A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Pape, Jean-Henry

From volume 2 of the work.

1971256A Dictionary of Music and Musicians — Pape, Jean-HenryA. J. Hipkins


PAPE, Jean-Henry, pianoforte maker, born July 1, 1789, at Sarsted near Hanover. He went to Paris in 1811, and after visiting England his services were secured by Ignace Pleyel to organise the works of the piano factory which he had just founded. About 1815 he appears to have set up on his own account; and thenceforward, fornearly half a century, there was perhaps no year in which he did not produce something new. His active mind never rested from attempts to alter the shape, diminish the size, radically change the framing, bellying, and action of the pianoforte; yet, in the result, with small influence, so far, upon the progress of its manufacture. In shape he produced table pianos, rounded and hexagonal: he made an oval piano, a piano console (very like a chiffonier), and novel oblique, vertical, and horizontal forms. Like Wornum in London and Streicher in Vienna, to do away with the break of continuity between wrestplank and soundboard in the grand piano, he repeated the old idea that had suggested itself to Marius and Schroeter, of an overstriking action—that is, the hammers descending upon the strings. This is said to have been in 1826. In this action he worked the hammers from the front ends of the keys, and thus saved a foot in the length of the case, which he strengthened up to due resistance of the tension without iron barring. He lowered the soundboard, glueing the belly-bars to the upper instead of the under surface, and attached the belly-bridge by a series of soundposts. His constant endeavour was to keep down the tension or drawing power of the strings, and to reduce the length and weight of the instrument; for, as he says ('Notice de M. H. Pape,' Benard, Paris, 1862), 'it is not progress in art to make little with much; the aim should be to make much with little.' Yet he extended compass to the absurd width of 8 octaves, maintaining that the perception of the extremes was a question of ear-education only. He reduced the structure of his actions to the simplest mechanism possible, preferring for understriking grand pianos the simple crank escapement of Petzold, and for upright pianos that of Wornum, which he adopted in 1815, as stated in the Notice already referred to. An excess of ingenuity has interfered with the acceptance of many of Pape's original ideas, which may yet find consideration when the present tendency to increase strain and pressure is less insisted upon. At present, his inventions of clothed key-mortices and of felt for hammers are the only important bequests makers have accepted from him, unless the cross or overstringing on different planes, devised by Pape for his table instruments, and already existing in some old clavichords, was first introduced into pianos by him. He claimed to have invented it, and in 1840 gave Tomkisson, a London maker, special permission to use it. [See Pianoforte.] He made a piano with springs instead of strings, thus doing away with tension altogether; added reed attachments, and invented a transposing piano, moving by his plan the whole instrument by means of a key while the clavier remained stationary. He also invented an ingenious saw for veneers of wood and ivory; in 1839 he veneered a piano which is now at St. James's Palace, entirely with the latter substance. Pape received many distinctions in France, including the decoration of the Legion of Honour. He died Feb. 2, 1875.

[ A. J. H. ]