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This short book is an account of the birth, death and revival of an idea – a new form of piano construction, which eliminated the iron bars that strengthened the structure but spoiled the tone.
Iron bars were ﬁrst added to pianos in the early nineteenth century, in response to the need to accommodate the increasingly massive tension of the strings. This was a result of increasing compass – extra notes meant extra strings – and of the desire for a louder, more sustained sound, which made it necessary to use thicker strings under ever-increasing tension. The added bars saved the pianos from structural collapse, but it was soon noticed that they spoiled the evenness of the tone: there was a noticeable deterioration in the sound of the notes close to the bars on either side. The barless piano was an attempt to overcome these problems. Invented by H. J. T. Broadwood in the 1880s, it was always unique to the Broadwood ﬁrm; their most prestigious and artistically distinguished instruments were made in this way from the 1890s until the closure of the original company in 1931.
In the years that followed, John Broadwood and Sons Ltd was revived under various owners, but it was not until 1986 that barless pianos were once again produced. Alastair Laurence, the author of this book, was closely involved in their design. He is now the managing director of the Broadwood company.
This is far from being a purely technical history: it is also a human story. The author has the gift of bringing vividly to life the various personalities involved in the barless experiment, their hopes, their successes – and their mistakes.
Softback, 47 pages; with monochrome illustrations (original photos and line drawngs). Published by the author.Price: £10.00 plus post and packing