The Andrew Reuss square piano, crafted around 1835 in Cincinnati, Ohio, tells a fascinating story of individualized craftsmanship and American Westward expansion. Originally from the Bavarian spa town of Bad Kissingen, Germany, Andrew (Originally Andreas) Reuss came to the United States in the late 1820s as part of the German diaspora settling in Cincinnati. The City was founded in 1788, and despite its location on the Ohio River, it remained a more rural outpost until the National Road began construction in 1811. The first federally-funded highway, the National Road ran westward from Baltimore to St. Louis, connecting cosmopolitan east coast port cities with interior towns across the Appalachian mountains. This critical piece of infrastructure spurred the Westward movement of objects, ideas, and people – like Andrew Reuss and his square pianos.
After arriving in Cincinnati, Reuss began to produce & sell instruments. His endeavors are well documented in Cincinnati City Directories, which trace Reuss’s burgeoning success and the growing quantity of piano makers in the City. The demand for instruments was supported by a rapidly-growing middle-class population, bringing an influx of music teachers, sheet music, and performing musicians.
The instrument itself speaks to Reuss’s German heritage, featuring many elements found in contemporaneous Viennese instruments, including a modified Viennese action, and bassoon and Janissary stops. Despite a rather conventional appearance similar to the Empire-style furniture being created across America, the instrument possesses a unique dedication to Andrew Reuss’s deceased family, who remained in Germany. The pedal box closely mirrors the arched funerary monument he had installed for his Father, Mother, and Sister in Bad Kissengen – a personalized manifestation of memory in line with early nineteenth century mourning culture.