The Keyboard in London

My photo
We (Mike Lurie, Greg Dunbar, Lauren Buono, Shawn Riley & Bryn Coveney) are a group of students studying abroad in London for the semester from Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. This blog is to document our class experiences in "The Keyboard and it's Role in London Society" course, which is being taught by Diane Birr at the Ithaca College London Center, in South Kensington. Our studies focus on keyboard instruments (the Virginal, Harpsichord, Pianoforte, Piano, Organ, Electronic keyboard) and explore how these instruments are historically interwoven with the personal and social fabric of London society.

Friday, 2 May 2008

A Big Round of Applause goes to...

All the members of the Spring 2008 "Keyboard in London" class would like to offer their heartiest thanks to Director Bill Sheasgreen and the Ithaca College London Center for their incredible support of our trips to concerts and additional venues. It has been a wonderful experience. Thank you, Bill!

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

The Decoration of Harpsichords, Clavichords, and Virginals

Instruments have long been used as forms of artwork.  In Europe, keyboards were very similar to ornate pieces of furniture, with lavish paintings and embellishments both outside and inside their cases.  Styles of decoration varied from country to country due to changes in taste and fashion.

Italian keyboard instruments tended to be very plain; the instrument itself would typically be of unpainted cypress wood.  The cases for the keyboards (as these instruments were often small enough and portable and thus needed a case to be held in) were little more decorated; sometimes they would be covered in plain leather, or more rarely, cloth; occasionally they were painted a solid colour.

Low Countries
Keyboards from the Netherlands were far more ornate than their Italian counterparts.  They tended to be painted both inside and out.  Ruckers instruments were decorated in a very specific way; they would be lined with white paper, which was then embossed with black ink.  (Today, the paper appears yellow and the ink green from age.)  The soundboards typically featured images of flowers, tulips, birds, and prawns.

English keyboards are in a class of their own.  It is rare to find a painted harpsichord or clavichord; rather, the decoration of instruments in this country is in the selection of woods and the use of marquetry (wood inlay). Typical woods chosen for these instruments are oak, maple, sandlewood, and walnut.

Instruments from France were very lavishly decorated in the 1700s.  They featured paintings both underneath the lid of the instrument, as well as in panels along the sides. They were also be painted in either a solid colour or a marbled pattern.  Their soundboards featured flowers, birds, and fruit.

German instruments began very crudely; in the 1600s, it was rare to find any keyboard instruments with any sort of decoration, but the few that did would have a single painting on the inside, typically of a mythological or biblical scene.  In the 1700s, instruments began to be painted (solid, marbled, or tortoiseshell patterns), and featured paintings of better quality with the same subjects as previously, though Chinese scenes were popular as well.

One feature that is common among all of these instruments is the Rose.  It is typically found on the soundboard of the instrument, and is a way for the manufacturer of the instrument to both sign his name and sometimes date the instrument as well.  Roses were constructed out of either cypress and paper, leather, or metal.
Links of interest:

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

20th Century English Composers

20th Century Music
Twentieth-century music broke away from conventional theory in almost every aspect. Melodies were no longer tonal.  Instead, they were many times quite elusive and could not easily be sung.  Rhythms were irregular and unpredictable.  Polyrhythms were included and can be likened to cross rhythms that previous composers, such as Brahms, used.  Chord structures are never fundamental as in previous music.  Polychords, tonal clusters, and chords based on fourths are frequently used.  Dissonance became a key factor in 20th-century music and was used to create unexpected endings, and on the whole, made the music sound more mystifying or fantasy-like.  Most importantly was the change and experimentation with tone color.  New colors were added by breaking away from traditional instrumentation, exploring new instrumental techniques, and at times, incorporating multiple percussion sounds.  All of these factors created mood and variety, yet contributed to continuity in the music.  During the 20th century, many English composers incorporated these techniques in their works.  A selection of some of England's most important 20th-century composers follow.

