Michael's Blog

 

16 October 2018

When writing for Abraham Rees's Cyclopædia around 1800, Charles Burney gave the impression that in the 1760s the take-up of Zumpe's little Piano-forte was so overwhelming that the maker simply couldn't supply them fast enough, causing many disappointed customers to turn to John Pohlman. We have all accepted this as being true. Why not? Burney was on the scene at the time. He was definitely a buyer during the early phase of Zumpe's meteoric rise to fame and fortune. But is his report accurate?

The event that caused me to question this occurred in Spring 1768. In May Captain Henry Marsh (RN) set out to buy a harpsichord for his daughter, but not being a player himself (or very musical, come to that) he decided to seek advice, and for this he called on an old friend, Dr. Tom, surgeon to the Royal Naval Hospital at Greenwich. Captain Marsh had remembered that his friend's daughter was a very good harpsichord player, but to his surprise he discovered that the harpsichord was no longer in the drawing room. It had been taken upstairs, and in its place the young lady had a small Piano-forte. She played some music for him, and he was rather taken with the sound of it. When it was mentioned that Mary, Marsh's daughter, was having singing lessons, and had a promising voice, Miss Tom suggested that maybe a Piano-forte like hers might be more suitable. This new type of instrument was ideal to accompany songs. When he heard that it would be cheaper than a harpsichord, his mind was made up.

Now, this is the point. Miss Tom's piano was made by Zumpe in late 1767 or early '68. And it seems Capt. Marsh was able to visit Zumpe's workshop that week, and order one without any trouble. It was delivered very soon afterwards. This isn't quite the picture that Burney had suggested. Perhaps, writing many years after the event, he failed to remember that the mad rush to buy them took a while to develop?

7 October 2018

On Saturday morning the church was full for the first concert of the new season at Charlton Kings. Julia and Kelley on baroque violins, Jackie Tyler on 'cello, and Warwick at the harpsichord. Very much appreciated by the audience – a menu of Corelli, Vivaldi, and Tartini, ending with a concerto by J.C.Bach (his opus 1 No.6). 'There's no need to stand for the finale', quipped Warwick, which caused one or two people to smile. The others smiled when they recognised the 'national anthem', given a light-hearted treatment in a set of variations!

These concertos, dedicated to Queen Charlotte by her newly-arrived music master, may well have been played by the Queen, even before they appeared in print. So, in this chamber format, with four players and an audience of about 140, we probably heard them just as they were first heard.

This reminded me of a startling discovery I made last year, that the teenaged Charlotte, played the harpsichord, and sang to her own accompaniment on her wedding day! As if the occasion were not overwhelming enough already! Her very first day in London! Apparently, when the newly married King and Queen came out of the chapel their arrival was sooner than expected. Dukes, princes, princesses, earls in the finest regalia were standing about waiting to for the banquet, so King George proposed that she might play! She must surely have been over-awed by the occasion, how nervous she must have been! Nevertheless, in the very first hour that she was queen she set a precedent, giving a royal endorsement to the cultivation of music among ladies of the highest rank.

 

4 October 2018

Though there are so many superbly crafted antique pianos in England, with examples appearing almost every week in provincial auctions, very few are in nearly such good condition as the Broadwood square piano showing here. It was one of the maker's most desirable examples when it left the workshop, with superb satinwood veneer work, and the characteristic 'railway sleeper' inlaid lines that he used for a short period about 1790. There is a very similar specimen in the music room at Kenwood House, Hampstead. This one has everything that you might desire, and seems to be in a very well preserved condition. Yet the auctioneer proposes an estimate of only three hundred to five hundred pounds. (Well, they can't be experts at everything!) For the vendor's sake I hope it does much better.

It is scheduled for sale at Bellman's in Billingshurst, Sussex, on 10 October. (Sold for £1450 - what a bargain!)

 

26 September 2018

Christopher Hogwood often told the story of Thomas Britton, the 'small-coal man' who by day walked the streets of London selling from the sack of coals on his shoulder. He is justly credited with establishing one of the earliest concert series in England because, we learn, tradesman Tom Britton when he arrived home at the end of his rounds, would throw down his sack, tune his harpsichord, and welcome to his humble premises anyone who cared to come. He charged nothing, except a few pence for those who wished to drink a dish of tea. His 'Musick Club' met in a long, low room above his warehouse, accessed by an external staircase, and here connoisseurs, gentlemen of rank, and some of the finest players of the age would come to enjoy an evening's music. The details of this extraordinary man's life are recounted in Volume Five of Sir John Hawkins' History of Music (from which this portrait comes). The biography and list of his music and instruments runs to fifteen pages. Hawkins clearly had a lot of information. Among Britton's possessions sold at auction in December 1714 was 'A Ruckers Virginal, thought to be the best in Europe', and a fine bass viol by Henry Jay, said to be 'the neatest and best he ever made'. He had also a pipe organ with five stops, numerous very fine violins, viols from Barak Norman, and a harpsichord, of which we have few details, plus a huge library of music.

What I did not know until recently, when I was lucky enough to buy all five volumes of Hawkins in first edition (1776) at auction, was that Tom Britton was also a renowned antiquarian – collecting old manuscripts which he delighted to discuss with the most learned gentlemen in London. But who supplied Hawkins with all this information? As Britton died on September 1714 there is no chance that Hawkins ever met him. But there is a clue on page 73. After a very long quotation, reported verbatim from an unidentified source, Hawkins suddenly writes: 'Hearne seems to have understood but little of music'. Hearne, I now realize, was the famous librarian at the Bodleian in Oxford. So he too was among the learned scholars and musicians who were pleased to count the 'small-coal man' from Clerkenwell among his friends. You might wonder how a tradesman of 'low estate' comes to have his portrait painted, and preserved for posterity in an engraving? Apparently the artist Woolaston was another friend. He valued Thomas Britton so highly that he painted two portraits of the musical coal man.

16 September 2018

Ivory, again. Senseless vandalism conducted under the guise of law enforcement. On 11 July on this Blog I commented on the sad destruction of 250-year-old ivory keys in a unique piano by Pohlman. That instrument was in a sale at Christies, London. The auction house reports that it was nevertheless sold, at a good price. [I hope that is correct.] But in the same sale, devoted to treasured items of the highest cultural value by Thomas Chippendale, a beautifully preserved mahogany chest failed to sell. The TIMES reports that potential buyers lost interest when they learned that its ivory decoration had been prised out and replaced with a synthetic substitute, ivorine. 'This is what many of us have dreaded' said Philip Mould, TV presenter and antiques expert. 'A glimpse of the horrors to come'.

'It is very sad', remarks Adam Bowett, very eminent furniture expert and chairman of the Chippendale Society. 'I doubt very much that replacing ivory with plastic has done anything to further the cause of elephants'.

12 September 2018

Whatever you think about competitions, and the very regretable reduction of musical excellence to 'winners' and 'losers', the opportunity to watch these players and hear what they can summon from period pianos, is too good to miss. Showing right is a still from the 1st International Chopin Competition on Period Instruments. I have very much enjoyed hearing the pianos and the musicians. Some of them, it is true, play just the same as they would on the modern concert grand at their conservatory. Nevertheless, the sound we hear is so much more pleasant than a Steinway – balanced, warm, and free from that dead tone we so often hear in the highest notes of the six-octave range. Maybe you would like to see and hear for yourself? You will certainly enjoy the Erard 1837 (from Edwin Beunk's collection) which is favoured by many of the players. For comparison you can hear the Pleyel grand from 1842, and a Broadwood of 1847 (Maene collection), as well as a modern replica [of a Polish piano] which works, but is not loved. There are numerous uploads on Youtube. I suggest selecting the first round recordings (that is, the oldest videos). The final round can be rather tedious, hearing the same concerto so many times!

