music is produced from the cabinet organ is truly remarkable. It is called a “reed" instrument ; which leads many to suppose that the canebrake is despoiled to procure its sound-giving apparatus. Not so. The reed employed is nothing but a thin strip of brass with a tongue slit in it, the vibration of which causes the musical sound. One of the reeds, though it produces a volume of sound only surpassed by the pipes of an organ, weighs about an ounce, and can be carried in a vestpocket. In fact, a cabinet organ is simply an accordeon of immense power and improved mechanism. Twenty years ago, one of our melodeonmakers chanced to observe that the accordeon produced a better tone when it was drawn out than when it was pushed in ; and this fact suggested the first great improvement in the melodeon. Before that time, the wind from the bellows, in all melodeons, was forced through the reeds. Melodeons on the improved principle were constructed so that the wind was drawn through the reeds. The credit of introducing this improvement is due to the well-known firm of Carhart, Needham, & Co., and it was as decided an improvement in the melodeon as the introduction of the hammer in the harpsichord.

At this point of development, the instrument was taken up by Messrs. Mason and Hamlin, who have covered it with improvements, and rendered it one of the most pleasing musical instruments in the possession of mankind. When we remarked above, that the American piano was the best in the world, we only expressed the opinion of others; but now that we assert the superiority of the American cabinet organ over similar instruments made in London and Paris, we are communicating knowledge of our own. Indeed, the superiority is so marked that it is apparent to the merest tyro in music. During the year 1866, the number of these instruments produced in the United States by the twenty-five manufacturers was about fifteen thousand, which were sold for one million six hundred thousand dollars, or a little more than one hundred dollars each. Messrs. Mason and Hamlin, who manufacture one fourth of the whole number, produce thirty-five kinds, varying in power, compass, and decoration, and in price from seventy-five dollars to twelve hundred. In the new towns of the great West, the cabinet organ is usually the first instrument of music to arrive, and, of late years, it takes its place with the piano in the fashionable drawing-rooms of the Atlantic States.

Few Americans, we presume, expected that the department of the Paris Exposition in which the United States should most surpass other nations would be that appropriated to musical instruments. Even our cornets and bugles are highly commended in Paris. The cabinet organs, according to several correspondents, are much admired. We can hardly credit the assertion of an intelligent correspondent of the Tribune, that the superiority of the American pianos is not “questioned ’ by Erard, Pleyel, and Hertz, but we can well believe that it is acknowledged by the great players congregated at Paris. The aged Rossini is reported to have said, after listening to an American piano, “ It is like a nightingale cooing in a thunder storm.”