Ralph Vaughn-Williams (1872-1958)

• Composer, arranger, conductor
• Born in Gloucestershire, died in London 
      & is buried in Westminster Abbey
• Considered the greatest English composer since Purcell
• Studied at Trinity College, Cambridge
• Later he studied at RCM & eventually became 
     a professor there
• He possessed a deep love for folk-songs and carols
• His music has a great deal of power, nobility, and
     expressiveness, considered very "English" sounding

Frank Bridge (1879-1941)

• Composer, arranger
• Came from a musical family in Brighton
• Studied at RCM as violinist & pianist
• Recieved a 4 year composition scholarship at RCM
• Teacher (of Britten), orchestral player (in London's top
     symphonies), & chamber musician
• His music is late-romantic idiom, string quartets are
     distinctive and harmonically advanced

Arnold Bax (1883-1953)

• Composer, arranger & poet
• Born in London to a rich family from Hampstead
• Studied at RCM with Corder and Matthay (piano)
• Corder introduced him to Liszt & Wagner's music, 
    which influenced Bax's compositional style
• Music blended Romanticism, Impressionism and strong
     Celtic, as well as some Russian influences

William Walton (1902-1983)

• Composer, arranger, conductor
• Born in Lancashire to a musical family,
• Died in Ischia, Italy
• Was a chorister at Oxford
• Left Oxford without a degree & went to London to live
     with a family of poets
• Viola concerto premiered by Hindemith, Cello Suites 1-3
     premiered by Rostropovich
• Crown Imperial for Kind George VI
• Growing popularity in England until Britten

Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)

• Composer, conductor, pianist
• Born in Lowestoft in Suffolk & died in Aldeburgh
• Composed since 5, studied with Bridge at 11, where he was
     introduced to Bartok and Schoenberg), then went for
      further studies at RCM
• Wrote many operas, the most popular is Peter Grimes
• Received many awards including the Companion of
     Honour in 1952, and became a member of the Order of
     Merit in 1965
• Performed with and composed several works for his
     friend and partner, tenor Peter Pears
• He, along with Pears and Eric Crozier, founded the
     Aldeburgh Festival

Information provided by Lauren

The Clavioline

The Clavioline was the first electronic keyboard available for mass production.  Developed in 1947 by Constant Martin in Versailles, France, this versatile keyboard had success in the early 1950’s in the UK under the Selmer Company.  Originally designed to be bolted under a piano and imitate a variety of instruments found in an orchestra, the Clavioline soon became popular as its own unique instrument.  It has been used on a variety of hit songs, from the Tornados’ “Telstar” released in 1962 (the first UK song to hit #1 on US charts) to “Baby, You’re a Rich Man” by the Beatles, included on their “Yellow Submarine” album.

Features of the Clavioline:
• 36 “higher-priority” keys (meaning it is monophonic) and if two keys are pressed at once, you’ll only hear the higher one.
• Volume/expression control lever under the keyboard that players squeeze sideways with their leg to increase the volume.
• 18 switches called “stops” (tribute to the older days of keyboards) on the front of the instrument.  There are 14 tone modifiers, numbered 1-9 and lettered O, B, V, P and F. To the left of them are three vibrato switches (I, II, III) ranging in speed with an amplitude switch to affect the depth of each one.
• Octave slider connected to jutting metal rods can be pushed left or right to expand the range an octave lower or higher, giving the keyboard five total.

Selmer offered a table explaining the various instrumental sounds that can be produced when certain switches are pushed.  The 'Range' category refers to what mode the octave switch should be on (Low, Medium or High).  You can view the table and find more information on the Clavioline here.  The standard Clavioline, known as the Auditorium Model under Selmer, hit the UK market in 1951 and sold over 15,000 units. 

Today, Clavioline enthusiasts will find more pleasure in collecting the instruments rather than playing them regularly, for many have found trouble with keys breaking, dead notes and swollen or burnt out capacitors and resistors.  Despite the issues, their history as setting the standard for a wealth of synthetic sound make them worth any keyboardists’ time to restore and keep forever.

Information provided by Mike

Handel in London

George Frederic Handel was born in Halle Germany on February 23, 1685 and died in London on April 14, 1759.  Even though he was of German birth, he had a huge influence in music in England and is actually considered an “English composer.”  He has many great works that are timeless, but probably the best known is the “Messiah.”  One of the most famous of Handel's works is, of course, "Water Music."  It's an orchestral suite first performed on July 17, 1717 to accompany a trip on the River Thames made by King George I and his entourage, and shows Handel's great loyalty to the king.  This river trip, which was avoided by the Prince and Princess Caroline, was a political event, and the first of a series arranged to allow the king to be more visible to his subjects.