4 September 2018

If you are attracted to music of the past and the instruments you see on this website, you will be delighted, as I was, by four excellent videos produced by Southampton University's music staff. Somehow these superb videos had escaped my notice until Margaret Debenham kindly directed me to them last week.

https://www.southampton.ac.uk/music/research/projects/at_home_with_music.page#media

Prof. Jeanice Brooks and harpsichordist Penelope Cave have joined forces in this project, investigating the social context of music making in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, and specifically looking into the surviving volumes of printed music in country houses. The National Trust property at Tatton Park is a specially useful resource in that in has not only a splendid music room, designed for the purpose, but a library of volumes in which Miss Egerton bound up her purchases, of solos and songs. So in these videos we see a charming presentation of her musical recreations, complemented with some very credible costumes and coiffure, and some excellent performances, certainly as regards style. The instruments used are the 1789 Kirckman harpsichord, with all the gadgets (not used) and two early pianos lent for the purpose: a Broadwood grand, showing here, from Michael Turner's collection, and a square piano of 1817 by Dettmer, lent by Michael Williams. Delightful in every way!

29 August 2018

A very unusual and ambitious publication from the University of Western Australia - Geoffrey Lancaster's exhaustive study of the workshop that manufactured so many instruments for Longman & Broderip, and quite a few under their own brand name after the financial collapse of the principal firm in 1795.

Chapter 3 (almost 200 pages in length, generating more than 650 endnotes) is wholly devoted to a comprehensive documentary record of everything that can be discovered about the workshop, the men, and their families – nothing like this has ever been attempted before. It is astonishing to see the lengths that an author might go to, leaving no stone unturned in his efforts to get as close as possible to the people and the environment that produced these instruments. Inevitably, there is a lot of repetition, that might have been edited out, but at least you find the content of every source as found.

The subtitle 'A Tale of Ten Pianos' is important. The project began with the author's acquisition of one of these ten (a five-and-a-half octave square piano serial no. 3782) and his delight in ownership. The resulting book is immense, more than 950 pages, so it is perhaps as well that other instruments by this firm - spinnets, harpsichords, organs, grand pianos and a multitude of square pianos supplied to Longman & Broderip are not included in the author's remit, and not therefore discussed in any detail.

There's comprehensive documentation of Culliford and Barrow's foray into music publishing in Chapter 4, followed by the decline and ultimate bankruptcy that dragged the directors briefly into prison, and on release, their retirement from London to end their lives in humbled circumstances — all new information to me, thoroughly researched and comprehensively documented. I must confess to being less happy with the scene-setting of Chapter 2, which gives an overview of musical London in the late eighteenth century, unhappily tainted at times by straying into the modern scourge of gender politics with quotations from authors who give opinions rather than well-considered scholarly conclusions. Better, surely, to stick to primary sources with only so much comment as is needed to cement it all together, and this Dr Lancaster generally does with commendable judgement. 'A Tale of Ten Pianos' is a huge achievement.

ISBN: 9781742589374 Format: Paperback. 76 pages of prelims, then 890 pages of text and photos.

25 August 2018

The scarcity of pianos, of any type, made in the 1770s, makes this offering at Sworders' upcoming auction a likely target for collectors. Of greater significance and interest is its historic place within the burgeoning piano trade in London. The inscription reads 'Archibald Pringle fecit 1775' and it seems to be his only surviving work in this form. It was restored some years ago with commendable restraint, so it is near playable.

If we search on the Clinkscale Database another instrument turns up, dated 1757, but that one is not a piano: it is a bentside spinet (as I pointed out as long ago as 1993) clearly inscribed as the work of John Harrison, with GG-g3 keyboard, like the one in the Bate Collection at Oxford. For some unknown reason Dr Clinkscale ascribed it to Pringle (she gives no explanation) and accepted the owner's description of it as a piano, which results in a spinet appearing in the piano database ambivalently under both makers' names. Very unhelpful.

The interest in the above piano is therefore greater – it is the only known piano by this maker. Design features, such as the omission of dampers for the top five notes, and the specific type of inlaid external decoration, strongly hint at some association with Frederick Beck, a much more prolific and better known maker. The ivory stripes inlaid in the sharp keys should be examined closely. The method used is quite unlike that which Pringle would have known when working in the spinet trade. Boalch III – the standard reference work on harpsichords – lists just one spinnet by Pringle, dated 1765, now in St Paul, Minnesota.

9 August 2018

For anyone intending to write a history of keyboard instruments, especially the harpsichord and the pianoforte, the 'Notes & Observations' published by John Broadwood & Co. in 1862 would be one of the most important 'go to' sources. Indeed, I suspect that even before that date the original manuscript notes may have been an important resource for Edward Rimbault whose book 'The Pianoforte' came out in 1860. It would be entirely logical for him to have approached the head of the Broadwood company, Europe's most prolific manufacturers.

Read the full title of 'Notes and Observations' and you discover its initial limitation: Some Notes made by J. S. Broadwood in 1838 / with Observations and Elucidations by H. F. Broadwood. From this you might imagine that Henry Fowler Broadwood merely inserted the footnotes that give explanatory details – I supposed this myself for many years. But this is probably very far from the truth, as indicated by some very significant discrepancies between the text printed of 1862 and the first draft, in manuscript notes, written by James Shudi Broadwood. These are preserved on two sheets of paper with a watermark indicating 1830. You see the problems right from the beginning.

The manuscript begins:

The Harpsichord — the principal maker in London [in] the latter part of the 17th century and the early 18th was Tabel, a German who had been brought up in the famed manufactury of the Ruckers in Antwerp ...

This was drastically altered for the printed version:

Tabel, a Fleming, who had learned his business in the house of the successors to the Ruckers in Antwerp was, it is believed, the first person who made harpsichords in London.

Clearly someone, presumably H. F. Broadwood, recognised that there was in reality a considerable time gap between the last member of the Ruckers family per se and the apprentice years of Herman Tabel (around 1680-5). Also his nationality is changed. But they still persist with Antwerp. Tabel in fact lived in Amsterdam, not Antwerp. Moreover, his work does not in the least resemble Ruckers' or 'their successors'. Yet, thanks in part to some facile comparisons using Raymond Russell's 'national schools' classifications, the myth persists that Herman Tabel, who taught Broadwood's grandfather, brought the Flemish craft of harpsichord making to London. This is very misleading. In truth, the Flemish tradition was perpetuated in Paris, and by some English makers in London, but NOT by TABEL. The unreliability of this documentary source, which I have previously mentioned, must be acknowledged before any progress can be made with the history of the harpsichord making in England.

29 July 2018 -- Beyer Study Day

So, as mentioned in my last Blog, a journey to South Gloucestershire last Friday enabled participants to examine the inside of an Adam Beyer piano of 1777, and so to marvel at the superb standards of craftsmanship in every part. As everyone saw, this meticulous accuracy and the most scrupulous workmanship was maintained even in the parts that the owners would never see. It is good that so many people have now seen it. Beyer's workmanship exceeds anything that I have seen in any other instruments from the eighteenth century. Among furniture experts Thomas Chippendale is specially exalted, but if they were able to see (as we saw) inside these pianos then surely Adam Beyer would be rated equally highly. When some difficult decisions have been made, this charming instrument will be on display, hopefully next summer, in the Horniman Museum, and will be played in a restrained but regular programme of events so that everyone has the chance to hear what a piano sounded like in the 1770s.

In my short talk to open proceedings I showed the catalogues from Vienna's Kunsthistorisches Museum where they have a 1790 Beyer piano; the Prussian Cultural Heritage Museum in Berlin (Beyer, 1777); and the Handel Birthplace Museum in Halle (1775). In each catalogue we read that Adam Beyer 'was a German by birth', who settled in London, two of the texts adding that his migration was a result of the stagnation in trade owing to the Seven Years War, and that Beyer was one of Gottfried Silbermann's workers. However, there is not one document to support this story. Nevertheless, many patriotic Germans insist that it must be true. Challenged to provide any proof a few of the most thoughtful people point out that the evidence comes from an English source - none other than James Shudi Broadwood. In a booklet printed in 1862 his manuscript notes were published posthumously. There we read that Zumpe's piano design was improved by 'Beyer, Buntebart and Schoene, all Germans'. There is no other source suggesting his German birth. None of his friends were German, his four daughters each married an Englishman; and none of their children had a German name. Examine Beyer's last will and testament - you will find no mention of any person who is not 100 percent English. His brother likewise: appart from his niece Mary Ann, he mentions only his friend Samuel Potts, a hosier and haberdasher from nearby Church Street. When trouble erupted in Paris in 1789 there was a paranoid air surrounding everyone who seemd to be foreign - resulting in a rush of applications for British citizenship by long-settled tradesmen who wanted to demonstate their loyalty. John Geib, Christopher Ganer, and many other piano makers took this step. But NOT Adam Beyer. Strange! Can we trust Broadwood? Emphatically not. His 'Notes & Observations' relating to the history of the harpsichord and pianoforte are full of mistakes, and were modified at least twice before they got into print. It is pertinent to remark that when Adam Beyer retired to Hampstead about 1790, James Shudi Broadwood was no more than eighteen or twenty years of age, and probaly never met the man. [I hope to write a critique of these 'Notes & Observations' soon, revealing just how limited they are in their reliability.]

