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8 minutes reading time (1678 words)

The piano magazine lives on


Let's take this moment to celebrate the marriage of Clavier and Keyboard Companion. As these two magazines begin life as one, it is important to remember that Clavier Companion's debut issue continues a long lineage of grand old piano magazines.

Pianoforte, the first piano magazine, appeared in London in 1797. In that year John Adams became the second president of the United States; an earthquake in Quito, Ecuador killed 41,000 people; Russia, Prussia, and Austria signed a peace treaty; and the Bank of England issued the first £-note. Haydn's song, "Gotterhalte Franz den Kaiser," premiered in Vienna, and Cherubini's opera "Medèe," opened in Paris; Nathaniel Briggs of New Hamp- shire patented a washing machine, and John Etherington of Lon- don wore the first top hat.

This first piano magazine appeared more than 90 years after Bartolomeo Cristofori introduced the world to the keyboard instrument that would evolve into the modern-day piano. By the date of Pianoforte's birth, David Porpert had given the earliest- known North American piano performance, the American Brent and British Erard piano companies were in existence, and Henry Fowler Broadwood's company had created a six-octave piano for the Queen of Spain.

No copies of Pianoforte still exist, but presumably, the magazine offered a guide to aspiring pianists. Many piano magazines followed over the years, none more popular than Etude, introduced to the piano world by Philadelphia music publisher Theodore Presser in October, 1883. The wordy look of Etude's first cover evolved into glorious full-color portraits drawn by some of the era's leading illustrators, such as William S. Norten Heim. Many of these covers bring high prices on today's collectors' market. Etude magazine, oversize by today's publishing standards, presented readers with four wide columns of small type on every one of its 76 pages. How many hurried folks would have the time to read such a dense publication today? Graphics consisted of black-and-white photographs of article authors, both men and women dressed in severe dark suits, glaring at readers with grim seriousness.

The magazine's stated purpose was: "to supply technical information to teachers about piano music and methods," especially to those teachers who did not live near large cities, and had "very little, if any other means of acquiring that necessary information." 

The magazine took this goal seriously. "Earn a Teacher's Diploma or Bachelor's Degree in Music In Your Spare Time at Home" blared an advertisement from the University Extension Conservatory at Chicago. Another ad directed teachers to a course created by Frances E. Clark designed to prepare them to become public school music teachers. Columns such as "The Teachers' Round Table" further contributed to the piano teacher's education. Wellesley College professor Clarence G. Hamilton and later, the famous pianist and pedagogue Guy Maier, answered questions about practice and parental involvement, overeating, professional courtesy, and coping with performance nervousness. Articles such as "Music Education in the Home" by Margaret Wheeler Ross and "Why Some Teachers Are To Blame for the Failure of Their Pupils" by Sidney Silber both challenged and comforted teachers out on their own.

Etude devoted many pages to the ongoing efforts to bring professional standards to music teaching. A quote from a 1915 article, found on parlorsongs.com, discusses professional issues still unresolved today: "Teachers in some states have been working to secure laws requiring every teacher to pass examinations leading to certificates entitling the teacher to teach ...." The author was not in favor, however, of the "adoption and advocacy of any proprietary material of any kind whatsoever in any State system or other system of standardization."

During the editorial reign of James Francis Cooke (1907-1949) the Etude masthead included the phrase "Music Exalts Life!" To that end every Etude included 15 to 20 scores of graded piano etudes, repertoire by master composers, and contemporary works. Although much of the contemporary music, such as, "Sing Me A Song Of A Lad That Is Gone" set to a poem by Robert Louis Stevenson in the December 1908 issue, is long forgotten, the general quality of the music was high and the selections demanded more pianistic and vocal skill than the typical popular songs of the day. Cooke's editorial notes in the January, 1930 issue asked readers to make a New Year's resolution "to investigate New Music regularly, but not be fooled by the ephemeral freak music of sensation mongers." Under the editorship of Cooke's successor, Guy McCoy, who worked with assistant editor George Rochberg, jazz and serious contemporary music made its way into Etude's pages after 1949.

Etude's circulation reached 250,000 subscribers at its peak before dwindling to 50,000 by 1957. This large circulation reflected an audience which extended beyond music teachers to amateur musicians, including pianists, string players, and vocal- ists. Among contributors of articles directed to this audience were Maurice Ravel, Walter Damrosch, Artur Rodzinski, William Schu- man, Renata Tebaldi, and Pablo Casals.

