JOHN BROADWOOD

John Broadwood & Sons may reasonably claim to have been the world's most prolific pianomakers. Here you will find the principal facts about them and their pianos.

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John Broadwood was working in London in the 1760s when the pianoforte came into fashion. He was employed by the Swiss-born harpsichord maker Burkat Shudi in Great Pulteney Street. As foreman in the shop Broadwood was responsible for finishing soundboards and gluing them into harpsichords – clearly an important task. By 1769 Shudi was in declining health, and as his only surviving son was not considered suitable to succeed him, the family inheritance and the business were placed in John Broadwood's hands. His crafts skills were of the highest order; his sincere religious convictions agreed well with Shudi; and his choice of Barbara Shudi (Burkat's youngest daughter) for a wife: these all contributed to Shudi's decision to place the inheritance with his son-in-law, giving possession to Broadwood in 1771, with the proviso that he should, during the remainder of Shudi's life, pay him a premium on every new harpsichord. Shudi moved to Charlotte Street, near Whitefield's Chapel. In August 1773 he was buried in a reserved plot in the south-west corner of the burial ground.

Thereafter Broadwood continued the workshop alone. You may read elsewhere that until 1793 he was in partnership with Shudi's only surviving son, Burkat junior, but in truth Broadwood was in sole charge. Burkat had been left no share in the business by his father. The reasons for this were never mentioned, but the most likely explanation is that the son was either of feeble intellect, or had some other disability. It is clear that the terms of Burkat Shudi's Last Will & Testament imposed drastic penalties on his son if he should attempt to work for anyone other than John Broadwood, and this had the desired effect. He received a small annuity, had his own room at Great Pulteney Street for more than twenty years, but he took no executive role in the business. His cousin, Joshua Shudi, a very competent harpsichord maker who had previously worked in Great Pulteney Street, was also omitted from any family inheritance, for reasons mentioned in my book (see below).

So from 1773 Broadwood was left in sole possession of the business and the house. During his first ten years in command the workshop continued as before, at first making only harpsichords. These were inscribed, Burkat Shudi et Johannes Broadwood long after the firm's founder had died. This made sense: potential harpsichord buyers knew the firm by this name, and everyone with any musical connections in London knew where to find them. Nevertheless, from 1770 onwards some of Broadwood's clients asked him to tune, or repair, or even transport square pianos: these were recently-made instruments from Zumpe, Pohlman, Beck or Beyer. Broadwood usually obliged. However, harpsichords remained popular for many years. Some people who were thinking of buying a new harpsichord asked him to take their square pianos in part exchange. Often he would agree, but quickly disposed of the part-exchanged pianos through trade contacts. He also responded to requests for short term square piano hire, not with instruments of his own, but generally passing the business, either to Christopher Ganer who lived in nearby Broad Street or to Frederick Beck.

Nevertheless, harpsichords remained the prestige item. Broadwood usually sold them for thirty-five guineas for a single manual, and seventy guineas for a double with patent swell pedal. Production increased too, so during the 1770s there was little incentive to get involved in making square pianos, which often sold for as little as eighteen guineas.

The photo shows a harpsichord with machine stop and swell pedal, at the Bate Collection, Oxford, restored by Michael Cole, 1993.

Note that the word Patent at the end of this inscription relates to the 1769 patent granted to Burkat Shudi, which he later transfered to his son-in-law John Broadwood. However, this patent expired after the usual term of fourteen years, in 1783, at which point Broadwood applied for a new patent of his own, for what was to become his distinctive square piano design. Consequently the inscriptions on Broadwood square pianos lack the word Patent until December 1783.

So, now the big question: when did Broadwood begin making pianos?

Certainly not in 1774, as so many books and websites tell you! True, there is a well-known square piano at Fenton House, Hampstead, inscribed: Johannes Broadwood Londini fecit 1774. It was bought by David Wainwright at the dispersal sale of the Broadwood Collection and later given to the National Trust. However, it is now agreed by all parties that this inscription is fraudulent. Who did it and why we cannot say for certain. On 24 March 1897 this piano had been purchased by the firm for their colection of historic instruments, probably at the suggestion of Alfred Hipkins: the seller was noted as Mrs. Coram, of Willis Road, Cambridge. It was believed to be genuine for the next hundred years. But when scrutinised and compared with genuine inscriptions it is clear that this misleading script was added to an antique piano, together with some extraneous floral inlays (in a very anachronistic style), which were never completed. Careful examination of the piano and comparison with other instruments of the period suggests that it was almost certainly made by Christopher Ganer, in the mid 1770s. David Wainwright also suggested in Broadwood By Appointment that John Broadwood embarked on piano making with enthusiasm soon after Zumpe's pianos came into fashion, giving 1770 as the year of his first known pianos. This is repeated in many secondary sources, but it is simply not true.

