The Chickering Piano Company in the nineteenth century
Tsang-Hall, Dale Yi-Cheng
Citron, Marcia J.
Doctor of Musical Arts
Jonas Chickering was the foremost American piano-maker in the early- to mid-nineteenth century. He perfected the iron frame in the square piano and the grand piano, adding stability and strength to the instruments, and launching his company into the international market. Even more, he took advantage of an age in which technology, transportation, financial abundance, and American idealism converged, propelling the piano, its music, and its artists into the American mainstream. The Chickering firm in the mid-1800's was one of the most respected manufacturing companies in the United States. In the history of pianoforte design, Jonas Chickering bridged the gap between the 19th-century European pianoforte and the modern design epitomized by the Steinway company. His firm was also largely responsible for the "piano craze" that overtook the United States in the mid-1800's, in which "middle-class" status was epitomized by stationing a piano in the living room. This document gives an overview of the nineteenth-century Chickering company as a whole. It focuses specifically upon the design and construction of the nineteenth-century Chickering square and grand. In conducting research for this dissertation, I began with a study of five Chickering instruments at the Smithsonian Institution, particularly noting the physical evolution of the square piano. Important primary-source information was gathered at the Smithsonian Institution Archives Center, whose Chickering & Sons collection includes the majority of the Chickering Piano Registers. A visit to the Fiske Museum in Claremont, California afforded an opportunity to study the earliest known Chickering grand in a public collection, as well as two Chickering squares. I also visited numerous other Chickering grands in California to trace further the evolution of the grand line. In order to examine more closely a representative instrument, the author acquired an 1869 Chickering square (Serial #34936). Through dismantling its action and damper assemblies, I was able to gain more insight into the Chickering company's designs and production methods. A detailed summary of findings is included. This writer's intent is to explain the technological, musical, and ideological success of the Chickering company in producing perfect instruments for their time.
American studies; American history; Music