Our major technical presentation this year was from Leif Sahlqvist, who has devoted many years to a study of the pianos of Muzio Clementi. We were particularly delighted to welcome Christopher Clementi to the audience, seen in the picture below in the bottom right corner. He is the great-great-great grandson of Muzio Clementi, commemorated in Westminster Abbey as 'The Father of the Pianoforte'.
Our presentations (and the recital) this year were given on the newly-cleared landing of Finchcocks, the ideal setting for our Friendly group.
Leif's presentation, as the result of many years of research, was very strong on content - far too much for us to absorb at one hearing. So we are delighted to say that the talk will very soon be available in the form of a PDF on this website.
This will include the eagerly-awaited lists of the numbers and dates of Clementi's pianos.
It was also good for us to enjoy musical interludes, Clementi's music played for us by Luke Bradley on one of Clementi's pianos.
We then had a fascinating presentation by David Shuker (who is an Organ builder) about 'Organized Square Pianos'. No, not those which have learnt how to keep their affairs in order, but the last manifestation of the combination of a stringed keyboard instrument (orignally the harpsichord) and a small organ. These had a history spanning well over 200 years, and were surprisingly common. However, very few survive (V&A, Colt Collection) and none in working order as far as I know.
There is a possibilty, though...
We are hoping that David's presentation will soon be available as a PDF.
Olaf van Hees then tantalized us with a tale of an Aladdin's Cave (or even two) of early pianos - some of special interest - which face an uncertain future in Amsterdam. This somewhat worrying presentation reminded us how uncertain the future can be for many lovely instruments, and how powerless we sometimes are. As private 'Collectors', much depends on us to do the best we can.
Perhaps this is the whole point of Friends of Square Pianos. We want to have fun, of course, but we will also help each other to save as much of the Heritage as we can.
After an excellent lunch in the Finchcocks Restaurant (spoilt by David desperately trying to get everyone back for the afternoon programme...) The next presentation was more light-hearted (?) - an entertaining talk by Marie Kent on 'Prison, Plenius, Schrader and Hartz'. Mmmm... we all know that many of our piano makers ended up in court, either suing or being sued, and a good number went to the various debtors' prisons.
At least we now know the difference between an Insolvent and a Bankrupt, but this was a convoluted tale indeed. A fascinating picture of the social and legal environment in which our makers operated. So again it's fortunate that Marie has promised us a PDF of this one as well - with pictures of the Prisons. Didn't the Marshalsea feature in a TV series recently?
Our Host Alastair Laurence continued his series of insights into the workings of John Broadwood & Sons in the early nineteenth century, but which time it was one of the most important employers in London.
Records for September 27th 1834 show the number of workmen employed at the Horseferry Road and Bridle Lane sites, and the remarkable degree of specialisation - for example there was one man employed just as a maker of Bridge Pins. Three of the workers, including two 'Polishers' were paid very high sums, which suggests that they were Team Leaders, employing teams of workers of their own.
Finally, Lucy and David led a sort of informal Seminar about the apparently simple English single action, introduced by Johannes Zumpe in about 1765, and really the start of the story of the pianoforte in musical perfomance.
In principle, this action is indeed simple, but setting up for best musical effect is not quite so easy...
We enjoyed a sociable Square Meal in the Cellar Restaurant, and then returned to the House for a recital by the young pianist Martyna Kazmierczak.
Martyna played three of the Finchcocks pianos, the tiny Walter c.1805, the Beyer from 1777, and the bigger Clementi from the early 1820s.
Martyna's feeling for the music and the pianos was remarkable, in particular the way she adapted to the very different actions of the three pianos - the Walter with a miniature version of the Viennese 'Prellmechanik' action, the English single action of the Beyer, and the double action with escapement of the Clementi.
Very briefly, the Walter's action gives very good control, but its escapement means that the key must be returned fully before a note can be repeated. The simple action of the Beyer is perhaps more difficult to control, especially in quiet playing, but its repetititon is unbeatable. The Clementi's 'Geib' double action with escapement (used until the very last English squares) also requires the key to be fully returned before full repetition, although the 'half-blow' shelf gives some help.
In the fading evening light, Martyna entertained us to a magical recital, perhaps most memorable for her quiet playing in the intimate atmosphere. For me, the best part was her playing of pieces by CPE Bach on the Beyer. She brought out the deep emotion of the music by this most mysterious of composers. A thoughtful touch was her sensitive use of the lid-swell.
It would have been inappropriate to disturb the atmosphere by taking pictures, and anyway, I was just enjoying the music, but here's a picture of Martyna taken during our 'winding down' on the Sunday morning, when she was exploring the capabilities of another of Finchcock's finest pianos, the Rosenberger grand.
The Keyboard Charitable Trust makes it possible for young artists to have the opportunity to play in prestigious venues. We are grateful to the Trust, and to John Broadwood and Sons, for supporting Martyna for her recital at Finchcocks.