Dulcken Fortepiano constructed by Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti, 1985
Gift of the Brilliant Family in memory of Maxine Brilliant (1952-1962)
As one of their gifts to SJSU in founding the Beethoven Center, Ira and Irma Brilliant donated funds for the acquisition of a historical fortepiano in memory of their daughter Maxine. In 1984 Acting Director Thomas Wendel, after extensive research and consultation with fortepiano experts around the country, commissioned fortepiano builders Janine Johnson and Paul Poletti to build a reproduction of a Dulcken fortepiano from ca. 1790 in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution. The Center’s beautiful copy was completed by the date of the Center’s opening in September 1985.
Description: The five-octave instrument used as a model for the Center's fortepiano is located at the Smithsonian Institution. However, the Center’s copy was built with five additional keys so that it could accommodate Beethoven's early period fortepiano works as well as some sonatas from his middle period. The case, which is more decorative than the original Dulcken, and its inner parts are made mostly of wood, which gives the instrument considerable resonance. The woods include basswood, maple, mahogany, Swiss pear, lemonwood, cherry, walnut, spruce, beach, and poplar. The hammers are covered in leather and the thin strings (comparable to harpsichord strings) run straight across a wooden sounding board without support by a metal frame. There are two strings for each note, and the string are roughly half the diameter of modern strings. The instrument has two knee levers rather than foot pedals. The right lever lifts the damper rail and the left lever engages the moderator (or mute) stop, which slips a piece of felt in between the hammer and the string. The ebony keys are slightly shorter and narrower than the keys of our modern piano, so large intervals are easier to reach.
For more photographs of the Dulcken fortepiano, see our historical keyboards page.