Square piano by Arnold Frederick Beck (London, 1780): Restorative conservation, what may be inferred, and a resultant teaching program

Author Identifier



Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - ECU Access Only


Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA)

First Supervisor

Geoffrey Lancaster

Second Supervisor

Cecilia Sun

Third Supervisor

Jonathan McIntosh


In 1766, in London, the German émigré Johann Christophe Zumpe invented the English square piano. The popularity of the instrument inspired other instrument makers, including Arnold Frederick Beck, who, from 1769, manufactured square pianos closely modelled on Zumpe’s design. In subsequent years, many square pianos were transported from England to India and the Americas. Indeed, an English square piano was also included on the First Fleet that in May 1787 departed Portsmouth, UK, and which in January 1788 arrived at Botany Bay, Australia. A piano dated 1780 made by Arnold Frederick Beck now housed at Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia, may well be this instrument. In March 2019, the University’s 1780 Beck square piano was returned to the UK for restorative conservation to be undertaken by Lucy Coad, one of the world’s most eminent restorative conservators. The restoration of this instrument raises questions about the concept of restorative conservation, and how it may be applied. These questions are addressed in this study, which is set in two parts. The first part discusses the concept of restorative conservation and its application, and documents Lucy Coad’s restorative conservation of Edith Cowan University’s 1780 Beck square piano. Coad’s restorative conservation reveals that the 1780 Beck piano was previously subjected to damage which appears to have been caused by individuals with deficient tuning and stringing techniques. Such deficiencies, the study suggests, are as characteristic of the contemporary context as of past centuries; furthermore, there is no teaching program that focusses on the concepts and skills of tuning and stringing a late–eighteenth-century English square piano within which context the modern practitioner can learn such concepts and skills. The second part of the study, which is a practical response to this lacuna, designs, implements, and evaluates a Teaching Program that addresses the concepts and skills pertinent to tuning and stringing a late–eighteenthcentury English square piano. The Program is tested on a sample of eleven participants with differing levels of musical knowledge and technical skill. On completion of the Program, the participants are assessed by two independent judges with expertise in, respectively, tuning historic temperaments on historic stringed keyboard instruments, and stringing historical pianos. The study concludes that the Teaching Program enables individuals with differing levels of musical knowledge and technical skill to learn the concepts and skills pertinent to tuning and stringing a late–eighteenth-century English square piano.



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