The magazine's amateur-pianist readers must have possessed skills beyond those of today's typical adult student. The January, 1930 issue alone featured: "The Art of Making Playing Beautiful,"Up-to-Date Ideas on Improving Piano Touch," and "How to Practice 3rds, 6ths, and Octaves." Etude even reached out to young students, including a copy of Junior Etude in every issue. Music history and even some "world music" study also took up residence in the pages with articles such as "Music, Munich, and the Mad King," "New Aspects of American Indian Music," and "The Struggle of the Negro Musician."

Due to its large circulation, Etude pulled in a lot of advertisers. In addition to typical ads such as: "The Fletcher Music Method by Evelyn Fletcher-Copp of Brookline, Massachusetts," and "John Thompson's 5-day course in Modern Piano Teaching in New York, New York," Etude included advertising for Ingram's Milkweed cream: "beauty in every jar." Actress Jane Novak said: "I studied toilet aids as I study my roles and I chose Ingram's milkweed cream after a very critical selection. It has fully proved its very unusual qualities to me." One can only wonder what those "qualities" were. According to parlorsongs.com, advertisers in the. December, 1920 issue included: "... Grove's Dictionary of Music and Musicians with an American supplement for the princely sum of $20 (it costs over $2,000 now) and The Standard History of Music for $1." Cream of Wheat regularly advertised in Etude, featuring an ad painted by the well-known illustrator, "Brewer."

Etude ceased publication with the May-June issue in 1957. Originally priced at 10 cents, the magazine's final issue sold for 40 cents. Filling the gap left by Etude, The Instrumentalist Company of Evanston, Illinois introduced Clavier in 1959 with Dorothy Ream Packard as its founding editor and business manager. During Clavier's 49-year history, its award-winning covers featured full-cover photographs of famous pianists and teachers as well as artistic close-ups of the piano itself. Its incisive interviews with keyboard artists from Artur Rubinstein to Murray Perahia coupled with in-depth teaching articles by the likes of Celia Mae Bryant, Louis Crowder, Lynn Freeman Olson, Maurice Hinson, and Jane Magrath made the magazine a must-read for performers and teachers. One column from Etude made its way into Clavier. Frances Clark continued the work of her mentor, Guy Maier, when she established her column "Questions and Answers," a new version of "The Teacher's Round Table."1

Unlike Etude, Clavier rarely published music in the magazine, and the amateur pianist formerly courted by Etude moved to mag- azines that did, such as Keyboard. Clavier used the freed pages to cover the rapidly changing piano world, turning to the new topics of group teaching and computer and electronic keyboard technologies, and addressing issues such as the changing concert scene and the business of teaching. In the late 1980s Clavier took advantage of satellite technology and joined with the Baldwin Piano and Organ Company to present a series of video conferences to 11,000 teachers nationwide.

In the Spring of 1990 Richard and Marjorie Chronister established Keyboard Companion, a magazine devoted to early-level piano study with articles based on the answers to questions that in-the-trenches teachers struggle with every day. The magazine's narrow focus allowed it to answer each question with a depth of exploration difficult to achieve in former piano publications devoted to a wider audience. In 1998 it joined the Internet revolution by establishing a magazine website, adding sound files and video clips to select "multimedia" articles.

Keyboard Companion espoused Richard Chronister's reality-based approach to teaching, one well-described by his successor Editor Elvina Truman Pearce, in a January 16, 1992 Chicago Tribune interview: "Anything that's going to last forever cannot be learned overnight. The real teacher is the one who is interested in musical literacy, not in having a kid move his fingers from one place to another. I'm sure you could teach a chimpanzee to do that. There's a big difference between an educator and a manipulator."

Clavier Companion comes to life with this issue, shortly after the conclusion of a year in which Barack Obama was elected the 44th president of the United States; the Wenchuan earthquake killed over 69,000 people in Sichuan, China; Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia; Malta and Cyprus adopted the Euro currency; and a different John Adams saw the NY premiere of his opera, Doctor Atomic. The world's first building to integrate wind turbines was constructed in Bahrain and the top hat has been replaced with the backward (or sideways!) baseball cap. The challenges of the world continue, and throughout the years from 1797 to 2008 music still exalts life, the piano still exalts music, and the piano magazine lives on. 

1Editor's Note: Questions and Answers will be continued in Clavier Companion, under the direction of Louise Goss, a lifelong collaborator with Frances Clark. 

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Piano Magazine is the leading resource for pianists, piano teachers, and piano enthusiasts. We bring you informative, interesting, and inspiring ideas on all aspects of piano teaching, learning, and performing. The official name of Clavier Companion magazine was changed to Piano Magazine in 2019.

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