But wait! A family tree was long ago supplied to me by Prof. Kenneth Hunt from Melbourne. As a direct descendant he traces his ancestry back to Catherine Beyer, Adam's eldest daughter. This is not her. It is a portrait, in oils on a copper panel, of 'Aunt Catherine'. Kenneth Hunt's uncle, Wilfred Hunt (b.1869) identifies her as the sister of Adam and Lorence Beyer, who 'came over with Adam from Germany but died unmarried'. Uncle Wilfred, compiling their family tree back in the 1930s made very few mistakes, so now with the aid of the internet perhaps we can check this out? This 'copper aunt' as they call her 'died unmarried', so the chances are that sometime after 1740 we can find her burial in London under her maiden name. My search throws up not a burial but a marriage, in February 1747 [1746 OS] between Catherine Beyer and Johann Leonard Sumpf, a peruke maker living in Piccadilly. The wedding was at the Lutheran Church of the Savoy, in London, where subsequently two girls were baptised, Catherine and Sarah, in which the mother's age is given so it transpires that she was born in or about 1731 - a perfect match for a sister to the piano makers. Seeing the husband's name, and their affiliation with the Lutheran church, what could be more German. Eureka! This is a tangible documentary link with Germany at last. But there is bad news too.

Unfortunately, the bride of Johann Leonard Sumpf was not the only Catherine Beyer around at the time. For sure another person of that name was buried at Guildford, Surrey in 1782 (and that was not Adam's daughter who married Richard Hunt). Correction: This information from Ancestry.com is wrong. After inspecting the original register from St Nicholas' Church, Guildford, I find that the burial on 26 March 1782 was for Catherine Beazer. Written in copper-plate hand it looks surprisingly similar.

So was Uncle Wilfred right? Adam's sister died unmarried? If so, why doesn't he give her a date of birth or death? Interestingly, Johann Leonard Sumpf died in 1764 making a will in which he leaves to his wife 'Catherine Piercy Sumpf' just one shilling! This was a standard legal get-out clause, making it impossible for the wife to make any claim against the validity of the will. Instead he leaves everything to his two daughters, who were still minors at their father's death. As for widow Sumpf, no burial record has yet been found. And why was she Catherine 'Piercy' in her husband's will? More questions but few answers!

Are we any nearer to establishing Adam Beyer's birthplace? Sadly not. Many years ago my hopes were raised by finding the will of Mary Beyer, a lady of property, from Richmond on Thames who died in 1763 – shortly before Adam moved from the down-at-heel Kemp's Court to up-market Compton Street. Perhaps she left him a legacy? But no. Neither Adam nor Lorence is cited in her will.

But, returning to our first thought: what does it matter where he was born? It is the extraordinary quality of his work, and the very English quality of his pianos (comparing well with Chippendale) that marks him out as a man worth celebrating. Nevertheless, the continuing reports from German museums that Adam Beyer was 'a German by birth' are not sustainable. We simply do not know where he was born.

23 July 2018

This Friday there is to be a study day with a small invited party at Lucy Coad's workshop dedicated to the Horniman Museum's recently acquired square piano by Adam Beyer. His pianos from the 1770s are instantly recognised by the clover-leaf ends of his cartouche above the keys. The one showing here is from one of his earliest instruments, Serial No. 19, formerly owned by Barabra Lützeler in Bonn (and subsequently South Wales). On this piano the nameboard was never inscribed with Beyer's name (in fact it had a ridiculous modern inscription 'John Inglis') but this characteristic inlay made it instantly identifiable when Barbara brought it to me in Herne. What amazes me, to this day, is the phenomenal standard of craftsmanship. Anyone who has ever tried to inlay such an intricate shape into a burr ash veneer will know how easily it fragments: how steady your hand must be and how sharp your tools to have any hope of getting such a clean result. There are many other features in which this precision is seen in Beyer's instruments, such as the sockets cut in the keys. How good to have an opportunity to celebrate this prince among craftsmen!

17 July 2018

Good news from Spain this week. The book featuring pianos by Zumpe seems to be on the move again, after more than a year of stagnation. I am more than pleased to think that this is now progressing since I have now had the chance to read again the text by Pablo Gòmez Ábalos, with whom I have been co-operating in this project. Now that I am able to read his work in English translation (my schoolboy Spanish was never good enough), it is clear that this is a very worthwhile study. In fact I would say it is the most deeply preceptive and thorough piece on the early piano that has appeared in print for many years - or it will be if the director at Museu de la Música in Barcelona fulfills his promise to expedite this publication. It is doubly pleasing to think that Pablo's recording on the museum's 1776 piano - restored by Kerstin Schwarz - will at last enable the public to get some idea of what these instruments can sound like if properly voiced and set up. Not a feeble, scratchy sound but MUSIC! Well done, Pablo. We look forward to it.

11 July 2018

Ivory – Save the elephant from extermination by poachers – Stop the trade in ivory. So say 'campaigners'. Just days ago we saw the results of such zeal at Christies: a unique Chippendale-Pohlman antique irreversibly damaged by the replacement of its ivory keys with a modern synthentic substance that is immediately detectable. I saw it from yards away, before ever touching the keys. Where will this end?

The BBC news website carried a prominent item on 10 July featuring a piece originating from a self-appointed New York based campaign group determined to eradicate the sale of any ivory. Here you see part of the BBC feature.

Editorial policy at the BBC seems to lack any standards these days. Time was when this public service broadcaster took care to maintain high standards of accuracy and studious detachment. Now it seems any group of zealots, with any agenda that might get lots of 'likes' on Facebook can have their opinions promoted by this publicly-funded broadcaster.

Look up Avaaz, the group behind this ivory story, and you will discover an unaccountable group distributing newsfeeds to any media that will accept them. You will see that their 'campaigning' includes politically motivated reports on the conflict in Syria, for example. Avaaz's ivory report on '100 items ... radio-carbon dated at Oxford University' would not stand up to any scientific or statistical scrutiny. It's just transparent propaganda, peddled by 'activists' who deserve no credit. Three quarters of their sample, they say, was being sold illegally. So was this actually a random sample? From the pictures (which I am not showing) and the emotive language of their spokesman, Bert Wander, I'd guess that these 100 items were deliberately selected so as to expose illegal traders. 75 percent of a skewed sample – not the same thing as 75 percent of a random sample. 'Ivory from an elephant killed by poachers as recently as 2010', they say. How could anyone substantiate such a statement? What kind of editors do we now have at the BBC!

6 July 2018

The outcome of the sale mentioned yesterday was a winning bid of £175,000, double the estimate – so, a happy result for all concerned. For me, it is gratifying that my recent research has enabled us to know who the maker was, and so reveal the previously unknown partnership between Chippendale and Pohlman that produced this handsome and unusual furniture for the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. Full marks also to Margaret Debenham for her interest in pianofortes inside eighteenth-century commodes that led to our paper on Beck and Fuhrlogh being noticed by the Furniture History Society.

5 July 2018

A very interesting square piano by Pohlman comes up for sale today at Christies, as mentioned in this Blog on 24 June. Having examined the instrument closely (back in April) I was dismayed to see that the ivory keys, so beautifully shaped and tapered by Pohlman, have been recently stripped off, and presumably thrown on a bonfire, to appease over zealous customs officers. The piano has been in recent years in the USA, having been owned for some time by connoisseurs Gordon and Ann Getty. The cabinet work is mostly of mahogany, with nicely curved tambour doors, and a good frame-and-panel back. However, the top part, containing the piano, has recent modifications of poor quality. The estimate is £70,000 to £100,000.

