String piano

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Violin work by Raymundo Truchado, 1625.

The string piano , also bowed wing, violin work, violin clavizimbel or sostenente piano , is a chordophone that is played using a keyboard . In contrast to the fortepiano , the strings are not struck, but rather bowed .

The structure allows full-grip polyphonic music making, control of the duration and volume curve and, depending on the construction, also the intonation of each individual tone.

String pianos have been documented since the 15th century and a large number of different constructions emerged into the 20th century.

Usually the strings are coated by means of wheels , ribbons or cylinders coated with rosin and thus made to vibrate . The strings are arranged according to pitch above a sound box. The body shape often corresponds to the wing shape.


Nuremberg violin work after Praetorius

Drawings of a string piano ( viola organista ) were already preserved by Leonardo da Vinci in his notes bound as Codex Atlanticus . The publication Syntagma musicum by Michael Praetorius (1619) attracted special attention from Hans Heyden's Nürnbergisch Geigenwerk (violin pianoforte) from Nuremberg (1575). With this instrument, by pressing a button, the string connected by a hook is guided against a bowed wheel known from the hurdy-gurdy . Since there is no pressure point, the strings intone depending on the key press. In order to strike the large number of strings, there are several wheels arranged next to one another, each of which has several strings assigned to it. The violin is operated by two people. One person has to set the wheels in motion with the help of a crank, the other plays the keys. In the Brussels Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) there is an early violin work by the Spaniard Fray Raymundo Truchado from 1625.

Georg Gleichmann, organist in Ilmenau , constructed a similar instrument with some improvements in 1709 and called it the piano viol . In 1741 Le Voirs followed in Paris with a gamba piano , and in 1754 Hohlfeld zu Berlin with the bow piano , which had the advantage over Heyden's instrument that the wheels were covered with horse hair. Garbrecht tried to improve the bow piano in 1790 together with the god of honor Andreas Wasianski in Königsberg , in 1795 Mayer followed in Görlitz with his bow piano , which Kunze in Prague made more useful in 1799. In 1801 Hübner constructed his Clavecin harmonique ( Orchestrion ) and in 1797 Karl Leopold Röllig in Vienna with the Xänorphica, the most complicated instrument of its kind, which set a special bow in motion for every key and string.

Of all these instruments, none has been able to get beyond the reputation of a curiosity. A combination of the arched grand piano with an ordinary piano was Karl Greiner's bow hammer piano from 1779.

Playable and functional replicas of a string piano and a violin can be found in the Instrument Museum in Lißberg (Ortenberg). The replicas were made by Kurt Reichmann according to da Vinci's construction plans. Another contemporary designer of string pianos is the Polish pianist and instrument maker Sławomir Zubrzycki.

Other bowed keyboard instruments

The string piano is one of those cases of zithers in which an unabbreviated excited string is required for each note. In the hurdy-gurdy, known in Western Europe since the 12th century, the strings are also excited by a bowed wheel, but the musician uses the keyboard to shorten the strings like a lute instrument . The key fiddle ( Nyckelharpa ) corresponds to the hurdy-gurdy, but the strings are bowed with a bow.


  • Manuel Bärwald: "... a piano of special invention" - Johann Hohlfeld's arched grand piano and its importance for the work of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach . In: Bach-Jahrbuch , 94, 2008, pp. 271-300.
  • Arch wings . In: Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon . 6th edition. Volume 3, Bibliographical Institute, Leipzig / Vienna 1905, p.  140 .
  • Alexander Buchner: The sostenente piano . In: Revue belge de Musicologie / Belgisch Tijdschrift voor Muziekwetenschap, Vol. 34/35, 1980 ( excerpt from
  • Barry Lloyd: A Designer's Guide to Bowed Keyboard Instruments. In: The Galpin Society Journal, Vol. 56, June 2003, pp. 152-174
  • John Henry van der Meer: bowed string pianos . In: Basler Jahrbuch für Historische Musikpraxis , 13, 1989, pp. 141–181.

Individual evidence

  1. Websites of Sławomir Zubrzycki