Thursday, December 28, 2017

Pianos at Benton County Historical Museum

One of the large objects features in the Things Come Apart exhibition at the Benton County Historical Museum is a piano.  The pianoforte (the full name) was invented around 1700 by Bartolomeo Cristofori.  By using strings struck by padded hammers with a spring recoil, the new instrument was more responsive to the musician's touch and could play both loud (forte) and soft (piano) tones.

The Benton County Museum has several pianos in its collection.  One square piano is thought to be the first piano in the Willamette Valley.  Sometime between 1872 and 1880, it was shipped by boat around Cape Horn to Portland and then taken by a team of oxen to Lafayette, in Yamhill County, Oregon. Owned by Eva Burbank, the piano with its elaborately carved legs was a real attraction, and people came long distances to see it. 

By the date of the next piano (1927), people would not have traveled so far to view one for they were no longer a novelty.  The number of pianos sold increased rapidly during the period from 1890 to 1920. More Americans had achieved middle class status and owned their own home.  Their next big purchase, which revealed their status and a showed culture, was a piano for their living room or parlor.  This Kohler and Campbell upright has a much simpler than the elaborate carvings on the first piano; instead, the decorative element is the painted floral designs in the corners.  This studio model piano is smaller than usual and would fit more easily into a modest home or apartment.  While most pianos have 88 keys (52 white and 36 black), the studio piano has only 61 (36 white and 25 black), giving it a smaller range of notes. 
Kohler & Campbell 61 key piano
By Martha Fraundorf, Volunteer for Benton County Historical Society, Philomath, Oregon

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