It is known to have been sold in London in 1966, and inside I found the signature of 'B. Rogurski, Harrow, 1967'. I haven't met anyone who was ever acquainted with this person but he did a decent job, for the time, and it remains 'playable' if you are not too fussy. It is a pity that he put an extra layer of white leather around the hammers, but the dulling effect of this is probably acceptable to most people.

Characteristic features of Pohlman's work in the early 1770s are the extension of the soundboard over the top keys, and his modification of the balance rail pins so as to make it possible to extract the keys above d3. Like Frederick Beck, also active in London at that time, Pohlman provides no dampers above c3. It will be seen that the bottom notes include FF and FF#.

1 July 2018

In preparation for the forthcoming study day on Adam Beyer and his pianos I have been looking again at the lives of his descendants. This makes me think of the possibility that something in our genetic inheritance, something no one has yet discovered and announced to the world, predisposes us, or some of us, to respond to music in a very positive way, making it a life-long pleasure and study. It's easy enough to think of musical dynasties of the past, such as the Bachs and Mozarts. But, supposing that such an inheritance exists, can it be propogated over many generations? I ask this because some years after publishing a paper on Adam Beyer (1995) three people contacted me independently to say that they were his descendants - and that they found the information very agreeable.

Dr Anthony Storr (1920-2001) of Wadham College, Oxford, was an eminent psychiatrist, and an author of immensely successful books on his subject. It is reported that his book Solitude (1988) sold a hundred thousand copies in the USA alone. But you may find more to enjoy in Music and the Mind (1992), a subject dear to him, since as he said he would rather have been a musician, had he the talent, than a writer, or a psychiatrist. It was this love of music that was his great solace in his rather lonely and unhappy childhood. Nothing gave him greater pleasure than to be allowed to sit beside the organist at St Paul's Cathedral, where his father was sub-dean; or to play viola in an ensemble with friends. There is an excellent obituary by Anthony Stevens on The Guardian newspaper website.

He was, as you will have gathered, a direct descendant of Adam Beyer's youngest daughter, Elizabeth Susan, born when the family lived at Compton Street and her father and Uncle Lorence were just recently embarked on piano making. She married the silversmith Paul Storr in 1801.

 

24 June 2018

Among the selection of exquisite pieces in Christies' Chippendale sale in London (5 July) there is a truly exceptional musical instrument, appearing as Lot 17. Enclosed in a black-lacquered Chinoiserie cabinet, ascribed to Thomas Chippendale, is an early square piano by John Pohlman (aka 'Johannes Pohlman'). Though Margaret Debenham and I described two small pianofortes of similar date (by Frederick Beck) inserted into elaborate marquetry cabinets, those were made independently, and could be viable instruments in themselves. However, all the constructional evidence in the piece showing here suggests that Chippendale, the master cabinetmaker, and Pohlman, the piano maker, collaborated in this project, resulting in a unique item. The piano's early history is undocumented, but presumably the commission came from the Duchess of Northumberland since a photograph from 1929 shows clearly that it was kept at Syon House, the Duke of Northumberland's house by the Thames, near Brentford. It had long been redundant as a musical instrument, but it was evidently still admired as an exceptional piece of eighteenth-century cabinet making. Christies' sale catalogue may now be viewed online here.

The ascription to Pohlman was made possible by my research on his life and work, reported on this blog, especially on a piano of 1773 at Osterley Park, just two miles from Syon House, see Blog for 13 May, 2015.

 

12 June 2018

Among so many square pianos it is hard to understand why Mr. Colt took a fancy to some of them. Musically speaking, the tiny little piano by Verel has little to commend it. You have to wonder why it was made. The sound it makes is no better than a toy, and the keys are so tiny and awkward to play. But it is a useful specimen in that it is the only known work signed by Ludovicus (or Louis) Verel after he parted company with Joseph Merlin. And after looking at the inventiveness and original thinking within it one may ponder how many of the innovative features of Merlin's instruments might have been truly due to Verel in the years when he worked as Merlin's foreman.

In Broadwood Square Pianos [pages 173 -176] I described the innovative design inside Charles Trute's small pianos, placing the wrestpins at the back, and hanging the dampers in the reverse of the usual orientation — these features being the outcome of his wish to create a very compact instrument. So here we see the same concepts in use in an even smaller instrument. James Shudi Broadwood's belief that his father was the originator of this relocation of the wrestpins was clearly mistaken. But what the Verel piano seems to show is that there was an association between Verel and Trute, and that they were both using features that were only afterwards patented by Broadwood.

Margaret Debenham's research on Joseph Merlin in London is available download for free on the Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle website, and that's where one can read about his connection with Verel.

11 June 2018

Think of English square pianos in the age of elegant Georgian-period furniture and you will probably bring to mind the 'Sheraton-style' instruments, with slender square-tapering legs. The best of them have warm, honey-coloured satinwood borders, and burgundy-wine mahogany panels. This style was popular from 1780 until about 1805 (when John Broadwood was still making them), but soon after came the six-legged version which I've heard many people say they do not like - 'it is the start of the descent into Victorian decadence' is a frequent sentiment. The earliest-dated example of the 'Sheraton style' that I have ever seen was offered as Lot 5 at the Colt Sale, neatly inscribed 'Christopher Ganer' and dated 1779, a nice looking instrument but internally showing the result of a poor quality restoration, and the loss of its hand stops to change resistrations. But it has potential, and the legs and frame stand are beautifully veneered en suite. It's not hard to understand why Mr. Colt liked it. It made £2100 [£2600 to take away] while a much plainer example from Ganer, dated 'circa 1790', generated much enthusiasm, selling at £5300 [£6572]. This surely indicates a musician buyer who intends to play this instrument which, in truth, was much nearer to performance standard. 'Elegant' satinwood examples by Broadwood, dated 1787 and 1788 met contrasting fates. The better piano was the earlier one and the bidders evidently thought so too. It made £3600 [£4464], the other reached only £1400 [£1736].

In the catalogue a similarly attractive satinwood square piano was Lot 59 – by Longman & Broderip, circa 1785. I was alarmed to see this make £1050 [£1302] because, handsome though it might have been, it had been horribly damaged in an amateur intervention (of the worst kind!). For some unfathomable reason this five-octave piano had its nameboard extended at either end and its construction modified to add extra notes in the treble - seven of them passing under the soundboard, wretchedly made and now all awry. The extension of the bridge (for these addtitional notes) is now missing from the soundboard (leaving a reverse shadow). None of this is mentioned in the catalogue. It simply reports 'Five-and-a-half octaves, FF-c4.

 

8 June 2018

Reflecting on the outcome of the Colt Collection sale I found it gratifying that the two highest prices were achieved by harpsichords – English harpsichords at that – but also rather surprising that two good Kirckman harpsichords remained unsold (on the day). The star of the event was Joseph Mahoon's harpsichord, which I was specially anxious to see, selling at £69,000 [£85,560 before you can take it away], a rare item since there are so few surviving English harpsichords made before 1750. But what is the true date of it? I saw for myself the signature 'C.Smith 1738' on the lowest key of the upper manual, but there is no doubt that the lower keyboard was made by a different hand at a different date. It would have been good to examine it more closely, but this one cannot do in the saleroom. Taking out 120 jacks, and removing the upper manual is not good form. Everyone who examined it remarked on the 'transitional' style of the work, incorporating features that would be expected in Shudi's instruments of that period, yet not following the Tabel school in many other ways. The case is made of English oak with the distinctive Tabel-style shape of the bentside too, yet Mahoon employs quaint lockboard battens – a substantial one at the back, but a slimmed-down version on the cheek. Incidentally, the Mahoon spinnet 'circa 1740' is in fact dated 1742 as I saw for myself, so it is very much contemporary with the harpsichord, though it has the GG-g3 keyboard range and arcaded fronts where the harpsichord has the FF 60-note range, with moulded keyfronts, as you see.