Information provided by Shawn

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Fenton House


Fenton House
Hampstead Grove
Hampstead, London

The Fenton House is one of the largest and earliest houses in Hampstead.  The house was built in about 1686 by William Eades, son of a master brick layer.  The house's previous owners included Thomas Sympson, Joshua Gee, and Phillip Fenton, from whom the house gets it name. Fenton House is surrounded by rose, kitchen, and vegetable gardens.  There is even an apple orchard.  More importantly, within the house there are collections of early keyboards, porcelain, engravings, paintings, Georgian furniture, and 17th-century needlework pictures.

The collection of early keyboards was started by Major Benton Fletcher (1866-1944) and was sold to the National Trust in 1934.  Fletcher began the collection due to his desire to preserve these works of art, as well as stressing the importance of maintaining the instruments.  The 19 instruments on display are all in playing order and any musician, no matter what age, may play them, though it does require an audition.  The collection contains harpsichords, spinets, virginals, pianos, and clavichords by makers including Shudi, Broadwood, Ruckers, Kirckman, Dolmetsch, Backers and Longman & Broderip.

"We took a tour of the keyboards by Mimi Waitzman, a short sweet woman, whose love and incredible knowledge of the instruments made for a wonderful experience. Some of my favorite instruments were the Siculus Spinet, one of only two surviving, the English virginal made to look like a chest, and the Shudi Harpichord with a flap mechanism [Venetian Swell] over the soundboard to create a crescendo and diminuendo effect."

"I loved the virginal in the closet for its shockingly loud and bright sound. I was expecting something like a clavichord's barely audible tones, but found nothing of the sort. The 17th Century English virginal also caught my ears, but mostly my eyes for the exquisite painting and design."

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Queen Elizabeth Hall presents Imogen Cooper

Queen Elizabeth Hall
Southbank Center
Imogen Cooper, piano

This is the class' second appearance on London's Southbank Centre.  We attended a concert featuring the British pianist Imogen Cooper playing works by Schubert.  This recital was the first in a cycle of four Schubert programs Cooper is presenting this year and next at Southbank. Queen Elizabeth Hall was built in 1951 and includes not only QE Hall, but also the Purcell Room, an intimate recital space, as well as The Front Room, which many times hosts free pre-concert lectures or performances by some of the concert artists.

"Imogen was swift, nearly flawless and professional. What I was drew me in the most was her facial expressions throughout the performance. She would lean back, smile, mouth words in silence and keep her eyes closed, all while dazzling the audience with her keystrokes."

"Cooper's animated hand motions included a captivating element that has been present in very few of the other performances."

For additional information on Imogen Cooper, click here

Saturday, 12 April 2008

The Evolution of the Organ at St. Paul's Cathedral

There has always been an organ in St. Paul's Cathedral. Since 1666, this organ has undergone many transformations and improvements by various organ makers, outlined below.
• 1694; first organ was constructed by Bernard Schmid. It was quite small, with only 27 stops and three manuals. He was paid £2,000 for his labour, roughly £2,000,000 by today's standards.
• J.C. Bishop increased the volume of the organ and moved it to the north side of the Quire in 1830.
• 1872; Henry Willis installed new pneumatic action in the keys, increased the number of manuals to four, and reconstructed most of the instrument, leaving roughly 200 of the original pipes.
• 1897; the organ was moved again to the northeast quarter dome. Two open diapsons were added, as well as a group of Solo Tubas.
• 1925; the organ was dismantled due to the potential of the dome collapsing. It was reinstated in 1930 with a larger chancel pedal section, a third 32-foot stop and a “Willis” Trompette Militaire. By this time, the organ is completely electrically run.
• 1940s; part of the organ is destroyed due to a bomb that fell through the ceiling of St. Paul's. It is rebuilt using pipes of other organs that were also destroyed in the bombings.

