Michael's Blog

19 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 have 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 this 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. 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 in this picture, 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.


4 January 2018

This Blog, which I began in January 2015 with research on John Pohlman, has now completed three years with an entry on average every six or seven days. That's a lot of pictures, and a lot of text. So very soon I intend to split off the old entries, as I have to from time to time, and make a new start for 2018.

Many thanks to the people who have made this such a useful resource by contributing ideas or pictures. My harpsichord research continues. The aim is to write a new [revisionist?] history of English harpsichords, hoping to remedy the utterly unjustified neglect that English instruments have received in recent times, and hopefully persuade musicians that, certainly in chamber ensembles, they are superior to all other types, epecially in the performance of mid eighteenth-century repertoire.

News of forthcoming publications is still frustratingly slow. Margaret Debenham informs me that The London Journal will soon be making public our paper on Frederick Beck and his postulated connection with inlay specialist Christopher Fuhrlohg. Print publications often take quite a time to appear, so it is good to report that our Beck-Fuhrlohg paper will be available online soon, and probably in print by December. Meanwhile my contribution to the book on Zumpe and his pianos seems to have become stuck in the ghastly political turmoil in Barcelona. However, Pablo Gomez assured me that they are working on it!

Earlier entries

View Blog for July-Dec 2017 here

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