Of still more interest was the result for Lot 113 - 'a double-manual harpsichord by Shudi & Broadwood, 1790' - actually made by Broadwood, though. That it achieved a hammer price of £40,000 [£49,560 to take away] was interesting. Make no mistake, this is a very well made instrument, built by a team that was at the height of its powers. John Broadwood, 54 years old, expected the highest standards from his workmen, and his son James, approaching his 18th birthday, was already committed to a life of instrument making in the family business. They exerted themselves to achieve exemplary standards with these 'Patent' harpsichords with swell. Modern pianists are firmly convinced that by 1790 the musical world had abandoned the harpsichord, but clearly, not just in Britain but across Europe, much music was still performed on the harpsichord, not only in old-fashioned and impoverished cottages, but in the highest stratum of society, for which this superb instrument was made. For a direct comparison we had Broadwood's grand piano No.208, dated 1787, a rare item, in good condition, which made £16,000 [£19,840]. When new both instruments would have sold at about 60 guineas, perhaps 70 gns for the harpsichord, but their price differential in this week's sale was noteworthy.

There were sixteen historic Broadwood grand pianos on sale (they seem to have been a favourite item for Mr. Colt). And if economists know anything then the laws of supply and demand should have depressed the price of them. Perhaps it did. Hammer prices varied from £3200 to £8000, with the exception of a piano of 1821 with restrained brass inlay in the manner of Boulle, with the added prestige that it was formerly delivered to George IV at Brighton, and later taken to Windsor Castle. With a provenance like that who would not like to own it? The hammer price was £20,000 [£24800]. By contrast, there was a good looking example of Broadwood's 'Barless grand' (1889) much celebrated by Alastair Laurence, which failed to attract much interest, selling at £620.

The laws of supply and demand were clearly in evidence with Lot 3, an anonymous north-German Clavier, with a spurious label reading 'Johann Gottlob Wagner in Dresden'. Charles Colt described it as a Clavecin Royal and the sale catalogue repeats that, but despite its superficial similarity to Wagner's work there is no evidence I could see that it ever shared the aesthetic of the Clavecin Royal, which was to provide multiple registrations at the touch of a pedal, transforming the sound from harpsichord to Pantalon, to pianoforte, to lute, at your pleasure – and to all of these the option of a swell. Mr. Colt's Clavier had none of this. It was provided only with an awkward handstop for sustaining tone, and the vestiges of an equally inconvenient harp stop, now missing. The lid of this instrument is modern, and the painting inside pure hokum. You may be sure that I crawled underneath to look for signs of former pedals or knee levers – and found none. All that was to be seen was a sturdy diagonal plank that had been added to resist the twist of the casework. Nevertheless, at least two eager bidders pushed the hammer price to £18,500 [£22,800].

My observations on the square pianos on offer will be added at a later date.

6 June 2018

For anyone who visited Colts' business site near Bethersden in the 1970s the lasting impression was of a very enterprising firm making a really good argument for timber homes, precision machined and dispatched for self assembly (or, if need be, erected by experienced workmen). Some of them have been well-preserved and are still in excellent condition. There is a very large example in first-class condition in Prestbury, where I live, which looks if anything better than when it was put up. By contrast, visiting the Bethersden site on Monday (to view the pianos and harpsichords in the dispersal sale) the former display buildings looked shabby and neglected. Across the whole site briars and weeds are taking over. Given another decade of neglect it could draw comparisons with Angkor-wat in the Cambodian jungle. But this is rural Kent! Not ten miles from Ashford where Eurostar trains speed off to France through the Channel Tunnel.

However, inside the main hall everything was quiet and orderly on Monday morning. A few of us were busily looking for instruments we had come to see, and after finding them, carefully examining them either to assess the condition, or to collect data for comparisons. Clearly Charles Colt, collecting in the 1940s and 50s, developed a strong interest in certain makers. His collection is very strong on Broadwood grand pianos, especially the earlier ones, and also Wornum. And there remain some items of exquisite craftsmanship. I was so busy examining the unique Mahoon harpsichord that I scarcely noticed the growing throng of new visitors.

By lunch time there was a large crowd mingling among the instruments. More and more noise was being generated by what seemed like idly curious spectators playing repeatedly the same piece of music on one instrument after another which any normal person would recognize to be horribly out-of-tune. I have never heard such a vexatious, unmusical discord played with such gusto. Often there were notes that would not work, but nothing deterred them. Perhaps they had travelled a long way in eager expectation and under the circumstances, they could not be expected to go away without trying everything. I can only think that this was but a further manifestation of Samuel Johnson's observation: 'the triumph of hope over experience'. But tomorrow, Thursday, in the Canterbury Auction Gallery, twenty miles away, comes the final act. Mr. Colt's very personal collection, some bad, some very good, some almost playable, and many others never cherished or restored, will be knocked down to the higest bidder, and all dispersed, as we expect, to many and varied locations.

2 June 2018

The history of 'English' harpsichord making is, I find, misunderstood and misrepresented in even the most respected sources. Though there are meticulous published reports of a few isolated instruments – for example the Coston harpsichord (O'Brien) and the Theeuwes claviorgan (Rose) – these singly or collectively do not amount to a considered or accurate account of the evolution of harpsichord design and use in England. Only recently have I discovered how far back this goes – with misleading statements by James Shudi Broadwood, who as a twenty-year-old was present in the workshops when his father's men were building prestigious instruments in London – and, much later, Raymond Russell presenting a thesis that divided eighteenth-century harpsichords into 'national' schools (accepted and further promoted by Hubbard). Many errors are perpetuated too in even the most recent publication, Jacob Kirkman [sic], from Charles Mould and Peter Mole.

Personal observation of surviving instruments has already confirmed how necessary it is to see the instruments, to measure them in ways that are not generally done, and to photograph them. This takes me today on a long journey to Kent where I fear that a visit to the Colt Collection might be my last chance to examine the work of Joseph Mahoon. Who knows where this harpsichord might be next year? It is helpful that there is in the sale a spinnet by the same man, and an opportunity to examine closely a Kirckman harpsichord that is dated 1750, and therefore among his oldest survivors. (Of course, since I am there, I may look at the square pianos too!)

28 May 2018

The forthcoming auction sale of the Colt Collection is attracting much interest. The rooms should be very busy on viewing days, beginning in less than a week. Following the sale of Christopher Hogwood's collection, then the Finchcocks' Collection, this might be the last of the major dispersal sales for some time. And like the Finchcocks' sale the actual auction is again to be a remote business – the instruments staying at Bethersden while the auction itself will take place in Canterbury.

The range of instruments that Mr. Colt acquired over the years is remarkable - his first purchase many, many years ago being a square piano (by Broadwood, as I recall) but thereafter, as his knowledge increased, his purchases seem to have become those of a discriminating collector. What strikes me about the catalogue is the prodigious range of published estimates, sometimes no doubt reflecting the current condition of specific instruments, which may not be good, contrasting with the surprisingly ambitious expectations attaching to others. Harpsichords by Kirckman have not kept their value well in recent decades. Many have changed hands in the last fifteen years at prices that do not match their value from previous decades. So if the bidding next week is as vigorous as the auctioneers seem to expect this will go some way to restoring the prestige of these splendid items of Georgian craftsmanship. As with the Hogwood Collection, we will not be surprised if some lots fail to get away at the first time of asking. With CITES certificates already obtained there should not be any impediment to worldwide bidding. Will this free up the market? It will be interesting to see. A recently consigned square piano of great prestige has already had its beautiful ivory keys artlessly replaced by sythetic materials — as will soon be revealed. Let's hope that there will be no more vandalism of this kind!

23 May 2018

An interesting and unusual email from Mike Goodall came a week ago. He is an enthusiast for the history of playing cards and came across a surviving 'Pack of Cotillons' - resembling playing cards, but having directions for performing these country dances, which not many people do these days. This pack was published by Longman & Lukey, 'about 1774' says Mike, so with some detective work on the internet he found our page on Longman, watched the video, and saw within it a list of music - evidently a catalogue from the 1770s. Well done, Mike! He just had a hunch that there might be some mention of these dancing cards on some other part of the catalogue that I hadn't shown. I confess, I was doubtful. But there it is! Two shillings and six pence for a complete pack, and if you care as you should, another nine pence for a case to keep them in. Then, of course, you might be tempted to buy a fan? Read more. And don't forget to take them when you go to the next Ball or Assembly.