Currently, the organ is being cleaned and maintained by Mander Organs Ltd., and is unfortunately not being performed on again until August of this year.
List of Pipes
More information

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

The Cobbe Collection at the Hatchlands


Hatchlands Park
East Clandon, Guildord
Surrey, England

For more than 40 years, Alec Cobbe has been collecting keyboards. From grand and square pianofortes to virginals and harpsichords, his vast collection has a purpose: to assemble instruments by makers who were highly regarded or patronized by composers. Out of his collection numbering nearly 40, eighteen of these instruments were either owned or played by some of the biggest names in music’s history. With a lineup of names including Joseph Haydn, Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Mozart, Henry Purcell and Johann Christian Bach, the collection happens to be “the largest group of composer-related instruments to be seen in one place anywhere in the world.”

1846 Grand Pianoforte by I. Pleyel, owned by Chopin

According to the collection’s official website, the instruments are “maintained in playing conditions and are used for concerts”.

Dr. Birr and husband, Charlie Speed

Lauren and Shawn

The ride

Walking up to the house

The house

Greg's great find!

Don't knock our bull

"We were extremely lucky to have Alec Cobbe himself show us his collection. He walked from one priceless keyboard to the next, talking of their history and playing beautiful music on them. I could not believe the vast amount of colors he extracted from each instrument.
My favorite moment had to be when he played the prelude to the second cello suite on the Clavichord
...the instrument, he [Cobbe] told us,
that Bach was likely to have composed the cello suites on."

"I especially loved how Alec Cobbe told us of how many people speak of how old instruments can hold a performer back, but how he believes that they are liberating for it is up to the performer to create a sound and music based on the capability and distinct beauty of each individual instrument."

"During the morning performance, Mrs. Comparone's opening piece contained a basic melody pattern repeated with the left hand while improvisation occurred with the right. I found the piece incredible, yet concluded that due to its loop-like approach it seemed to be quite similar to the popular music of today."

"I didn't understand Mrs. Comparone's introducing every piece before playing, even playing bits of the piece before actually performing it. It certainly was strange and a bit annoying, but I think she completely made up for it with her encore."

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Felix Mendelssohn

Life and Legacy
Mendelssohn was considered by many to be the greatest musical prodigy following Mozart.  After his first performance at the age of 9 and composing twelve symphonies between the ages of 12 and 14, Mendelssohn became one of the most famous musicians of the Romantic period.  
A German pianist and composer, Mendelssohn spoke four languages and was skilled in art, literature and philosophy.  His symphonies, concerti, oratorios, piano and chamber music has recently been revived in a similar way that Mendelssohn himself revived the music of Johann Sebastian Bach well over a century ago.

Revival of Bach's Music
Following two years of rehearsing, Felix Mendelssohn presented a performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in Berlin.  With accompaniment provided by an orchestra and choir, Mendelssohn's rendition came exactly one century after Bach's original performance.  This was the first time Bach's piece was heard outside of Leipzig, sparking great interest in his music. Bach's revival started in Germany and eventually spread throughout Europe.  A concert attendee of St. Matthew Passion concert wrote of "Bach's grand, truly Protestant, robust and erudite genius which we have only recently learnt again to appreciate at its full value."

Information provided by Greg

Southbank Centre


Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
John Lill, piano
Royal Festival Hall
Southbank Centre

London's Southbank Centre is one of the important hubs for arts in this great city.  Included in the many venues are the performance spaces, the Royal Festival and Queen Elizabeth Halls.  The class attended a concert by Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, which included a performance of Brahms' 2nd Piano Concerto with English pianist, John Lill.  Also featured on the program were Richard Strauss' tone poems, Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and Tod und Verklarung.

"The Brahms was such an incredibly large piece full of complex rhythms, 2 against 3 between piano and orchestra, and a lovely rich full orchestral sound. The pianist was wonderful, and the conductor was incredible considering he filled in last minute! After the intermission we moved into the seats above the orchestra and watched closely as they played the Stauss.
It was such a powerful feeling being so close!"

"I've seen concerts at Carnegie Hall and cathedrals around the world, but this orchestra seemed to portray an entirely different level of professionalism. It was spot on with the recording; the sweeping motions of the bows across the violins, violas, cellos and bass along with the pounding of the tympani and jabbing of the conductor's baton made the whole experience personal."

