Michael's Blog


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 the 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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