Tellefsen’s choice of piano
In nineteenth-century France, there were two notable manufacturers of pianos – Ignace Pleyel and Sébastian Erard. Erard had built instruments since the 1770s and was renowned for the high quality of his products, especially in the category of “forte-pianos”, instruments with great potential in dynamics. Pleyel, born in Austria, started producing pianos in Paris in 1807 and contributed to the technical improvement of the instrument by installing a metal frame instead of a wooden one, as was the standard at the time.
Tellefsen hired a piano from the very beginning of his stay in London in the summer of 1842. At first, it was an instrument hired from Ignace Pleyel for 16 francs a month. In October, however, he decided to change to Erard, even though his fees were much higher:
"I want to leave Pleyel and hire an instrument from Erard (there is an old Parisian saying that Stradivari’s violin and Erard’s piano are on a par), but it costs 25 francs” (letter of 4 October 1842).
Just a few months later, Tellefsen had become renowned enough to receive an offer to join other leading pianists in practising on the best instruments in Erard’s shop at 13 rue du Mail. In February 1843, he wrote: “last week, he proposed that I come to his atelier and play his exquisite pianos (piano à queue) every day between 8 and 11 – an offer which I constantly avail myself of, as these instruments are the best in the world and played by the greatest of musicians (letter of 10 February 1843).
In the summer of 1846, Tellefsen started a concert tour in Norway with his own Erard piano. The piano which he put up for auction in a lottery concert in Christiania in 1847 was also an Erard. Tellefsen preferred Erard, while Chopin leaned towards Pleyel whenever he wanted to bring out nuances in a special way. The selection of instruments can also be explained by the differences in the venues in which the two pianists played, which required different characteristics of the instruments. Tellefsen’s concerts were often held in big concert halls for an audience of several hundred, while Chopin played in drawing-rooms, in a more intimate atmosphere.