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Documentation plan for Swedish keyboard instruments

The starting point is that there no longer exist any factories for making pianos, reed organs and self-playing instruments, and that it is not likely that we will see any newly established factories. It is therefore important to document and preserve the memories of this part of our musical, cultural and industrial history. This requires a national gathering of forces around our keyboard instrument culture, aiming to collect, look after and preserve instruments in a reliable way that would give a representative impression of Swedish keyboard instrument production. It would also mean documenting and preserving factory buildings and rooms, securing memories of the workers, and documenting both pianists and the social functions and classes where keyboard instruments have been found.

1. Instruments

Inventory of preserved instruments

The collecting plan of the Klaverens Hus aims at creating a representative collection of Swedish built keyboard instruments. This implies making an inventory of instruments, so that we know both what is preserved and the present whereabouts of the instruments, whether they are in private or public possession, in Sweden or abroad. At Klaverens Hus there is a register of instruments, an overview of collections that may be extended into a relational database with the goal of publishing the results on the Internet or making them available to museums and other cultural institutions. In parallel, a centre for documentation concerning Swedish keyboard instruments has been created. Important sources are the factory catalogues and price-lists, where production is described model-by-model, showing condition, size and features of the actions. Thereby the catalogues, briefly describing production, may also efficiently direct the task of augmenting the collections of instruments.

Documentation of instruments

The task at hand is to describe instruments, or rather models, so that they can be rebuilt. The factory made instruments with fixed models cannot at a preliminary stage be measured in detail, but will be described in broad strokes so that each model is characterized. However, the old instruments where models are not clearly discerned may be described more thoroughly. Here it is a matter of establishing methods of documentation at different levels - how the instruments should be described, which measurements must be taken, which tools used, what type of pictures should be taken, how they should be stored, and in which cases they need to be supplemented by detailed drawings (for example of actions).

Preservation of instruments and tools

The collections are to be preserved for the future, and therefore require care and preservation. There is a clear difference between the treatment of the casing of the instruments and that of the actions. For the casing, usual methods of furniture care including varnishing finishing should be used. The actions demand special care depending on the technical development of the instruments. Here, good starting points are the recommendations of the piano and reed organ factories on how to look after their own instruments. Preservation of tools and machines demands its own methods that include wood and metal treatment.

Restoring of instruments

Restoring mute keyboard instruments to a playable state involves delicate ethical considerations, as the necessary work usually means permanent, non-reversible changes. Here, it is important to balance antiquarian aspects against the musical function. The following factors are important when considering the possibility of restoration: how many instruments by a certain maker or of a certain construction have been preserved; the condition of the restoration object; the type of work thought to be necessary; to what degree the original details of the action would be affected. We should also discuss a “canon” of instruments never to be touched by a restorer’s hand. Here, a national gathering of forces is needed to reach consensus on principles of restoration to be put into general practice at our museums. These principles can then also guide private persons who wish to have their instruments sounding again. The rules of CIMCIM and ICOM may serve as good starting points for discussions. Another principle, taken from the organ world, is to build a copy of the original first - a task that includes research - and thereafter restore the historical instrument. Every restoration should be observed by an expert group that regularly meets as the work progresses.


Inventories and documentation of instruments as well as preservation of items and restoration of instruments all imply research in all fields. Such research is dependent on new instruments and constructions being brought to light, and after analysis being put into their musical and technical context.

2. Factories and workers

Memories of the workers

It is of pressing urgency to find out where there are still workers from the factories living, and to find and interview as many of them as possible. In Arvika and nearby places there is one rather large group, and it is worth researching whether there are also people in Herrljunga who have their own experience of the factories there. To preserve the memories of the workers it is important to develop an interview technique. The recorded interviews can be complemented with video recordings where possible and suitable.

Collection of tools from the factories

It is important to collect what is still left of tools etc. from Swedish piano and reed organ factories. This means that workers from the factories need to be found, and in cases where they are already deceased, cooperation with relatives can take place to safeguard knowledge and document items in their possession.

3. Music, interpretation and playing technique

When it comes to musicians, interpretation and playing technique, it is urgent to document pianists by interviews and recordings, especially where the older generation is concerned. It is important that each and every one can give their story about under whom they have studied, with whom they have cooperated, what students they have had, and above all how they understand and interpret the music. In this context it is vital to build up a collection of recordings, where at a first stage the older generations must have priority.

4. The social connections of the keyboard instruments

The social connections and functions of the old keyboard instruments form a special field where research has been done and is still going on. Therefore the Klaverens Hus is giving a lower priority to these and instead calls attention to circumstances in the 19th and 20th centuries, where especially the 19th century still presents unexplored areas of problems.

January 2004
Eva Helenius-Öberg




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