Philip Belt, father of the modern fortepiano

Carl Crosier at the fortepiano.

Carl Crosier at the fortepiano.

Today Michael Belt wrote this comment on my post about our fortepiano: My Grandfather passed away this Monday past.  I personally watched him build and test a few fortepianos in my time.  Truly a talent…

We believe that this is the only fortepiano in Honolulu.

We believe that this is the only fortepiano in Honolulu.

You  may remember from my post, “Our fortepiano is famous (maybe and maybe not!)” that this photograph of our fortepiano appeared in the Winter 2011 issue of Early Music America magazine, but that no credit was given to where the fortepiano was located. It was built by Philip Belt in 1970, considered the father of the modern fortepiano, and was commissioned by Else Geissmar, Carl Crosier’s college piano teacher. Saying that “he was her best student,” Else promised that one day Carl would have it. And that we did, from the year 2006 when it was crated and shipped to Honolulu from Seattle.

Philip Belt of Hagerstown has retired from hand-crafting fortepianos such as the one Mozart used when composing. Belt holds an album recorded by Cornell University professor Malcolm Bilson using a piano Belt constructed. (Photo: Rachel E. Sheeley/Palladium-Item)

Philip Belt of Hagerstown has retired from hand-crafting fortepianos such as the one Mozart used when composing. Belt holds an album recorded by Cornell University professor Malcolm Bilson using a piano Belt constructed.
(Photo: Rachel E. Sheeley/Palladium-Item)

I found a recent article from the Palladium-Item newspaper about Philip Belt, titled “Hagerstown piano craftsman reflects on his career,” and you can read the article in its entirety by clicking the link. I was especially interested to learn that Belt fell in love with a German square piano which resided in the home of his childhood sweetheart. And although he built his career on building replicas of historic pianos (totaling 46 fortepianos), he did not read music yet he could tune pianos.

He met his current wife through a pen pal program and although he had already been married five times before, he had been married to Merlinda, a woman he met in the Philippines, for 32 years before he died last Monday. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family.

When Carl Crosier died last August, he bequeathed the fortepiano to local piano teacher, Mark Russell, who took possession of it last weekend to make room for my new practice pipe organ.

Speaking of the new pipe organ, the last week I have been dealing with a local freight forwarder and a customs brokerage house about getting the organ through customs. So I was most surprised to receive a phone call this morning from Todd of S & S Delivery who confirmed that they will be picking up the organ from the freight forwarder and delivering it to my condo! In case you didn’t know, we have used S & S Delivery countless times in moving the Beckerath continuo and the Cammack harpsichord all over town for short-term rentals to other musical groups. S & S also moved all my household goods when we moved from Kaneohe to downtown Honolulu in 2004.

What a small town this is, right?

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
This entry was posted in Carl Crosier and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Philip Belt, father of the modern fortepiano

  1. I cannot wait to see the practice organ! Wonderful story altogether.

  2. Elizabeth Ross Belt says:

    I want to thank you for the article you wrote about my father, Philip Belt. I am the oldest daughter, and was 7 years old when he finished the fortepiano in your article. I remember very well the years we spent living in New Hampshire, where my sister and I spent many happy hours in my father’s workshop, ‘helping’ him in his work. He always seemed to find something that we could do. People of all walks of life, curious about his work, would visit us at our rambling old ten room house, where my father set up shop in an attached barn. We entertained many types, from those in suits to the hippies of the day. Of all of them, I preferred the hippies, because they were the most fun. My father drove a hearse too sometimes, a source of embarrassment for me. But it was one thing that my father could transport his instruments in. I miss my father…but I imagine him in heaven. He is listening to the music recorded on those beautiful instruments, and building more for whoever wants one.

    • Thank you for writing. This is indeed a very special instrument and I am glad to hear more details of your father and his work. I believe this is the ONLY fortepiano in Hawaii! Katherine Crosier.

  3. Janina Douglas says:

    I had the great privilege of working in Phil Belt’s piano shop in Tippecanoe IN in the early 70’s. What a kind, intelligent, funny and gifted man!
    He had 2 “apprentice” builders in the time I was in the shop – and he shared his secrets of construction with them without any reserve and with no thought to jealously guard his hard won knowledge. In fact, there were times he came on what seemed to be an unsolvable problem in construction. He would put it aside and wait until he could sleep on it overnight and the solution would have come to him by morning. He even joked that he was Christofori reincarnated and that he was just remembering how he had solved these same problems in his previous life!
    He had such a sense of fun and whimsy, too. He had an extra- large flat table in the back of the shop in Tippecanoe where he would glue bridges onto soundboards. He used long hickory sticks which ran from the table to a flat panel suspended from the ceiling to apply just the correct pressure to secure the bridges in place without crushing the soundboard. The way he tested if the pressure was correct was to play a tune on the hickory sticks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *