Author Archives: EPadmin

The English Tangent Action Square Piano

A piano with a tangent action is fundamentally different to all other pianos.  It uses a hammer that is detached from the action, known as a tangent. It is raised vertically to the strings by an action lever whereas all other pianos have a hammer that is pivoted on a hammer rail and is raised to the strings in the direction of an arc by a jack. In both types of instrument, the hammer is “set off” or released so, that it meets the strings under its own momentum.  This is essential to avoid the hammer from blocking the sound.

The action of an English tangent piano has two levers of which one raises the hammer towards the strings and the other lowers the under-damper for the note to sound.  This may seem complex, but it is actually a very simple design.  The feel of the action is more direct with the strings than other pianos.

The images below show the parts of an Engliah tangent action from a square piano by Charles Trute that was made about 1785.

Charles Trute tangent action piano - action

This shows the to action levers with the hammer and damper.

Charles Trute tangent action piano - hammer and damper removed

A tangent hammer and damper removed from the action.

Charles Trute tangent action piano - tangent hammer and damper slots

This shows the slots from which the tangent hammer and damper have been removed.  Note that the slot for the hammer in lined in leather.

In Germany, both grand and square tangent action pianos were made in the late 18th century and early 19th century.  These instruments often had bare wooden hammers but used several stops to create different sounds.  Very few pianos were made in England with a tangent action and I am only aware of three examples that have survived, and these are in the form of a square piano.

One extant example, attributed to Charles Trute, is held at the Osaka College of Music Museum in Japan.  A tangent action piano by Frederick Beck was restored in the UK a few years ago and is now privately owned.   Another example by Charles Trute was in my possession recently and has given the opportunity to write this article.

Charles Trute had his workshop initially at 26 Wardour Street, Soho, London, and in 1782 he moved to 7 Broad Street Golden Square.  In the early 1790’s he moved to Philadelphia, United States and continued making pianos.

The English tangent action square piano has the same functionality as the usual English square piano.  Unlike German instruments, the English instrument had leather covered hammers and a single lute or harp stop.  These instruments was made in the 1780’s and early 1790’s.

The action has a low profile, and this enabled the soundboard to be extended above the action to provide a much larger area.  This feature was not adopted in other English square pianos until the 1830’s such as those made by Collard & Collard.

Charles Truten tangent action square piano - Soundboard

An English tangent action piano can be recognised by the external appearance of the instrument.  Square pianos have a nameboard that can be removed vertically allowing the action to be removed but an English tangent action piano has a nameboard slip like that of a harpsichord below a fixed part of the piano case. Removing the slip allows the low-profile action to be withdrawn from the instrument. This can only be done after lifting out all the tangent hammers and the dampers from their respective slots.

Charles Trute tangent action piano - keywell

The keywell of the the instrument showing the nameboard slip below a fixed part of the case. Note that the harp or lute stop is operated from within the keywell by the knob on the left-hand side.

The tangent action was a design not suitable for further development in meeting a requirement for increased power and sonority of the instrument.  In England the design was overtaken by other technologies in the 1790’s but instruments with a tangent action continued to be made in Germany.

It is possible that there are other surviving English tangent pianos that are unrecognised at present.  If you have a square piano or are aware of one, have look to see whether it is an English tangent action piano.  If you find one, it will be more valuable than your average square piano.

Do you own a Christopher Ganer square Piano?

Many square pianos made by Christopher Ganer between 1775 and 1808 have survived but very little is known about his life and work.  Research is being undertaken to find out more about him and give a greater insight into the design and production of his instruments. If you have a Christopher Ganer square piano, you may be able to help.

1781 Christopher Ganer square piano

An example of Christopher Ganer’s work. An elegant square piano of 1781.

Some information about Christopher Ganer was written and published on this website in 2013 Read article

Since 2013, a register of extant instruments has been prepared that currently stands at over 80. The purpose of the register is to provide data for analysis of:

  • the technical and aesthetic design of his instruments and to show how these progressed between 1775 and 1808,
  • the dating of instruments made after 1785, (Instruments made prior to 1785 were usually dated within the nameboard inscription)
  • the annual production  of instruments made as indicated by the number of surviving examples.

Information about your square piano would contribute to the analysis and would be appreciated.  The greater the sample of instruments, the more potential there is to draw accurate and meaningful conclusions.

The useful information about your piano would include:

  • images of the outside and inside of the instrument,
  • the inscription on the nameboard,
  • the size of the piano including the length, width and height of the case (excluding the lid and stand),
  • any provenance or other information if known.

If you can only provide images, this would still be very useful.  We will reply to your email and may be able to let you know more about you piano.  The information you provide will be held in confidence and only be used for analysis.  It will not be published.

If you can provide information about your piano please email Graham Walker,  graham@earlypiano.co.uk

About Christopher Ganer and his instruments

Although Christopher Ganer was not at the forefront of piano development and his square pianos followed the same basic design throughout the production period, they show some progression in constructional detail.  He became a leading and respected maker particularly during the 1780’s and early 1790’s and he may have made more square pianos during this period than any other London maker.   In later years the number of instruments appears to have decreased and it may have been that the market switched to the innovative technologies of John Broadwood (1783 patent) and Longman & Broderip (Geib patent of 1786).   Records of his marriage to Lidia Willey in 1774 and the names and birth dates of his children (all daughters) are known.   Christopher Ganer’s birth is given as 1750 and death in 1811 but there is evidence to show that is lived to at least 1813.

It is hoped that these and many other questions can be answered about Christopher Ganer.

Graham Walker

July 2018