12 May 2018

In external appearance this piano (private ownership, Sardinia) is seemingly identical to the Broderip & Wilkinson piano on our 'For Sale' page. The same mahogany exterior, identical legs, and the expected white enamel oval above the keyboard. Yet, as this photo shows, internally it is very different. Above we see lever over dampers, and no fretwork in the back right-hand corner. Just out of view there are two steel levers: one lifting the dampers, the other working the buff stop [harp sound]. Look closer and you discover that it has the old-fashioned Zumpe-type action, with no escapement. Yet the two pianos were made in the same workshop less than a year apart as the serial numbers clearly show! What is most surprising is that the oval plaque of the piano above says 'New Patent' when very clearly it is not. Below you see the 'New Patent' - escapement action, Irish dampers, fretwork in the corner and at either end of the nameboard. Yet so easy to confuse them from the outside!

7 May 2018

With regard to harpsichord voicing, a subject I have touched on before, an old catalogue from Longman & Lukey has reappeared lending further weight, if any were needed, to my contention that very few harpsichords are now set to perform as they would have been in the historic heyday of such instruments. This photo shows part of the back cover of a catalogue of 1775. You will see that harpsichord players could be provided steel forks for tuning; [music] desks, and tuning hammers. And see what materials were supplied for reneweing the plectra! Crow and Raven quills. Exactly what John Broadwood supplied in the 1780s. But sad to say, when I check out some of the musuem harpsichords I voiced twenty years ago I find that the plectra have been replaced with turkey feathers! They are nothing like! (By the way: the Mutes of Brass, Box and Ivory, at the bottom of the list were for violins.)

30 April 2018

In prosperous middle-class homes where the ladies might have played a 'square piano' many gentlemen indulged in a rather more expensive treat for themselves - a chamber organ, like the one shown left. This example has a very fashionable oval at the front, displaying gilded dummy pipes backed with silk, suggesting that it dates from about 1790. Organ builder Martin Renshaw owned it in 1975, but it was bought from him soon afterwards by Richard Burnett. Consequently, many visitors saw it at Finchcocks.

At the Finchcocks' Sale it was acquired by the Horniman Museum, south-east London, where their policy under the persuasive curatorial interest of Mimi Waitzman should result in it being heard again, better than it has ever been in modern times. For this purpose it is now at the workshop on the Duke of Portland's splendid Welbeck Abbey Estate, near Worksop. There on a dismal rainy Friday, a group of twenty guests assembled to hear Dominic Gwynne talk about this instrument.

No one can be sure who made it. There's no visible signature, inside or out. Dominic suggested that it may have been constructed by a jobbing organ builder who had a few 'whizz ideas' he wanted to try. So, in this example when the keyboard is pulled out to play it rises on a wedge or ramp, reminiscent of Viennese fortepianos, so that the keys are lifted upwards to sit close under the stickers that activate the mechanism for each note. Unhappily, as Dominic observed, the keyboard doesn't then lock in place, so it can be accidentally knocked upwards. When it left the maker's workshop those hanging stickers presumably sat neatly above each key. At present some of them are inclined to lean at odd angles, so more than one of them can sit over one key while its neighbour is left blank. Not conducive for a very musical result! For the curious, let me say that it has a four-octave keyboard, lacking the lowest C#, with 2 extra notes, GG and AA, provided by the the apparent BB and C#. The smaller pedal, at the left, removes the Principal and Fifteen ranks from the full chorus, (i.e. takes off the octave and double octave), while that on the right enables the player to provide wind for himself when he cannot persuade a child or a servant to do it by hand (using an alternative mechanism at the left side).

24 April 2018

A STORY

Many, many years ago there lived a poor farmer in Africa who tilled the soil and planted crops, hoping to feed his family. When he had finished he built a strong fence around his little plantation to keep animals out. It was hard work, but he looked forward to the time of harvest when everyone would have food to eat. Then one morning he woke to find that a big bull elephant had pushed down his fence and destroyed all his work. His crops were eaten or trampled, and his children would have nothing to eat.

So one day he joined other men from his village who had a surer way to success. They hunted elephants. It was dangerous work but they caught an old male elephant, cut off the enormous tusks (which were very heavy) and carried them on a long overland trek, walking barefoot day after day until they arrived at a trading post. With the proceeds of the sale there would be food for all, even if the harvests failed.

The ivory they sold was carried thousands of miles over the ocean in sailing ships, to a land where elephants had never been. There, some hard-working craftsmen bought the precious material, carefully sawed it into small rectangles, then fitted them in a musical instrument. With great care they shaped every piece, scribing them, each man using his own special pattern, and polishing them until they were fit for a fine lady to touch.

Many years passed, till one day those same ivories, still clean and neat, were broken off, one after another, and thrown on a fire by people who never made anything so beautiful; never worked under the scorching sun to grow food, or toiled as those mariners did through storms and raging seas to bring their precious cargo across a mighty ocean. Where there had been neatly fashioned pieces of ivory they fitted a tedious white, make-believe substance. It was not tapered or shaped as the ivory had been. They made no attempt to reproduce the shape or form of the original. All the pretty detail and authenticity has gone.

'Is this a true story?' I hear you ask. Well, yes it is. I saw the evidence last week on two pianos – both are real enough, and both were made in the days when sailing ships brought precious cargos into the heart of London. But now they have featureless white keys that look utterly wrong. You may learn that long ago one of these pianos was played in a very beautiful house by an elegant duchess – that also is true. But, of course, she did not play on the keys we see now – the ivory has been destroyed, wantonly, to get it through American customs. This will surely happen more and more in the future. What an age we live in!

When we see such deliberate destruction what should we think? --- Perhaps we might pause for a while, and remember the hardships endured by the poverty-striken farmer. Think of the barefoot porters – they really did carry those heavy burdens under the blazing sun. Consider the lives of the brave seamen, who ran so many dangers crossing a mighty ocean. And remember also the exacting work of fine craftsmen. -- What right do we have to destroy their work?

18 April 2018

The inscription on the piano mentioned below is a good example of the better quality of calligraphy of that period. But unhappily someone thought they could improve it by adding a date. This could only happen when the piano had become an antique - most likely in the mid-twentieth century. The year chosen was probably 1792, but some later comer had the wit to erase it, as best they could. But there is something else to observe, in that Garcka was not content to add Stephen Street, Rathbone Place on his subscript line, in conformity with the usual practice of that time in London, but specified 'No. 16', so visitors would be sure to find him. (There were in fact a number of other workshops in the nearby back streets off Tottenham Court Road.) To the best of my recollection, the first 'manufacturers' of keyboard instruments to do this were Longman & Broderip. John Zumpe set a precedent by giving his address as Princes Street, Hanover Square. Harpsichord makers had not previously given their exact whereabouts. Longman took this a step further in the early 1780s when he specified 26 Cheapside, adding '13 Haymarket' after 1784.

The clear form of these letters, and the uniformity of balance (only the k of Garcka being amiss) suggests that this might be the same 'writing master' who inscribed Buntebart's pianos – much the neatest hand in town.

7 April 2018

It was a great pleasure this week to receive photos of this beautiful square piano. With rich mahogany casework, set off with satinwood borders, it would have been a visual delight when it left the workshop of George Garcka in London about 1785-90. But when you add such elegant painted decoration it becomes a exceptional item, a work of art in itself. This is not the first such piano I have seen – anyone who visited Finchcocks Living Museum at Goudhurst will have admired a Stodart piano with similar decoration. Others I have encountered personally are by John Broadwood and by Longman & Broderip, of a similar date. In my opinion they could all be painted by the same artist (with the possible exception of the Finchcocks instrument).

The vogue for this reached its peak in the first half of the twentieth century, say 1920-1930. You can understand why people loved it – it's such a shame we cannot identify the painter. On a Broadwood piano that was in my workshop almost twenty years ago I observed that the artist made a blunder by adding a date (1784 as I recall) revealing rather more than he or she intended. Clearly from the serial number inside, and details of the damper mechanism, the instrument was made at least ten years later than the external decoration would suggest! This confirmed for me what I had long suspected – that the external painting was added about 1920 or later for the antiques trade.

