Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 11.djvu/712

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is, however, the greatest triumph of inventive genius and skill, aided by modern physical science; and this fact being acknowledged in all parts of the civilized world, foreign trade has been introduced to such an extent as to make the industry one of the largest in the United States. All the makers here daily strive for preeminence, and endeavor to surpass one another in the superior excellences of the smallest details, if not in the novelty and value, of their own respective inventions. No pains or expense are spared to obtain improvements, in the hope that these may, at least, lead to subsequent discoveries in the many untrodden paths of acoustical science. In this respect they resemble the old violin-makers of Italy, who also took a pardonable pride in their productions, which are the result of similar prolonged strivings.

The violin and the piano-forte, however, although in some respects similar, are in others widely different. The violin is endowed with perpetual youth. It even improves with age. The piano-forte does not. The violin is a mere shell of wood, modeled somewhat after a human shape, held together by glue, and strung with catgut; and although its various parts must be adjusted with great discrimination, and the bow with which it is excited be finely formed (having, for instance, a length of say twenty-nine and a quarter inches; weight of 900 grains; a diameter gradually decreasing, for twenty-three inches, from one-third to one-tenth of an inch, the curvature meanwhile increasing at an accelerating rate, to give a spring to the bow), yet this musical instrument, when compared with a piano-forte, appears as an extremely simple organism. It is more homogeneous, like all the other members of the numerous family of viols. The piano-forte, on the contrary, with its many kinds of wood, hard and soft, heavy and light; its many kinds of cloths and felts; of skins; with its masses of wrought and cast iron, steel, copper, brass, silver, lead, etc., is a more highly-complex production. It is heterogeneous, rather than homogeneous; and only by the most perfect coordination of all its parts does it retain an organization capable or worthy of preservation.

The piano-fortes of Erard, so highly prized for their extreme refinement and susceptibility to slightest variations of touch, are extremely delicate; and while other Europeans have succeeded in making more robust instruments, it has been reserved for the Americans the ability to endow their productions with constitutions capable of resisting, to any remarkable extent, climatal influences. The degree of their success, with reference to longevity, is not yet fully proved; and the variations in this respect are so great that it would be even rash to form an estimate, as we shall presently see. It is only safe to say that a piano-forte is never better than when it first leaves the hands of its maker. Like a young, impressionable being, it may then be made to suit special tastes and requirements. The readiness and extent of response to touch can then be determined, and the tones