The Dutch contribution to the development of the piano


Photo grand piano J.L. Dulcken 1974.

This instrument by Jan Lodewijk Dulcken is considered as one of the first Dutch grand pianos (after a model by J.A. Stein)


The 18th century has, approximately, three different types of chord instruments with keys: the harpsichord, the clavichord and the pianoforte. These instruments can easily be distinguished from each other by the way the chords are being made to sound. The most spread and technically developed was the harpsichord, of which the strings are strummed by ravenpins. The sound and construction of the clavichord was much more modest. The strings are being hit by a metal stilt.



 Photo table piano P. Fabritius 1808

Table piano by P. Fabritius, The Hague 1808. This instrument by ‘Faiseur d’instruments de musique’ P. Fabritius is the oldest table piano from The Hague that has been preserved. It stands out for its balanced empire-style design and for the refined combination of different kinds of wood (mahogany and sycamore, with decorations of satin wood).

At the end of the 18th century a new key-instrument came in development: the pianoforte. With this instrument the strings are made to sound by hammers. Initially the pianoforte was in competition with the harpsichord and the clavichord, but soon the interest in the pianoforte increased. As a result piano builders were more and more focusing on building pianofortes. Since 1760 there were several centers for building pianofortes in Europe.

The development of the piano in The Netherlands.

The manufacturing of pianofortes in The Netherlands had a modest position compared to the large centers in England, France, Germany and Austria. The reasons why are the following: The Republic of the United Netherlands has recovered very slowly from the damage and the economic shift that was caused by the French Revolution. Only after 1814 an economic revival became visible. We can only tell by rare announcements in the newspapers when pianoforte builders were interested in starting to build these instruments. The earliest announcement was in de ‘Amsterdamse Courant’ dated July 15, 1758 in which organ-builder Hendrik Blatz offers ‘two superb Forte Pianos, with hammers’ for sale.


Apollopiano by Meincke and Pieter Meyer, Amsterdam, about 1815. The special design of this piano comes from the Vieanese piano builders J. Wacht and J.F. Bleyer. The represented model here has been located since the 19th century in The Palace at the Dam Square in Amsterdam. In 1962 the Dutch Royal Family gave the instrument in free loan to the Municipal Museum in The Hague.

Much later in 1779 the same newspaper reported that Meincke Meyer from London, were he was the partner of Joh. Zumpe, settled in Amsterdam and became a pianoforte builder. This shows that the pianoforte was known already in Amsterdam in the middle of the 18th century. M. and P. Meyer were probably the first who had a regular production. Of course other builders followed their example. 


Giraffe piano from J. van Raay, Amsterdam, about 1825. Joannes van Raay was one of the most important Dutch piano builders. This instrument, luxuriously manufactured in Biedermeyer style has a mahogany cabinet, of which both front panels are upholstered with dark green cloth. Many of the Giraffe-pianos have an exceptional quantity of pedals. The six pedals of this particular instrument have the following functions: to mute, bassoon (base-side), dolce (base-side), dolce (whole), to move, triangle with drum.

It is not known to what extend this took place in the last decenniums of the 18th century. For sure outside Amsterdam the manufacturing of pianofortes started after 1800. Not only Dutch men worked in the manufacturing of pianofortes. Especially from Germany many skilled workers came to work for a Dutch builder or started their own business. Technically the Dutch builders used mainly the English technique, especially the one used by J. Broadwood and Sons.

Probably many pianofortes were built in The Netherlands under authorization of a foreign company. The until now used term pianoforte needs some explanation. This term goes back to the founder of the pianoforte construction, the Italian Cristofori, who gave the name ‘gravecimbalo col piano e forte’ (a harpsichord which can play soft and loud). From this term derived two names: pianoforte and fortepiano which were used interchangeably in several countries to indicate a keyboard instrument with hammers (hammer keyboard).

Rechtopstaande piano Raay

 An upright piano by J. van Raay and Sons, Amsterdam, about 1840.
Dutch examples of an upright piano are very rare. The cabinet of this model is made of mahogany with inlaid galloons of brass. The very much protruded keyboard is supported by legs in the shape of a violin curl, accommodated with metal claws. The upper and lower cases have doors. 