But what a triumph this is! A redundant piano, probably non-functioning or grossly out of tune when acquired, was transformed into a highly desirable work of art, commanding a hugely enhanced retail value. Interior decorators had to love this, and may have suggested to their clients that the classical scenes on the central panels might be the work of Angelica Kauffman. It is so well done. We would love to believe it ... but it is delectable anyway.

My thanks to John Garcka, a descendant of the piano's maker.

2 April 2018

What delight, and a privilege, to hear this seemingly forgotten music! That was the reaction of the two hundred or so people who turned out despite the dismal, rainy weather to hear the concert on Saturday.

Of Warwick, the editor, performer and musical director, everyone was in awe. 'What a useful addition to the Easter repertoire', they said, 'and how lovely the music was'. A great deal of praise was also heaped on our grand daughter Lois, who not only had the very challenging task of translating Stölzel's text but also spent many hours over designing the hugely impressive programme, with its copious notes on the composer. The general opinion was that, when once the music is known, it will become an enduring addition to the Easter repertoire.

 

27 March 2018

Cheltenham Coffee Concerts resume this coming Saturday with something very special – the first modern performance of the Easter music that J. S. Bach played in Leipzig in 1734. The St Matthew Passion? St John? Neither. Bach's choice that year was Easter music by Stölzel. I have never heard the music myself, but my son Warwick assures me that it is good ... and why should it not be so, if Bach chose to perform it. Yet it has been entirely overlooked and never performed until now. So as usual we will have an excellent band of musicians lined up; coffee and cakes at 10.30am; and then the whole of Stölzel's music performed in two sessions with a break at noon. If you are in this region you might like to attend - free admission, with retiring collection - Holy Apostles' Church, London Road, Cheltenham.

23 March 2018

The north side of Oxford Street – an ordinary day, as we may believe, with the activities you would expect to see: a coach with four-in-hand setting out for Oxford. All stations in life are faithfully included. A girl wearing a white apron carries a basket on her head, with (as we may suppose) a life of drudgery before her, while gentlewomen in fine dresses have time to chat under the portico. John Zumpe's house was a little west of here, behind the viewer, but this is very much the scene as he and his clients would have known it. John Broadwood's premises were off to the right, near Golden Square

When Joseph Haydn wanted peace and quiet to complete his symphonies for Salomon's concerts he travelled this way to hide away at Gabriel Buntebart's house at Lisson Grove, which the Oxford coach will be passing in a few minutes time.

18 March 2018

Flotsam and jetsam, the debris that beachcombers delight to find washed up by chance along the shoreline occasionally throws up some intriguing items, as last week when a bottle was reportedly found in Western Australia with a message inside dating from 1886. Thomas Green's account books washed up on the tide of history seem much more interesting – and an equally unlikely find. Just a few little pocketbooks kept by a music teacher in Hertfordshire – why would anyone save them? But I'm so glad they did.

At All Saints church in the town of Hertford, about 25 miles north of London, twenty year old Thomas Green was appointed organist in 1740. Consequently he moved from Cheshunt to lodge with the Bridgeman family on West Street where he stayed until his death in 1791. In a large room at the side of the house he organised concerts featuring local amateurs and his best pupils, though unhappily he doesn't tell us what music they played; but they look like incredibly good value at one guinea for ten fortnightly concert through the summer.

To supplement his income Thomas Green also tuned harpsichords and made minor repairs as necessary, making visits to clients up to 20 miles away – and very usefully he wrote down the details of many of these instruments. So we gain a good idea of how many harpsichords were in frequent use in the area, and sometimes find that in the mid eighteenth century he saw examples by some makers whose work is no longer extant today.

He was also asked to tune square pianos when they became newly fashionable around 1770, and over the next fifteen years he attended to at least forty of them, but though he noted with care the names of harpsichord makers, and the specification of those instruments, he never once records the names of pianoforte makers. Conservative? Old fashioned? I'm sure he was. But his attitude to the new Piano-forte was not unusual, so it is important to look into his reasons. Thomas Green wasn't being wholly unreasonable, nor was his opinion rare among the older generation of harpsichord players. This is an area of research that is of great interest to me at present. It is part of the history of music in eighteenth-century England, a topic that brings us closer to the reception and practice of music in past times, and its social function, which tends to be lost in most books on music history. I'm so glad that the people into whose hands these notebooks passed kept them safe, even when they must have seemed of no more consequence than the debris cast on the ocean, or even the proverbial 'message in a bottle'.

6 March 2018

Bitterly cold weather during the past week brought a fieldfare into my garden, searching for food. These winter visitors to England will be migrating home to continental Europe soon. They are never known to nest in Gloucestershire. But, whenever I see them it reminds me of my visit to Fürth in May 1995, and particularly of an evening there as the guest of Dr. John Henry van der Meer.

Born in Holland of a Dutch father and an English mother, and fluent in many languages, including German and Italian, he was for many years on the staff of the German National Museum in Nuremberg, where he negotiated the acquisition of two major collections of musical instruments – those assembled by the Rück and Neupert families. This superb resource, combined with instruments already owned by the museum, created an immense wealth for future study. Anyone who wants to know about German keyboard instruments really must go to Nuremberg. I spent a whole week there arriving at 9am, going down two floors to the sub-basement, and re-emerging into the daylight at 4.45pm. Armed with my notes on the Thursday evening I took the S1 train service for Fürth, and having time at my disposal, walked to the Stadtpark, beside the river Pegnitz, which looks so much like an English park, except that there the churring calls of fieldfares attracted my attention, flying constantly back and forth to their nesting sites in the trees nearby. They were so busy. So too the cyclists riding home in the early evening through the park.

It was there, sitting on a bench in the park, that I began to consider how to organise the immense wealth of data gathered in the museum's basement. How to make sense of the immense diversity of square piano designs? - that was my main concern. And from that, with the churring fieldfares flying overhead, came the idea for my presentation of four types of 18th century square piano, in German workshops, that was written up and published in the Galpin Society Journal in 1997. Dr Van der Meer was very pleased that I was throwing a spotlight on this little-considered aspect of German culture. We had a very pleasant evening at his favourite Italian restaurant in Fürth: I shall never forget his hospitality. It was he who put me in touch with his friend Dr Helmut Richter, at the town's archive, from whom I received much valuable information about Fürth's once famous son –Johannes Zumpe.

For anyone who searches for Tafelklaviere or square pianos on the Musical Instrument Museums' website [MIMO] my condensed notes from the Galpin Society publication are apparently the only information on many of the instruments in the GNM basement. Perhaps one day there will some new investigator with sufficient time and finance venturing underground for further study.

28 February 2018

In the early 19th century, James Shudi Broadwood, as senior partner in the world's largest piano manufacturers, was often asked about the origins of the pianoforte. The text showing here is a sample of his beliefs, published after his death by his son Henry Fowler Broadwood, in 1862. Clearly his information is not very accurate. But many people have taken this as being true, some even thinking this is an eye-witness account – which it is not. James Shudi Broadwood was born in December 1772, and therefore would not have been conscious of anything about the introduction of the piano by Zumpe until many years after the event. It is, to put it bluntly, hearsay, and untrustworthy.

Nevertheless, during the 1990s I visited many German museums, carefully examining instruments in their store rooms, searching for any Tafelclavier that might be the kind of instrument that Broadwood imagined had been Zumpe's inspiration. Sometimes the search threw up an interesting specimen that resembled the well-known 'English Piano-fortes' that made Zumpe's fortune. But on closer examination it was plainly evident that they were derivative: they were copies of Zumpe's design, not antecedents. Tell-tale signs included the exact replication of his hammer mechanism, with sockets for guide pins and rounded hammer heads; his scaling, facilitated by the dogleg shape of the treble keys, cranked to the left; the insertion of a cartouche above the keys with the ink inscription executed in an imitation of English Gothic script. So, in the end, I concluded that James Shudi Broadwood had misled everyone. Whoever told him about Zumpe's return from Germany with a square piano in his luggage, was simply wrong. J. S. Broadwood's testimony concerning the origin of the square piano was no more reliable than his beliefs about the origins of Herman Tabel's harpsichord design (which, by the way, he changed several times).