London Pianoforte School

The London Pianoforte School is the name given to a group of composers and pianists working in London during the turn of the 19th century.  This designation recognizes their musical accomplishments and influence on the musical world, even today.   Composers of the School include Muzio Clementi, Johann Baptist Cramer, John Field, Jan Ladislave Dussek, and Sir William Sterndale Bennett.  This group produced some of the most significant piano music ever written.  For anyone interested in knowing more about this music, Nicholas Temperley, Professor Emeritus of Musicology at University of Illinois, has provided an invaluable resource in his 20-volume collection of works entitled 'The London Pianoforte School, 1766-1860'.

Information provided by Shawn

Thursday, 13 March 2008



Brad Hougham, baritone & Diane Birr, piano

Ithaca College London Center
35 Harrington Gardens

Brad Hougham, Assistant Professor of Voice, visited from the home campus during his spring break to perform a recital with Dr. Birr.  The program included works by de Falla, Ives, Somervell and Porter.  The concert took place in the ICLC Common Room to a full house of students, faculty and staff.

"Throughout the performance, I saw nothing but smiles and gracious gestures between both musicians.  It brings the music to a whole new level when there if fantastic rapport between the singer and the pianist.  The variety of works was quite refreshing, and it was nice to hear music I recognized and could follow along with."

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Sterndale Bennett Day at RCM

Royal College of Music
Prince Consort Road

The Royal College of Music presented a day of tribute to English musician William Sterndale Bennett, contemporary and friend of Mendelssohn and Schumann. Bennett (1816-1875) was a continuation of the line of the great pianist/composers associated with the London Pianoforte School and is considered to be one of the most important English composers of the 19th-century Romantic style.

"Were there many artists like Sterndale Bennett,
all fears for the future progress of our art would be silenced."
Robert Schumann in Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik

The class attended two of the day's events:

First, a lecture by pianist David Owen Norris entitled "Sterndale Bennett and the Piano."  The lecture explored Bennett's 'piano music in relation to the pursuit of a Classical aesthetic in a Romantic age, ...temperament, the divided sustaining pedal, and harmonic progression'.

In the evening the class attended a concert featuring some of Sterndale Bennett's works including Three Romances for piano, op. 14 (performed by David Owens Norris); Sonata-Duo in A major, op. 32, for cello and piano; Sextet in F-sharp minor, op. 8 and a set of songs.

"It was extremely interesting to listen to Norris's interpretation of Bennett's music. The most interesting concept he explained was of 4/4 time signature. He compared it to walking and how with our natural momentum we need 2 steps to start moving and 2 to slow down and stop. He also remarked about Bennett's interesting use of harmonies and chords...with his enthusiasm and examples he played on the piano it was very interesting..."

"The presentation lasted just over a half an hour, and I got the impression that Mr. Norris could carry on for three hours with still more to talk about. It's obvious how much passion that man has for hearing a harmonious tune on the keyboard. His hurried speech, his impeccable playing and crafty jokes showed that if you are really involved and 
in love with your work, 
you can go on forever dealing with it."

"This concert was great because we get to see Bennett's music in many different forms...The piano piece was more interesting having listened to the lecture earlier, I was listening for the examples we heard earlier...My favorite piece was the sextet at the end. The addition of the piano and Bass to the standard quartet made for a wonderful chamber sound. Some of the groups harmonies and solos were wonderfully done..."

Sterndale Bennett sites:

For additional information on the London Pianoforte School:

Wednesday, 27 February 2008

19th Century Musical Journals

The first periodical to dedicate 100 percent of its content to music was the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review founded in 1818 by Richard Mackenzie Bacon. William Clowes and J. W. Parker created the Harmonican five years later, splitting the content in half between music literature and actual print music.  Surprisingly, both publications lasted over a decade.  The first major musical journal to define the line between publications aimed at amateurs and professionals was the Musical World, a weekly created in 1836.  It was geared toward professional musicians and was the first publication to include signed articles and analyses. As for a public instructional journal, the Musical Times and Singing Class Circular (later known as Musical Times in 1904) came about it 1844.  Choral singing teacher Joseph Mainzer established the journal to promote his personal efforts and was bought out later by Alfred Novello, who first published the Musical World.  The general public found this journal very accessible in its natural style, low price and understandable writing.  As was the trend in the following decades, this journal focused mainly on choral music.  Here's a closer look at the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review, Musical World and Musical Times with links to more information:

Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review

• Published: 1818-1828 (Date of final volume isn't clear,
     but best guess is around 1828)
• Volumes: 10, each with 4 issues
• Known Contributors: Louisa Mary Bacon, J. S. Hawkins,
     D. C. Hewitt, Edward Hodges, Edward Holmes,
     F. W. Horncastle, John Marsh
• QMM was modeled after the Edinburgh Review and
     the Leipzig Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung
• Broad range of topics offered: biographical sketches of
     composers and performers, acoustics, descriptions of
     pianofortes and organs, performance practice, and
     musical pedagogy.
• For more information, click here.

Musical World - Published: 1836-1891
• Volumes: 71
• Weekly magazine founded by J. Alfred Novello
(James William Davison owner from 1844-1885)
• Covered controversial topics from organ placement
     in churches to performers' payments to conflicts
     among religious chants
• Split into two parts:
     - Articles of varying topics, reviews of major
          publications and concerts, biographies of
          contemporary musicians
     - Signed an anonymous editorials of national and
           international interest, European and American
          reprints of articles, interesting facts, gossip
           and poetry.
• For more information, click here

Musical Times
• Published 1844-Today (Oldest currently published
       musical journal)
•  Volumes: 148
•  Six major editors of 19th Century
•  J. Alfred Novello-founder of the journal
•  Mary Cowden Clarke-sister to Novello
•  Henry Charles Lunn-contributed 122 articles
•  William Alexander Barrettan-composer and organist
•  Edgar Frederick Jacques-music critic
•  Frederick George Edwards-organist
•  Started at 8 pages when first published to around 
     72 by the end of the century
•  Popular among amateurs interested in learning vocal
     performance in part songs, glees, madrigals,
     choruses, anthems and hymns
•  Current issues may be purchased for $20.00 online
•  For more information, click here
•  For ordering information, click here

Information provided by Mike

19th Century Music Critics

Music critics of the 19th Century ranged from professional to amateur. Many liked to write for non-musical periodicals as concert reviewers because they enjoyed the routine and schedule of established newspapers. Many played music non-professionally and established a connection with their audiences with layman's terms of performances and simple emotional explanations.  Although some were unethical in their critiques by accepting bribes from musicians, many took passion in their work, regardless of their backgrounds.

Here are a few such music critics:

Richard Mackenzie Bacon


•  Founded the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review 
       and Norwich Mercury
•  Established the Norwich Musical Festival
•  Had visions of redefining the musician in the Royal
       Academy of Music
•  Expert on comparing English and Italian singing styles

•  For information on his contributions music, click here

James Henry Leigh Hunt

  Had a speech impediment, later cured, but it prevented a university education
Influenced by Thomas Gray and William Collins
Editor of the Examiner and Reflector
Sardonic and witty in his attacks on performances and
Hit absolute poverty in mid 1800s
Produced animated symmetry and metrical harmony in
bright poetry
•  For more information, click here or here
•  For poetry by Hunt, click here

Thomas Love Peacock
Wrote a set of novels with identical settings and
characters at a table discussing and criticizing
philosophical opinions of the day
Worked as Chief Examiner of Indian Correspondence
of the East India Company
Studied Italian, French, Latin and Greek by reading
books in the reading room of the British Museum
Wrote for the Examiner as an opera critic 
•  For more information on his life and works, click here

Information provided by Mike

Friday, 15 February 2008

Horniman Museum

Horniman Museum
Forest Hill, London

The class visited the extensive collection of musical instruments in the Horniman Museum.  The museum features over 7,000 musical instruments from all over the world, both familiar and unfamiliar.  The class was lucky enough to have Bradley Strauchen, an Ithaca graduate and handler of the collection, give us a personal tour of the instruments.

Instruments of special interest included a large display of the evolution of the horn and cornet (including 'coach horns', cor de chasse, natural horns, etc), serpents, ophicleides, devices that were a combination of a walking stick/sword/flutes, ancient egyptian "clappers", and many other odd contraptions.  The Horniman Museum owns the Dolmetsch Collection of Early English Keyboards, which unfortunately are not currently on display due to space constrictions.  The collection is housed in Grenwich and contains several virginals by Venetus, a double manual harpsichord be Jacob Kirckman (ca. 1722) and a miniature virginal from Germany (ca. 1575).

