Showing below: one of only two known square pianos by Pierre Garnier of Bordeaux.


An interesting example of provincial square piano from France.

Inscribed above the keys: Pierre Garnier a Bordeaux 1792 / Rue neuve d'aquitaine No. 104

The only other recorded example, now in the USA, is similar but has plain keys and is dated 1789.*

There are two stops for modifying the tone: one lifts all dampers for sustaining, the second operates a buff stop, moving upwards from below, very much like London made pianos of the period. It is probable that these were originally operated by two splayed pedals both attached to the rear left leg, but no trace of them remains. This example has been provided with two knee levers. It is certain that this piano never had any hand-operated stops, nor did it ever have an internal cover board. The dampers are retro lever over dampers, assisted by brass springs, very much like Parisian pianos of the period. The action is the simple bump action, as in the square pianos of Zumpe.

Some basic numerical data:

Overall size: 1508 x 545 x 195 mm (59" x 21.5" x 7.6")

3 octaves: 475 mm, heads 42 mm, sharps 96 mm. These dimensions give the keys a distinctively French look, to those accustomed to London-made pianos; narrower and longer than English keys. The decorative treatment of the sharps seems to be unique.

The unusual interest of this piano is enhanced by the maker's extraordinary selection of materials, apparently restricted by what happened to be available in Bordeaux at that difficult time. The case exterior is made from very dense, dark coloured mahogany (generally called Cuban mahogany), of such density that the lid, though only 10mm thick, is surprisingly heavy. However, the maker has not been able to provide legs that truly match - similar mahogany would have to be at least 70mm thick before turning, so they are walnut. The soundboard is pine, of quite coarse grain; it appears that Alpine spruce was not available to Garnier at that time. Hammers and dampers use standard mahogany, and key levers are limewood [linden]. Unusually, the wrestplank is of solid oak. There has been little if any distortion of the frame. A sturdy and attractive piano, but with some design features that betray Garnier's lack of experience, as compared with well-known Parisian makers such as Erard.

* (Following the publication of this page in Sept. 2014 I have been kindly informed of two square pianos, in the Musee des Arts Decoratifs de Bourdeaux, one inscribed 'Pierre Garnier a Bourdeaux 1790' and the other a slightly later piano inscribed 'Garnier Jeune a Bordeaux', probably made c.1800. Garnier jeune is thought to be Leonard Garnier. My thanks to Alexander March for this new information.)

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