It is difficult to realize the manifold possibilities which this keyboard opens up for the composer and performer. Entirely new music can be written by composers, containing chords, runs and arpeggios, utterly impossible to execute on the ordinary keyboard, and thus does the Janko keyboard make the piano, what it has often been called, a veritable "house orchestra." It is not nearly so difficult for the student to master the technic of the Janko, as to become efficient on the present keyboard. This keyboard can be readily adjusted to any piano having the ordinary action.
Paul von Janko was born in western Hungary in 1856. He was trained as a mathematician and became a musician and engineer, studying under physiologist and physicist Hermann von Helmholtz.
In 1882, he patented a new form of keyboard layout, designed to allow the player to cover a wider span of notes with each hand and to make all keys equally easy to play. Janko's keyboard drew upon earlier designs by Conrad Henfling (1708), Johann Rohleder (1791) and William Lunn (1843).
He used short narrow keys akin to buttons, and stacked them up to form six tiers. The notes were arranged in whole-tone intervals. The first tier, the third and the fifth play a whole-tone scale beginning from C.
The secound, fourth and sixth tiers play a whole-tone scale beginning from C#.
The shape and fingering of a given scale or chord is the same in any key and the octave span is reduced to 5" as opposed to 6-1/2" on a normal piano. In 1886, RW Kurka incorporated a
Janko keyboard into a piano, and Paul von Janko himself demonstrated it in Vienna, playing works by Liszt, Schubert, and Chopin.
Janko Keyboard Layout
Janko Keyboard in grand piano.
It was not taken up b the Viennese piano makers, but in Germany Bluthner, Kaps and Ibach all built pianos using the keyboard. In England, Hopkinson was the first to fit a Janko keyboard, in 1888, Broadwood soon followed. The pictures show an 1890s Broadwood grand with a 7-1/3 octave Janko keyboard (above), and a Decker Brothers upright of c1892 (below).
Many acclaimed the keyboard as the most important development of the age. Few players, however, were prepared to learn the new fingering, simple though it was. By the turn of the century it had become clear that the new keyboard was not going to replace the traditional design. Janko died in Constantinople in 1919. No more than a handful of his keyboards remain.
Janko keyboard in Decker Brothers upright
Reprinted with permission from the book
Piano by David Crombie. This book and its contents are under copyright by the publisher, Balafon Books (UK), all rights reserved.