Within the 18th century different types of hammer keys were developed which gradually got their own denomination:

Grand piano (horizontal strings in line with the keys, asymmetric model)

Table piano (horizontal strings, perpendicular to the keys, plump square model)

Giraffe piano (strings almost vertical; pyramidal model)

Cabinet piano (vertical strings, rather high square model)

As the last descendant our current piano developed in the 19th century (pianino) (vertical strings and/or diagonal; square angular model).

Pyramidal piano by J. van Raay and Sons Amsterdam, about 1840. This is the only pyramidal piano by the van Raay company which, as far as we know, has been preserved. Although there are no numbers of the production available, it looks as if the rigid pyramidal piano was less popular than giraffe pianos. The pyramidal piano has four pedals: to move (1 string is being struck, to move (two strings are being struck), dolce and mute.


The Dutch musical instrument manufacturers from that period have almost exclusively focused on the production of the table piano. This type of piano was, especially about 1840, the most usual in the living room. The manufacturing of grand pianos is much more expensive and was, because of economic motivations, omitted. Significant however is that in the first half of the 19th century also many giraffe pianos were built.

After the stormy rise of the piano in the 18th century, the development almost stops in the middle of the 19th century. Not because of musical instruments became less popular, on the contrary. People waited for newer, better and more refined production methods, which were only discovered after the Industrial Revolution about 1900. At first The Netherlands only had a small role in production en refinement of pianos, but that changed after 1900. Dutch piano builders from that period were, amongst others: J.F. Cuypers, C. Quispel, M.J.H. Kessels, A. Mes and A. Hahn. In 1937 J.J. Rippen established a new Dutch piano factory.

Rippen Maestro
Rippen piano Maestro, The Hague, 1937. The first J.J. Rippen piano. It is clearly visible that the cabinet is based on the length of the strings. Because of the fact that the strings go together across a ridge a full and uniform sound is produced. 

The first famous piano by Rippen was the Maestro. J.J. Rippen said: “Start to draw the short strings up to the long bass ones. Keep them in a parallel position and put them across an uninterrupted ridge and you get a completely equal sound from high to low. Then build a fitting cabinet which follows the short and long strings around this construction as is customary at a harp. The result should be: an ideal sound in an ideal design”. Another invention was the application of the so called Rippen perma-tone soundboard. The soundboard amplifies and gives colour to the tone which is instigated by the vibrating string. So for a durable sound the construction of the soundboard is vital. The Rippen soundboard is made of the finest pine from Canada and Roemania. These trees grow slowly and straight up on the barren, cold and turned away from the sun slopes. Because of this the very important straight structure with close to each other growth rings starts. The Rippen soundboard keeps its sound quality also with temperature and humidity oscillation.

At first Rippen built his pianos out of hobby, but after the successful introduction of the Maestro Rippen became a family business where skill, dedication and experience passed from father to son.

However, at the Rippen factory there is more than skill and experience. Thanks to the technical innovation, like for instance the analysis of the sound quality together with the cooperation with scientists and musicians, the quality and durability of the pianos have improved considerably.

Moreover, every step in the production process is finished with a check, which means a check of the used materials, of the woodwork, of the manufacturing of the frame, of the fitting of the strings and the soundboard, of the tuning and regulation.

Piano productie

Regulation and check. The regulation of a piano needs to be done accurately which requires skill and experience. After the assembly of the mechanism and the key board everything will be checked once more. If everything has been found right, the piano-to-be is ready for the next phase in the production process.

Alleen zo weten ze bij Rippen zeker dat alle aandacht en zorg die er aan de bouw van de piano's besteed is, in de praktijk voor de volle 100% tot z'n recht komt.

At the end of last century Rippen, unfortunately, went out of business. Today Bol Pianos at Veenendaal is now the new owner of the rights and designs and the pianos are being assembled again from Veenendaal within 2018. 

Rippen Romance

De Romance van Rippen
Together with the Belcanto and Nocturne, the Romance is a popular model. The balanced sound, the sublime tone and the stylish design have to do with this.

That people abroad also appreciated a piece of good Dutch craftsmanship is proven by the fact that Rippen pianos have been exported all over the world.