Consequently, the oldest known square pianos by Broadwood are both dated 1780. Above the keys both are inscribed exactly like the harpsichord shown above, by the same hand, on the same style of cartouche. This agrees well with John Broadwood's own manuscript record: 1780 marks the start of his piano production. He sold six that year, and the names of each buyer can be found in Broadwood's Journal now in the manuscripts department of the Bodleian Library, Oxford. (Possibly he made the first experimental examples in 1778, but that is not certain.) In 1781 and 1782 his output increased rapidly, and by 1784 he was selling a hundred a year.

It was not until 1785 that Broadwood sold a grand piano. However, it is not certain that it was made by him. Its low price may indicate that it was a refurbished instrument, perhaps by Backers or Stodart. The oldest known grand pianos signed by Broadwood date from 1787. Like his square pianos they had exactly five octaves. However, from 1792 five-and-a-half octaves became the norm for these larger instruments, though five octave examples were still often supplied. A very fine grand piano of John Broadwood's make is shown below.

Broadwood Grand

Broadwood Grand Piano, 1802, restored by Michael Cole

From 1795 onwards Broadwood's square pianos could also be supplied with a keyboard of five-and-a-half octaves, although simple five octave examples continued in production up to 1802. A distinctive method by which the keys for "additional notes" operated underneath the soundboard had been patented by William Southwell in 1794, and he had sold exclusive rights to Longman & Broderip. Resident in Ireland, Southwell did not at first respond when his system was used without authority, but following republican riots in Dublin when he and his family were threatened, he moved to England and there in 1803 he took John Broadwood and his son James Shudi Broadwood to court. Unhappily for him, a clever lawyer engaged to defend Broadwood seized upon some needlessly extravagant claims in the patent, successfully undermining the credibility of the whole document. (After this miscarriage of justice it became a free-for-all. Soon every pianomaker in London was making use of Southwell's ideas without paying him a penny.) Nevertheless, writing in 1838, long after the event, James Shudi Broadwood admitted that Southwell's innovations were 'a manifest improvement'.

Above is an example of Broadwood's early five-and-a-half octave pianos, dated 1797. It is unusual in retaining its original inner cover board, and rests on what Broadwood termed a 'French Frame' with square tapered legs. It has no pedal, and no handstops, and the internal mechanism retains the characteristic brass under dampers, essentially the same as in Broadwood's patent of 1783. (NB the fetwork at either side of the nameboard was probably inserted later by Broadwoods – it was not customary before 1802.)

In 1805/6 Broadwood's patented brass under-dampers were abandoned in favour of the type developed from another of Southwell's ideas. These are the so-called 'dolly dampers'; silent in action, easy to adjust, and readily suited to a legato pedal technique. In the same period Broadwood square pianos gained an escapement action — again not an original idea but developed from a design patented by John Geib in 1786 — the patent having expired in 1800. This gave a much more expressive touch — 'grand piano touch' as Broadwood's catalogues of the period say. These instruments are the most frequently encountered Broadwood square pianos today. Properly restored and maintained they make excellent instruments with a reliable touch and a very pleasant tone.

John Broadwood & Sons square piano 'Elegant model' of 1815, with drawers for music, five-and-a-half octaves.

By 1808 John Broadwood, then in his seventies, had been joined in the business by two of his sons — James from his first marriage to Barbara Shudi, and Thomas from his second marriage to Mary Kitson. Together these half brothers, with complementary talents, developed the business so that it became the biggest piano manufacturing firm the world had ever seen. They became very prosperous, enjoying the lifestyle of wealthy country gentlemen. Yet, until 1850 square pianos were always Broadwood's best-selling product. The later ones had six-and-a-half octaves and a metal plate inside. Many hundreds survive. One of the most basic yet most cherished examples is the plain six-octave piano of 1844 that Edward Elgar acquired in the 1890s as a reconditioned instrument for use in his hideaway cottage at Birchwood Lodge, on the Malvern Hills. On that instrument he composed several of his most celebrated works, listing them on the soundboard, in his own hand. It is now displayed with the instruments of the Cobbe Collection at Hatchlands, Surrey.

 

 

 

A new biography of John Broadwood, describing his progress as perhaps the most eminent piano maker ever, and emphasising the important role of square pianos as his principal product line. In a quality hardback binding of 205 pages, with more than 60 illustrations, it  incorporates significantly revised biographical information, social and musical contexts for these pianos, details of construction and production figures, and serial numbers etc.

Dr Alastair Laurence, CEO of John Broadwood & Sons Ltd., writes: 'your publication is very much appreciated, and will continue to be so for many years to come.'

UK Price £35 (incl. post and packing) if purchased directly from Tatchley Books (for dispatch to a UK address); Overseas: we have had to revise the price due to ever rising postal charges. Europe £39, USA & others: £45 prompt dispatch by airmail, when using Paypal.

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