Michael's Blog

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

View blog for Jan.to June 2017

View Blog for 2016

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