"Seeing such a wide array of historic instruments was incredible!"

"It was nice to walk around a museum with such a wide variety of objects without an intimidating size that make your feet ache with just a look at the museum map."


"It was great to hear the difference between the natural horn and the modern horn at the Horniman Museum. The one thing that will stick with me is that it is so important to study the origins of an instrument. When you have a composer that has written for an older instrument it's important to know how an older instrument would have sounded. As a performer you must get an idea what an older instrument's technical capabilities were, for it can tell you so much about what is intended for a piece of music!"

"We were lucky enough to arrive when the museum's special exhibit featured music from India. It was really interesting to see the different instruments they use and even costumes they wear. One of the most interesting was the horn with ball bearings in the tubing. Also drums with thimble-like cups to put your fingers in as you tap drum!"

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Samuel Pepys

Samuel Pepys is well known for his detailed accounts of historic events, kept in his personal diary between 1660 and 1669. Along with his infamous diary, he held positions of prominence as an English Naval Administrator, a Member of Parliament, a musician, amateur composer and critic. The correct pronunciation of his surname is the same as the English word “peeps”.

His Diary
• Documented events such as the Great Plague of London, 
         the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London
 • The diary was never meant to be published, and was 
         written in shorthand
 • A "tryangle" is constantly mentioned, which was actually 
         a spinet
  • Motives for starting the diary:
         - Death of Oliver Cromwell in September 1658
         - Pepys's recovery from a bladder stone operation
         - His own vanity

His Musical Background
• His father played the bass viol
• His sister played keyboard since his birth
• Samuel had no record of early lessons
• A striking virginal existed in a corner of the Pepys 
• The family lived near Bulstrode Whitelock, causing a 
         constant stream of music to fill the air from his daily 
• Pepys often raved about and criticized music within the 
         pages of his diary

Information provided by Greg

Henry Purcell 1659-1695

Henry Purcell is thought to be one of the greatest composers during the Baroque period in England.  His use of elements from Italian and French music created a unique style of English Baroque music.  Purcell’s works changed throughout his lifetime due to a variety of influences, time period, and his evolving careers.  His works can be divided into five categories; Domestic Vocal Music, Instrumental Music, Church Music, Odes and Welcome Songs, and Theatre Music. Purcell’s musical talent allowed him accomplish success in each genre of music.

Key Facts:
• Born In Westminster, London
• Came from a musical family
• As a child he sang in the Chapel Royal and studied with
     Christopher Gibbons, Matthew Locke, an John Blow
• Took over for John Blow as Westminster Chapel organist
• Took over for Matthew Locke as composer for the violins
     at court
• Became one of the 3 organists at the Chapel Royal
• Became the King's Instrument Keeper
• Popular teacher in London
• Was influenced by Italian and French music
• Was admired as a song composer... he "had a peculiar
      genius to express the energy of English words,
      whereby he mov'd the passions of all his auditors"
   Henry Playford
• Wrote domestic vocal music, instrumental music, church
       music, odes and welcome songs, and music for theatre

For a complete list of Purcell's works click on the link below:

To view a picture of a Hayward Spinet, one which Purcell may have owned and played on, click here:

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Wigmore Hall

Stephan Loges, baritone
Roger Vignoles, piano
36 Wigmore Street

The class attended a concert at Wigmore Hall which included performances of  lieder by Schumann, Wolf and Brahms.  Baritone Stephen Loges and world-renowned collaboratiave pianist Roger Vignoles were the featured artists.  

Wigmore Hall was built in 1901 and is located in an area known for piano manufacturing. Several piano manufacturers, from as far back as the late 18th century, chose to locate their piano showrooms on or around Wigmore Street.  You can still see evidence of this today in the relief located on the building at 18 Wigmore Street (see photo).  This is where John Brinsmead, a prominent London piano manufacturer, located his showrooms for a time.
Wigmore Hall itself was first known as Bechstein Hall, as it originally was located next to this prominent piano manufacturer's showrooms.  The hall boasts one of the finest acoustics and is visually stunning as well.  The interior features an incredible arts and crafts copula, designed by Gerald Moira, located over the stage.

