Square pianos signed 'Fredericus Beck Londini fecit' were very popular in Britain and France in the late eighteenth century. Here you will find a brief survey of them, and some facts about their maker.


It is generally presumed that Frederick Beck, the piano maker, was born in Germany, but confirmation of this is very illusive. Many years ago Margaret Cranmer [a college librarian in Cambridge] claimed to have discovered his birth details in Württemburg, Germany, in 1738, but proof that this was indeed the instrument maker who later rose to fame and fortune in London is still lacking. The problem is that his name is not uncommon. Better to reserve judgement on this.

For secure records of Frederick Beck we must wait until the 1760s, when he is found living in Glassonbury Court (Soho area of London) and apparently earning a living making 'English Guittars' similar to John Zumpe's early work. These were citterns with metal strings — not at all like Spanish guitars. They were very popular with ladies who found the spinet too difficult.

He was among the first instrument makers in London to switch to square piano making, following swiftly in the path pioneered by Zumpe. Beck's earliest known piano, now in the McLean Collection of Inverclyde Museums, Scotland, is dated 1769.













His address, throughout his career as a piano maker, was in Broad Street, a fact faithfully included in a subscript line above the keys on every piano. But, on the 1769 piano, shown above, some text has been scrubbed out [see the four dark smudges] exactly where we would normally see 'Broad Street Golden Square'. Why this was done is a mystery. A square piano dated 1774 gives this subscript line as 'No.4 Broad Street Golden Square', a house he rented very near Jacob Kirckman's workshop. By 1777 he had a second address, the inscriptions being 'No.4 and 10 Broad Street Golden Square'. But by 1785 only the second address is given.

The 1769 piano bears an extraordinary similarity to Zumpe's work of that period, having black line inlays, both exterrnally, and under the lid. Though clipped in the photo above, the cartouche for the inscription has broken ogee ends, likewise outlined in black, very like Zumpe's work. This raises the question as to whether Beck was introduced into piano making by doing sub-contract work for Zumpe when, as Charles Burney reports, the inventor could not make them fast enough to satisfy the public. In subsequent years, Beck departed from such close copying, introducing design innovations that clearly distinguish his work. Dampers are not provided for the highest five notes; his hammers are much longer than other London makers; and the bridge terminations are distinctively shaped. He nearly always enlivened the outside of his pianos with eye-catching 'barber's pole' line inlays, composed of alternate yellow and black lozenges, as seen below the keys of this 1774 example.

As long ago as 1965 Frank Hubbard in Three Centuries of Harpsichord Making gave details of the trade between Beck as a fashionable piano maker and Pascal Taskin, the most eminent harpsichord maker in Paris. On pages 294 and following the inventories of Taskin's premises are reproduced verbatim, showing that in 1777 there were numerous pianos in stock, and that he owed 660 livres to 'Mr. Beck in London'. A surviving piano by Fredrick Beck contains an informative label, pasted inside the instrument, showing that it was sold by Taskin in 1775. (My thanks to Alexander March)











The inventory of musical instruments confiscated in Paris, compiled by Antonio Bruni for the Revolutionary Council, lists many square pianos left behind by people who made a hasty exit in or before 1792. Many of these are London-made pianos, including examples by Frederick Beck, dating from the 1770s and 80s. It is an indication of Beck's fashionable status that Bruni assigns them astonishingly high values, far exceeding the value he gave to any other makers' instruments.

A square piano by Frederick Beck dated 1775 is incorporated in an outstandingly elaborate cabinet, attributed to Swedish inlay specialist Christopher Furlohg. It is on show in the Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight, Cheshire, and illustrated in Philip James Early Keyboard Instruments [1933].

Evidence on the back of the cabinet (not shown by James) suggests that its maker completed the construction before providing adequate access for placing a piano within it. This may be supported by observing that the piano is a complete stand-alone instrument — unlike the piano I ascribe to Pohlman, incorporated in a black lacquer cabinet of Chippendale's invention, sold a few years ago at Christies' London sale rooms. In that instrument the shape of the piano itself has been created to conform to the cabinet: it could never be a stand-alone instrument.


Much interest has been generated in Australia by the recent restoration of what is claimed to be the first piano to arrive in that continent (landed at Sydney in 1788). The piano is clearly inscribed by 'Fredericus Beck', but the date of manufacture has been questioned – it reads ' 1780', but may have been altered. The final digit could have been '6', but high magnification confirms it to be a zero. An unusual feature is the cabriole legged stand, which folds up under the piano, presumably for ease of transport. For years this was thought to be unique, but an identical piano and stand is seen in a photo below, kindly sent to me by Dr John Stabler of Norfolk, England. Observe the continuation of the previously mentioned cable inlays around the complex curves of the legs. The candle holders fitted to the nameboard correspond with blank holes in the Australian piano, suggesting an original feature. (The present whereabouts of this piano are unknown.) It may be worth noting that there is at least one other surviving example by Beck from the 1780s with this type of cabriole leg stand - sold at Newbury in 2023.

Biographical information, first reported by Margaret Debenham, reveals that in 1779 Beck married Rose Ann Shudi, daughter of the late Joshua Shudi of Silver Street, harpsichord maker. Rose being then a minor [i.e. under 21] her mother signed the marriage documents. These documents are interesting in that they confirm the bridegroom was a widower (actually previously married twice, it would appear, but with no children) and that the puzzling signature 'A.F.Beck' so often seen on the soundboards is confirmed as Arnold Frederick Beck, though he appears in other legal documents simply as Frederick Beck. [It seems this is one and the same man, not father and son, or brothers. Presumably, anyone searching for his birth record should look for Arnold Frederick Beck] Reading his Last Will & Testament [ National Archives, Kew ] Margaret Debenham also reported that when Frederick Beck died in 1809/10, his wife Rose was resident in Edinburgh. He seems to have been living alone in rented in rooms in London, and had by then very little wealth to leave to her.

The paper on Beck's association with Christopher Furlohg, the Swedish-born inlay specialist can be found using the link here: online version.



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