The Grand Piano in England
The English (Direct) Grand Action - Backers
Because of the success of the Square Piano in England during the late 1760s there was a demand for a better instrument, especially for use in public performance. Musicians wanted a louder piano with better tone and greater dynamic response.
The piano action that was to facilitate this, and to form the basis of the “English” grand piano, was developed by Americus Backers in conjunction with John Broadwood and his apprentice Robert Stodart. This action was based on the designs of Cristofori and Silbermann, but was distinctly different from the German actions made by Stein.
The earliest surviving English grand piano with this type of action was made in 1772. Although this action was designed by Backers, it was not patented until 1777 by Robert Stodart.
The action has a jack with a spring fitted directly to the key, and when the key is pressed, the jack rises and pushes the hammer butt and consequently the hammer strikes the string. The action has a damper which is controlled from the back of the key rather like the modern grand piano. There is an escapement and a check.
The early English grand was considered to have a heavier action than the German/Viennese piano. The damping was less precise than its German counterpart. Some musicians preferred the instrument to the German ones. John Broadwood sent a piano to Beethoven in 1817, which was thought of very highly by the composer.
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