Our fourth Square Piano Weekend at Finchcocks was very successful and enjoyable.
Keynote Presentation - Martyna Kazmierczak
We were all enchanted by our soloist Martyna Kazmierczak at Finchcocks 2013. So it was a privilege for us to welcome her as our keynote presenter this year.
Martyna gave us an outstanding presentation on the complex relationships between the music, the player, and the instruments.
She began with a short recital on the Schmal clavichord, where her performance of pieces by CPE Bach in particular were heart-rending. This made us realise what a noisy place the world has become these days, and how good it is to be quiet, and really to listen.
She went on to share with us the experience of the Cawton Aston spinet (c. 1705) and the Beyer square piano. Each of these instruments has its own characteristics, strengths, and limitations. We must also remember that their ages extend to over 300 years, and even with the loving attention that they receive, each has its little ways. There is no-one else that I would have dared to ask to demonstrate such a varied selection of early instruments, and to make such beautiful music.
She then took us to the splendid Rosenberger Viennese grand, a slightly later instrument (c. 1800) and delightful to play, but with its 'Prellmechanik' action and precise damping, very demanding of an impeccable technique.
Piano music in England surely started with J C Bach, playing the earliest pianos made by Johannes Zumpe. So it was, that Martyna concluded her memorable presentation on the tiny 1769 Zumpe piano.
Thank you, Martyna. A presentation to remind us that it's not how loudly you can play, but how beautifully. All we have to do is to listen....
Alastair Laurence shared with us the experiences of the Broadwood tuners in the year 1800 (from newly-discovered material) including the memorable jotting from one tuner to his colleagues: 'Don't go there.' We've all experienced customers like that...
Tom Strange's study of the Square Piano in America (see below) was a real eye-opener. Those of us onthis side of the Atlantic have seen very few American square pianos, except possibly the huge Steinways and Chickerings. All the trade was the other way. But for many reasons, the development of the American piano pursued its own course very soon after 1800, and produced some very distinctive instruments.
Graham Wells shared with us a lifetime of experiences with Sotheby's, which seemed to be dominated by tales of murder and intrigue. Square pianos seemed to be relatively blameless in this this respect, but the harpsichords and other early keyboards provided many fascinating tales.
As a prelude to Martyna's talk, Olaf van Hees gave us insight into the way our sense of hearing has changed over time, and how, for all of us, it changes over our own lifetimes. It seems that the world is such a noisy place now, that our hearing really has suffered. Which takes us back to Martyna's playing of the clavichord, and the rare chance it gave us really to listen...
After our 'Square Meal' in the Finchcocks Cellar Resturant, we enjoyed an informal entertainment by the talented Café Haydn, the group of young musicians from The Netherlands. This featured the square piano (beautifully played by Tullia Melandri) as it would usually have been heard in the early nineteenth century, as part of a small informal musical group.
Santiago Rodriguez Pozo (Spain) Violin
Annabeth Shirley (USA) Violoncello
Tullia Melandri (Italy) Pianoforte
Olaf van Hees (Netherlands) Bass
The last year the ensemble Café Haydn with the program “Tea with Jane” has been arguable the best selling classical Music ensemble in The Netherlands.
They reenact a musical evening with a cup of tea, as it was usual around 1800 in a well to do English household. That was not as formal as we think today.
Some songs and lyrics caused amused raised eyebrows and hilarious moments. With this program with music by Haydn, the composer with the status of a popstar in the era of Jane Austen, his Scottish Songs, his pianotrios and pianosonatas, written to please the audience (and especially the ladies!!).
It is known that Jane Austen was fond of dancing, so a pasticcio of Country Dances is on the program too.
Beside that, Jane Austen was a keen fortepiano player, who knew how to use her square piano and she frequently copied music in her own music books. She even arranged music. Café Haydn will perform a song by Charles Dibdin,`The Soldier’s Adieu`, arranged by Jane Austen as `The Sailors Adieu` (she had two brothers in the Royal Navy), together with a violin part from her hand.
Café Haydn makes clear that classical music is not always serious. Time for some mischief?
Café Haydn has performed the program 'Tea with Jane' in The Netherlands for sold-out music rooms. Reactions of the audience: Absolutely hilarious!
For Finchcocks 2014, of course everything evolves around the square piano. This year, the concert focuses on different role of the square piano. Not as a domestic solo instrument, but as a part of an ensemble,or to accompany a singer. In all our efforts to preserve the square piano, we frequently forget that it was used in this form for an important part of their musical life.
Melting Pot: Adoption, Adaptation, and Innovation in 19th Century American Pianos
Piano making in America remained a small enterprise by boutique craftsmen working as individuals or in small partnerships through the 18th C, all building pianos very much like the ones being imported from London at the time. However, coincident with the immigration of John Geib and family, and then quickly Thomas Gibson and Morgan Davis, all from London shops associated with Longman & Broderip and Clementi, piano making in America began to occur in a large way, with as many as one or two pianos a week coming out of the shop. By 1809 America was participating in the cutting edge of piano design, with the newly introduced round corner fronts. In the teens America introduced new design elements into the piano, while continuing to copy the London established mechanical aspects of the action. Following the arrival of the Nunns brothers in the 1820s, and their establishment of an independent shop tradition later in that decade, new elements were rapidly introduced into the action and design that would change the way square pianos were made, making them more responsive, aligned to disparate customer needs, and price points. This presentation will review in pictures this transformation of the piano, and identify probable origins of design elements from England, France, and the US, from 1800 to 1850.
For the lay people in Early Music practice, it is unimaginable that in the 17th and 18th century trombones (in those days called sackbutts) could play together with recorders. Trombones, in present days the symbol of orchestral loudness, together with recorders?
This all has to do with size, tube diameter and, above all, good taste.
Already at the end of the 19th century, the crave for hedonistic louder and louder music begins its march through musical history. Pianofortes grew to gigantic proportions, orchestras couldn’t be big enough, pitch couldn’t be high enough.
And, as it is in most cases with hedonism, loudness in music during the 20th century deteriorated into a pornographic character and caricature: louder, louder and louder. The beauty is in the loudness.
There was a time in music that music couldn’t be soft enough. The lute was the favourite instrument for subtlety, the soft clavichord prefered above the harpsichord to express emotions. And when the pianoforte was invented, the first really reliable and playable pianofortes were the squares, so loved for their small dimensions and their fine and subtle sound, soft and sophisticated like fine lace. Always played with the lid closed.
There is scientifical evidence why in those days music had to be softer and softer, and not louder and louder. The loudest noise people knew was the rolling thunder or the shot of a cannon or pistol.
Only the last 50-60 years we know what it requires to hear music, and it soon became clear that the softer the sound, the better you hear it. Those old whigs centuries ago were right!!
With some short acoustical graphs and psychoneuroacoustical analyses it will all be revealed to you.
Prof. Dr. Olaf S. van Hees is the author of numerous publications on the subject of hearing in musicians. In 1991 he stirred the scientific and musical world with his thesis “Hearing damage in Musicians”. The last ten years he has switched fulltime to harpsichords and square pianos: nice and soft music.
It's early days yet, but we are tentatatively planning Finchcocks 2015. Please get in touch at any time if you would be interested, or have any requests or suggestions for the programme. Please contact David on firstname.lastname@example.org