Franz Brodmann’s 1817 Full Iron Frame Square Piano

In the year 1817, Vienna-based piano maker Franz Brodmann crafted a piano that revolutionized the industry – the full iron frame square piano. Built extensively with iron, rather than wood, Brodmann's piano had a flat-top and wide, rounded curved sides and a metal frame. This structure provided longevity to the entire instrument, giving it a longer playing life or more consistent sound quality than the wooden-framed pianos of the day.

The Austrian company Seiler, which owned the patent of Brodmann’s full iron-frame design, published a description of it in 1817. In the description, the piano was made from cast iron in an incomplete state, and the outside of the piano was hand finished with wood and metal-fitted parts. The top and the sides of the piano were covered in a rich mahogany veneer, giving it a timeless beauty. Furthermore, the use of cast iron in this instrument helped to maintain a high level of durability, unlike the wooden framed models of the era, which were found to be more prone to warping and bowing over time.

The keyboard of the 1817 Brodmann full iron frame square piano had a range of four and a half octaves between F1 and C6. It had four pedals beneath the keyboard, all of which produce unique sounds and effects when engaged. The left pedal was the Una Corda (Soft), the middle pedal the Damper (Sustain), the right pedal the Kolorit (Colour), and the far right pedal was the Bereifung (Bounce).

Each of the 88 keys was made of high-quality ebony with a mother-of-pearl inlay. These keys were connected via a set of leather straps to corresponding leather hammers outfitted with ‘felts’ made from a single sheet of wool, which could then be played at various levels of intensity and speed.

The soundboard of this piano was made of high-quality spruce, with a thick layer of dolomite (an air-dried natural clay) applied to its underside. The strings for the instrument were manufactured in Vienna and were of superior quality. These were suspended over a soundboard that was braced in a manner that maximized the transfer of sound vibrations. This created a sound that was rich and resonant but not too full-bodied.

Brodmann's 1817 full iron frame square piano is an incredible example of craftsmanship from a period when piano craftsmanship was becoming increasingly advanced. Its use of cutting-edge technology, along with a careful attention to detail, has refined an instrument that stands the test of time and continues to be played and admired by experts today.

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