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Pianoforte Robert Brown / Anton Walter

Piano Forte, Robert Brown, Autria, 1999, inv. 1999.015
Piano Forte, Robert Brown, Autria, 1999, inv. 1999.015

Anton Walter was born in Neuhausen near Stuttgart in 1752. During the 1780s he set himself up as an organ and instrument maker in Vienna, the musical capital of Europe. By that time the piano had largely taken over from the harpsichord and Vienna was an important centre for piano building. Walter's business soon proved a great success. In a letter of December1790 he asked to be granted the title of 'Kays. Königl. Hof Orgel und Instrumentenbauer', or 'Imperial Royal Chamber Organ Builder and Instrument Maker'. Thanks to the support of Prince Franz  Xaver Rosenberg, Minister of State and Conference Minister under Leopold II, his request was officially approved in a decree dated December 17th 1790. In 1791 Walter became a Viennese citizen. At the turn of the century his son-in-law Joseph Schöffstoß joined the business and they signed their instruments "Anton Walter und Sohn". The company continued to thrive. In 1790 it employed 14 instrument builders; in 1804 there were 20, by which time Walter was one of the most distinguished names in the trade. Anton Walter died on April 11th 1826, two years after his son-in-law. There was no successor.

Anton Walter was well known in aristocratic circles and among musicians, as evidenced by his list of customers. The court had four of his fortepianos. Though Mozart was a great admirer of Johann Andreas Stein, a German maker of keyboard instruments in Augsburg, in 1782 he came knocking at Walter's door. Beethoven had several pianos, including a Walter. Carl Czerny played on that instrument at the home of Beethoven who gave him lessons at the age of six. At a later date Czerny recalled Beethoven's Walter piano in his Souvenirs.

Walter was highly productive and must have made around a thousand instruments, yet only forty have survived. Today Mozart's instrument is preserved and exhibited in his house in Salzburg. Other surviving Walter pianos are praised for their beautiful sound. The MIM's is a copy of an instrument in Professor Wolfgang Gamerith's collection in Oberschützen in Austria. The original was built around 1800 and is probably closer to Beethoven's instrument than to Mozart's, which is twenty years older.

The MIM's copy built by Robert Brown differs from the original only in a few decorative features, such as the covering of the case and the keys.

Brown used walnut veneer for the case, whereas the original is finished with acajou, and he covered the white keys in bone rather than ivory. The copy has the same Prellzungenmechanik as the original. This type of action is characteristic of the Viennese school. The range is over five octaves and a second, from fah to sol, and there are two knee levers, one for the forte register, another for the Pianozug or celeste. The latter pushes forward a rod, engaging pieces of fabric between the hammers and strings.

Robert Brown was born in Nottingham in 1954. When he was 13, he emigrated with his parents to New Zealand, where as well as attending school he also took music lessons at the University of Auckland. In 1977 he studied under organ builder Patrick Collon in Brussels. After that he worked in two French workshops specializing in historical instruments. In 1985 he opened his own workshop near Salzburg, where he builds and restores instruments. He works on collectors' items from museums and builds new instruments for celebrated musicians, conservatoires and museums.

Text: Pascale Vandervellen

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756 - 1791) Concerto in A / en la majeur – KV 414