The Louis Verel portable square piano is one of a kind and represents a particularly innovative faction of musical instrument makers in late eighteenth century London. Bearing a reduced compass and a foldable frame, the instrument is easily transportable- an ideal quality for itinerant musicians & music teachers. The instrument is the only known survival from Verel’s shop.
While the early life of Louis Lavigne Verel remains unknown, he began work as a finisher & foreman in the shop of Joseph Merlin in 1773, an eccentric musical instrument maker & inventor who was based in London’s Fitzrovia neighborhood. Verel headed Merlin’s Rathbone Street shop for nine years, working with Merlin on a variety of experimental approaches until he decided to venture into business on his own in late 1781. An early 1782 advertisement places Verel’s new shop on the border between Soho and Mayfair, on what is now Regent Street. Like his previous employer, Verel offered “harpsichords and great and small piano fortes,” but used the advertisement to describe his inventions for the sound and play ability of the piano. He also offered “small piano fortes of a new design,” which very likely references this small portable piano.
Verels’ exciting potential as a musical instrument innovator was unfortunately cut short by his death in May of 1783 – just after the completion of this instrument. His short-lived business venture was not lucrative, and he died in poverty. However, he was buried in the Old St. Pancras Churchyard – alongside important eighteenth century composers Carl Friedrich Abel and Johann Christian Bach.
Take a closer look at Verel’s unique creation on display in Seven Centuries of Keyboard Instruments!
Margaret Debenham, 2014. ‘Joseph Merlin in London, 1760–1803: the Man behind the Mask. New Documentary Sources’ in The Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle,
Vol. 45, Issue 1, 130-163.