In the last few weeks the original first draft manuscript by James Shudi Broadwood has been rediscovered, and I am delighted to be able to compare this with the version printed by his son in 1862. The discrepancies appear to be highly significant. JSB's handwriting is often very difficult, but having now completed a transcript, my self-imposed task is to make a detailed comparison with the published text so as to clear the ground for a more accurate history of keyboard instruments in England.

12 February 2018

Pedalling, that seemingly indispensable aspect of piano technique for modern musicians, produces a beguiling effect in some of the slower tempi sonatas of Scarlatti. However, we all know that such an interpretation could not have been anything near Scarlatti's experience. The piano-fortes that he played, apparently with great pleasure, had no means of raising the dampers, by pedal or any other method. So, thoughtful pianists have sometimes given attention to the mysterious, historic development of pedalling technique. Nevertheless, David Rowland's study, published in 1993, seems to be the first thorough attempt to delineate the evolution of piano pedalling, using original sources rather than retrospective judgements.

Those who confine their attention to Viennese fortepianos, and English concert grands, find that evidence provided by the instruments' construction leaves a wide-open territory on which any subjective interpretation can be imposed with little effort. But for those, like David Rowland, who extend their view to the much more prevalent square pianos there is ample evidence of how, prior to 1810, and maybe later, very competent musicians had little if any dependence on legato pedalling as we now understand it. This is clearly shown in the variety of pedal provisions from highly regarded makers. For example, Clementi & Co. sold many very beautiful square pianos, certainly not economy models, that had no pedal whatever. (As is now well known, those Clementi square pianos from the early 1800s provided with a pedal had a disconcerting touch as the mechanism pulled the keys downward by about 2mm. Similar instruments from Broderip & Wilkinson circa 1800 often had no pedal of any kind.) William Southwell's patent pianos from Dublin had a knee lever, but it was for a buff stop, not sustaining tone. French square pianos at that time usually had a row of four pedals that were intended to be used as mutations, changing the voice of the instrument, in longer passages. Sostenuto pedalling does not work well on such pianos. John Broadwood in London was among the first to provide a truly independent sustaining pedal for square pianos which could be used, conveniently, in the way that modern musicians expect. So, presumably around 1800 there was still a wide variety of expectations, and no settled technique.

2 February 2018

Port Sunlight, that spacious and pleasing modern village near Birkenhead, has a charming art gallery and museum at the heart of the community. Thanks to Lady Lever's collecting interests, that's where we find a curious square piano by Frederick Beck incorporated in an elaborately decorative cabinet from c.1775. This was the starting point for research by Margaret Debenham, which has now been published online in The London Journal. So I am delighted to announce that Margaret and I have been given the opportunity to give access gratis to up to fifty readers who don't have an academic institutional access.

Besides the question of whether these commodes were commissioned by Beck to enhance his pianos, or whether the cabinet maker obtained ready-made pianos to enhance his commodes, we also report a recently-discovered piano by Beck that pre-dates all other known examples, and reveal the story of Rose-Ann Shudi, whose father's premature death in 1774 left her with an uncertain future, as mentioned in Broadwood Square Pianos (pages 8-9)

29 January 2018

Good news from Woking. In 2005, describing the procedure for researching Broadwood pianos in the archives at Surrey History Centre, I reported that unhappily the sales ledgers were incomplete. It was not too difficult to get information about square pianos made and sold up to 1797, or for those made after 1808, but for owners of Broadwood pianos made around 1800 the bad news was that the vital sales ledgers were lost. So it is good to report that this information is now out-of-date.

In preparing for the upcoming auction sale of the Colt Collection two more ledgers have been found, plus some loose pages. The Surrey History Centre now has these items. The information I've received is that two books, covering the period 1797-8, and 1802-1807, may be of great interest to anyone owning a piano from that period. They have now been donated to the Broadwood Archive in Woking.

21 January 2018

Following recent discoveries (reported on this Blog last year) concerning a fraudulent 1729 harpsichord, it is now possible to be confident that the oldest surviving instrument by Burkat Shudi is his 1740 double-manual harpsichord at Kew Palace. Good news also – you can see it on a newly uploaded page on the Royal Collections website. There it is introduced by Chris Nobbs and demonstrated by Laurence Cummings, who plays from the 'Harmonious Blacksmith' variations by Handel. As Chris points out in the video, this really was an exceptional fine instrument worthy of the royal patron for whom it was made. Though we see it now as a harpsichord only, it originally sat on a cabinet containing organ pipes, so that one could play the harpsichord, or organ, or both together, changing registrations at will by a pedal – not the one it has now, but an earlier version concealed within the furniture. Unlike later machine stops, there is no clunky box attached to the back of the harpsichord. Everything was enclosed. The instrument was restored by Miles Hellon.

To see the video go to the Royal Collection's website and search for 'Shudi'.

11 January 2018

When I first proposed in 1995 that a distinction should be made between the Pianoforte and the Pantalon I sensed a great deal of resistance among German musicologists. My reading of the situation was that they did not much like an Englishman [foreigner] intruding on their patrimony. So it was with some pleasure that I discovered that Michael Günter, a collector from Bad Homburg, has not only embraced the idea, he has worked up a long paper entitled The Pantalon: a misunderstood 18th century instrument — featured in the recently published proceedings from Kloster Michaelstein. 'Hooray!' I thought, 'at last my work is being taken seriously in Germany.' Closer reading makes for some sad disappointments. As is his custom, Michael Günter makes no acknowledement of my prior work in this field. But then he doesn't give any credit to anyone for anything! You would imagine that the editorial team at Kloster Michaelstein would subject his paper to a peer review, but apparently not. Well, here is a cringe-worthy sample.

This very unprepossessing instrument is in Michael Günter's personal collection. It has no date or maker's inscription but he ascribes it 'with certainty' to Georg Ludwig Krämer and dates it to about 1764. He describes it (truthfully) as having been much altered in the 19th century. It had no dampers originally, so perhaps there is good reason for his description of it as a 'Pantalon'.

On the basis that Krämer worked in the Nuremberg area in the early 1760s, which is where Zumpe's parents lived, he then makes an extraordinary claim: 'because of the striking similarity of construction and action there can be little doubt that this is the prototype [Modelle] for the square pianos that Zumpe afterwards made in London'. He goes further. 'Krämer is the spiritual forefather of the 'English Square Piano'. [geistige Stammvater]

Does this really look like Zumpe? Ignore the black keys. Pretend, if you wish, that Krämer's cranked wrestplank was later simplified by Zumpe. But does that dainty S-shaped bridge resemble Zumpe's work? Also, why is that Zumpe's treble keys are cranked to the left, while Krämer's are straight? All very puzzling. Now have a look at the action:

Do these hammers suggest they are the ancestors of English square pianos? Let's make it clear: these hammers may have been abused and modified, but it is certain that Krämer used hammers of this type, with iron stems and axe-like hammer heads, seen in surviving specimens right up to 1790. (I made a detailed examination of one signed by him and dated 1788 in Nuremberg many years ago.) So how is it that Zumpe used something so radically different? And if Zumpe based his work on this model would Herr Günter like to confirm that the all-important scaling and string tensions are the same? They are not!

What this shows, contrary to Günter's hypothesis, is that if this instrument was typical of the small hammer claviers being made in Nuremberg in the 1760s, then clearly Zumpe rejected it and made an enormous leap forward. Even in his earliest vintage, his 'small Piano-forte' was systemically different and distinctive. What's wrong with our German friends? Why are they so unwilling to give credit to one of their own countrymen? I might have explained this as resulting from their failure to understand the difference between a Pantalon and a Piano-forte: but no, clearly Michael Günter does know the difference

6 January 2018

About 150 people turned out for the first Cheltenham Coffee Concert of the new year on Saturday morning. They had a treat.

The musical menu included Corelli, Scarlatti, Vivaldi and Handel — all delightfully played by violinists Ann Monnington and Miranda Walton, with their delicious blend of gut-strung harmonies, accompanied by Imogen Seth-Smith and Warwick Cole. They were joined by Linda Gerrard who sang a long-lost Gloria from Handel's early period in Italy. This music was only rediscovered in 2001, 'lost' in the Royal Academy in London. Delightful. It makes you wonder how many other baroque treasures are overlooked and never heard, waiting for some diligent researcher to find them.

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