The Piano Forte

Browse by Category

The Hammond-Harwood House has a beautiful London-made 1806 piano forte which resides elegantly in the ballroom. This would have been an appropriate instrument for the residents of the period. We are fortunate that the maker’s label remains visibly inscribed in an oval panel in the center of the fallboard located over the keyboard.

John Broadwood and Sons
Makers to His Majesty
And the Princesses
Great Pultney Street, Golden Square

To which Majesty is Broadwood referring? George III (1728-1820). He was the same monarch who reigned through a contentious period in England’s history of civil wars, the American Revolutionary war, slave trade, political turmoil between Whigs and Tories, not to mention family troubles among siblings and finally, the state of George’s physical and mental health.

You notice the label states “And the Princesses.” George sired nine sons and six daughters—but no mention of the nine princes on the label. Why, you ask? Music was part of the feminine arts. Music lessons were customary for men and women of the gentry class for social acceptance. Harp, lute, guitar, harpsichord and, later, the piano forte were considered the conventional instruments for ladies. No instrument that showed indelicate strain, straddling positions, violins under chins, or instruments that could release saliva out of mouthpieces would have been acceptable for these ladies.
The overall look of our instrument is that of a harpsichord and that’s because John Broadwood had apprenticed with the Swiss harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi. (I might add that Broadwood later married Shudi’s daughter, so all of this stayed in the family). For those of you interested in the technical aspects, the keyboard range is 5 ½ octaves (FF-c4). It has three pedals, not unlike today’s piano. Typical construction materials of the time were used– ivory keys and ebony sharps. As with many other pieces in the house, the casework is mahogany veneer over pine and oak, although the legs are solid mahogany.

There were a few instrument makers in America before the Revolutionary War, but most were imported. In fact, Broadwood and Sons became the foremost piano manufacturer in England with a production of many hundreds of instruments per year, exporting their instruments all over the world.

The Broadwood was the sort of English keyboard that “enthralled Haydn on his London visit of 1794.”(1) Our Broadwood piano is part of that class of standard grand pianos typically found in well-to-do homes in the 19th century.

The piano was gifted to the Hammond-Harwood House in March 1957 by Mrs. S. Pearre. A celebratory recital of three Haydn sonatas was performed by Helen Rice Hollis of the Division of Musical Instruments, Smithsonian Institution, for the piano’s 1981 restoration. For a number of years the instrument was played in the holiday season. It has had a number of repairs and conservation over the decades generously funded by Hammond-Harwood House volunteers, and from the Hester Ann Harwood Fund. The instrument remains in need of attention, but it is a beautiful piece that provides some insight on the social life of the residents of the house over its 248 yr. history.

  1. Judith S. Britt, “Delightful Recreation: Music and Dancing in Eighteenth-Century America.” The 1990 Washington Antiques Show.

By Lucinda Dukes Edinberg, Curator

Posted on Oct 11, 2022 in , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
Scroll to Top