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Defying The Anatomical

Jankó Keyboard Atop an Upright Piano

Named after its inventor, Hungarian Paul von Jankó (1856 – 1919), a mathematician, musician and engineer, designed this piano to improve the geometry and fingering of the keys with the intended goal for amateurs to be able tackle difficult pieces usually reserved for virtuosi or the professional pianists. For his invention, he was awarded a German patent on January 14, 1882.

Paul Perzina improved on Jankó’s idea by creating a ‘reversible double key-bottom’ to marry the original keyboard with Jankó’s, allowing for a more pliable or springy touch—resolving an early complaint of the Jankó Keyboard as being non-elastic.

On the old keyboard […] the hand is forced to defy its anatomical construction. We hear of a great many instruments and devices to train and shape the fingers and wrists in opposition to what nature has intended. […] It seems to be somewhat wiser trying to overcome the difficulties in a different way – namely, by changing the keyboard to suit the hands.

E. K. Winkler of the Musical Courier (1891) 

But the Jankó keyboard threatened a 400-year old way of thinking and playing the piano, which included a very lucrative business for builders and publishers; in addition, teachers and students were reluctant to relearn their training to accommodate the strange configuration of keys. Consequently, though championed both by Perzina and Blüthner, by World War I the Jankó Keyboard became extinct.

Demonstration of 4-Row Jankó Keyboard by Paul Vandervoort. 3