We all have fond memories of our five Finchcocks Parties, but sadly Finchcocks is no more. There will never be anywhere else like Finchcocks, with its unique combination of a beautiful setting, welcoming hosts, and free access to what was one of the finest collections of early keyboard instruments anywhere.
But after a break for one year, we propose now propose to hold a Friends of Square Pianos event on a smaller scale, in the form of a Spinet Day in Northamptonshire (yes, that’s north of Watford.)
The venue for this will be the old school (now the Village Hall) in the village of Chelveston.
The date will be Saturday 8th April, and the event will take the form of an informal seminar. There will be time for music, informal discussion, and a chance to play the instruments yourselves.
We are pleased to announce that Alan Cuckston, a player of international repute and specialising in early keyboard instruments will be joining the party as our celebrity performer.
Alan has given concerts throughout Europe and North America, and has toured as harpsichordist with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and as organist with Pro Cantione Antiqua.
He has produced an extensive repertoire of recordings, including music by Handel, Rameau and Couperin. His focus is vey much on the baroque period, and he had a harpsichord built by John Rooks, based on the 1638 Andreas Ruckers.
This was last seen in public on the occasion of its post-restoration début at Finchcocks in 2015.
Then there will be a replica of this, made by David Hackett in 2015-16
- and a second replica, which by then will be under construction.
Here’s one I made earlier:
These spinets feature the ‘broken octave’ arrangement for the lowest notes, characteristic of the time. Within a few years, this system was abolished in favour of what we now recognise as a normal keyboard, fully chromatic. The lowest note remained a G, but also about this time, the compass was gradually extended upwards to E, and later F. This stage of development is represented by a modern (2006) representation of an instrument that might have been made by Stephen Keene about 1710.
Then there will be an example of perhaps the high point of development of the English spinet, with a full five-octave compass, a beautiful Thomas Hitchcock number 1460, dating from 1735. This instrument has a distinguished provenance – it was formerly owned by Sir Sterndale Bennett, composer and Principal of the Royal Academy of Music. Together with the 1704 Blunt, it was exhibited at the International Inventions Exhibition in 1885.
One of our visiting spinets will be the Haxby, c. 1760 (see below). This is the instrument used for the only recording devoted entirely to a spinet that I know of - see the 'Friends Recordings' page.
We are also happy to announce that Stephen Robinson will be joining the party, and bringing one of his beautiful replica Hitchock spinets. Stephen frequently exhibits at the Early Music Show in London.
In addition to the above programme, participants will be welcome to bring their own spinets to share with others, and to play us a tune. At the time of writing (October 1st) we are expecting a 1953 Hodsdon, 1959 Dennis Wooley, a Morley, and possibly the original Keene & Brackley - the model for so many recent replicas.
There will also be a Sales table; please bring any relevant items that you would like to sell.
There is a large private car-park adjacent to the hall. For those arriving by train, the best option is to come to Wellingborough (50 minutes from St Pancras) and take a taxi from there. There is no public transport to the village.
The fee to attend will be £25; most of this is to pay for the food (tea and coffee, biscuits, special buffet lunch, cakes). Please do not send any money yet, but it would help me with the planning to have some idea how many are likely to attend, so please send me an email, to David at email@example.com
Of course, as the time draws nearer, we will need to know firm numbers so that we can order enough food!
Payment will be on the day, by cash or UK cheque please - no card facilities.
As ever, I emphasise that despite the grand title of 'seminar', this is not just a day for experts, but for anyone who is interested, and in particular for those who are new to the world of spinets. There will possibly be experts there, but they will be happy to chat, to answer all questions, and to make new friends.
Looking forward to a good party!
The seminar will be open from 9.00 a.m. until 6 p.m., and the programme will be relaxed and flexible to allow time for refreshment and exercise (the Star & Garter is 3 minutes’ walk down the hill; the beer is good) and for participants to study and play the instruments themselves, and to hold informal discussions. Participants will be free to come and go as they wish.
There will, though, be a few ‘fixed points:
The first presentation will be ‘Friends Reunited – a brief review of the harpsichords and spinets shown at the 1885 International Inventions Exhibition', including of course the 1704 Blunt and Hitchcock N°1460, now together again after 131 years. The current locations of many of the other instruments are also known, many of them in museums.
The keynote presentation will be a short talk on ‘The Spinets of Stephen Keene, Edward Blunt, and the Hitchcock Dynasty’. This will include a new analysis of the numbers and dates of Hitchcock spinets, which have been the subject of confusion to scholars for well over a hundred years.
Finally, there will be an informal session on ‘Making a Spinet’ – an opportunity for us to share our experiences and dreams. There will be a brief practical talk to encourage amateurs to have a go, with a half-built example, and a review of the plans and other support that are available.
All participants will be free to play the instruments (not all at once, please!) and there will be at least two recitals by Alan Cuckston. We are also hoping that one or two of the more talented players will entertain us. The choice of instruments will be up to the players, but the Blunt and the Hitchcock are sure to be favourites. The sound of spinets will be heard throughout the day, but the Master of Ceremonies will call the meeting to order to listen to the soloists.
The programme will be flexible - it's your day! - but it might look something like this:
09.00 – Hall open, help with setting up and tuning would be appreciated. Coffee and tea will be freely available throughout the day (if you make it yourself!) and members are welcome to prepare breakfast in the well-appointed new kitchen. There are of course full toilet facilities, and even a shower if anyone wishes to freshen up after a journey. Collection of seminar fees,
10.00 – Welcome, and presentation of the Review of the Harpsichords and Spinets at the 1885 Exhibition (about 15 minutes plus any discussion). Followed by music, tea and coffee, and informal discussions.
12.00 – Keynote presentation - The Spinets of the Hitchcock Dynasty (about 15 minutes).
Lunch – I will arrange for a hot buffet to be brought to us by my friend Cesare of the Pizzeria Venezia restaurant; this will include vegetarian options. There is no bar, but please bring your own - we will provide the glasses.
After Lunch: music by Alan Cuckston and others; informal discussions.
3.30 – Making a Spinet: informal session
Followed by final recitals.
6.00 – Clearing up.