This square piano was presented by the French government to the Australian politician and diplomat Richard Casey when he was Minister Resident in the Middle East, an appointment made in 1942 by Britain’s Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. In 1960 Casey was made a life peer of the British House of Lords and, as Lord Casey, he served as Governor General of Australia from 7 May 1965 to 30 April 1969.
Sébastien Érard was a renowned French instrument maker of pianos and harps.
Based mainly in Paris, Érard also had an instrumentmaking firm in London, which was managed by his nephew Pierre.
Érard was a genius at finding ways around mechanical problems and both he and Pierre took out numerous patents throughout their careers. Together they worked under the Érard Frères (Érard Brothers) business name.
Érard made his first square piano, which was probably a copy of an English piano designed by Johannes Zumpe, in 1777. Ever the innovator, Érard was the first maker in Paris to fit pedals on his pianos, and he designed a combination piano/organ with two keyboards for Marie Antoinette.
Érard patented a ‘double-action’ harp with seven pedals in June 1810, widely regarded as the date when the concert harp was invented. It had taken Érard eight years of work; there is a story that towards the end of the process, Érard did not undress for three months, snatched meals and hardly slept in order to get his innovative harp design completed.
As well as possessing an ingenious aptitude for its mechanics, Érard was a shrewd businessman. He made gifts of his pianos to Haydn, Beethoven and Napoleon, and encouraged a close friendship between his nephew Pierre and the young musical prodigy, Franz Liszt. An 1824 lithograph of Franz Liszt – one of the world’s greatest pianist/composers – depicts the 13-year-old musical prodigy sitting in front of an Érard square piano just like the one in the Stewart Symonds Collection.