06 January 2011

The Underappreciated Kinderklavier

The toy piano is historically more than just a plaything. Quality toy pianos stay in tune, because they do not employ strings. Toy pianos offer a unique timbre unlike a piano and more like a celesta or a member of the harpsichord family. It is this unusual sound has been the key appeal to a small number of composers and performers through the centuries.

A German boy born into a toy-making family, Albert Schoenhut (1848-1912) created the ancestor of the modern toy piano. The hammers on his early toy pianos originally struck sounding bars made of glass, as opposed to the strings on real pianos. The glass bars proved to be too fragile for shipping, so Schoenhut soon opted for metal bars, making the instruments more durable.

In 1866, when he was 17, Schoenhut set sail across the Atlantic heading to Philadelphia where he had a job repairing toy pianos. By 1872, Schoenhut had developed his own toy manufacturing business. The Schoenhut Toy Company still makes quality toy pianos today.

Can't get your hands on a fine toy piano, but would like to play one? You are in luck! Pascal Ayerbe, a fantastic toy performer, offers an antique French Michelsonne toy piano to play online.

Modern composers and performers of music for the toy piano range from John Zorn to the Dresden Dolls [Amazon selections]. One super fun and quirky artist who is breathing life into the instrument today is Twink, billed as "the toy piano band." Since French label MonsterK7 ("Monster Cassette") sold out all copies of their toy piano compilation, Une Ode au Toy Piano, they have offered it for free download.

The Free Music Archive is also home to several works featuring the toy piano, including a full-length serious work by Aestrid Byrne titled Duff (Music for Toy Pianos) and a spoken piece by Edoheart named "Monsoon in Ibadan."

photo of toy piano by Allison Felus [license]

No comments:

Post a Comment

[Comment form has been problematic for years. Please take no offense, if your comment never makes it to us.]