"Although they seemed at first to be a great luxury, I found myself following along too closely to the lyrics and their English translations.  Sure, it was incredible to understand what each song meant, but it wasn't until the encore performance that I realized how much I had been missing by following along with the words as opposed to focusing all my attention on how incredibly Loges voice balanced with Vignoles mastering of the keys."

"One aspect of the audience's politeness that I found rather humorous was their restraint from coughing, sneezing or making any other bodily noise until after a song was complete.  I'm certainly aware of the rule against clapping until an entire piece ends, so it was funny to hear nothing but an explosion of coughing peppered throughout the audience after each movement finished."

"This concert was certainly a special one.  The German was very deep, rich, and powerful.  The two performers worked so well together to create an amazing balance and a very connected, flowing sound. The pianist worked well by following the singer's intentions but still adding so much to the musical depth.  The keyboard parts were much harder then any other concerts we have heard before.  Instead of adding simple continuo Vignoles was playing almost virtuosically."

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Royal College of Music

Royal College of Music Museum of Instruments Visit
South Kensington, London
Museum Webpage

The Royal College of Music was founded in 1882 by the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. Former students of the college include Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, conductor Leopold Stokowski and singer Sarah Walker. The RCM’s Museum of Instruments is within the college’s Centre for Performance History along with the Department of Portraits and Performance History. The vast majority of instruments are European stringed, keyboard and wind, while 100 come from Africa and Asia. The Department of Portraits and Performance History houses 340 original portraits, 10,000 photographs and 600,000 concert programs dating back to 1720. Perhaps the most precious of instruments housed at the museum is the clavicytherium. Built anonymously around 1480, it is probably the oldest surviving stringed keyboard instrument in existence.

6:00 PM
Performance History Assessment Concert
Royal College of Music Museum of Instruments

We attended the "Performance History Recital" on Monday, February 4th at the Museum of Instruments.  It featured Baroque and Classical chamber works with a variety of instruments including harpsichord, flute, violin and recorder.  The performers were mostly students learning the history of the instruments they played.  Works performed included selections by Telemann, Couperin, Mozart, Schubert and J. S. Bach.
Information provided by Mike

"The one combination of instruments I enjoyed most was the flute, violin and harpsichord. The light twitter of the wind, the sharp weeping of the strings and the pitter-patter of the keys made for an exceptional and unexpected sound."

"The keyboardist switched between three keyboards the entire concert. It was extremely interesting to listen to all of the different timbres and how they interacted with each combination of instruments. She was a wonderful chamber player and I always enjoyed her style of playing. "



Guest Lecturer
Museum of Instruments
Royal College of Music

One of the class sessions took place in the Museum of Instruments at RCM.  Guest Lecturer Lance Whitehead spoke on the keyboard in the late 18th century.  His lecture included information on keyboard makers, who would have played the instruments, as well as the role 
of women in piano manufacturing.  In addition, we were delighted to have Dr. Whitehead demonstrate several of the historical keyboards in the Museum's collection.

Lance Whitehead's bio:
BMus (Hons), BA (Open), MMUs, PhD, LTCL, LGSM
Lance studied music at the University of Edinburgh, gaining a PhD in 1994 for his thesis  'The Clavichords of Hieronymus and Johann Hass'.  On leaving Edinburgh, he spent three years as Director of Music at a Prep school, before working as Assistant Curator and later, Research Fellow in Organology at the Royal College of Music, specialising in 18th-century keyboard instruments.  He has also worked as a Crime Scene Examiner and Fingerprint Officer for the Metropolitan Police and undertaken a humanities degree with the Open University focussing on 19th-century European History and Renaissance Art.

Publications and websites relevant to Dr. Whitehead's lecture:

Michael Cole, 'The Twelve Apostles? An Inquiry into the Origins of the English Pianoforte', in Early Keyboard Journal, Vol. 18 (2000), pp. 9-52.

Lance Whitehead and Jenny Nex, 'Keyboard instrument building in London and the Sun Insurance records, 1775-87', in Early Music, Vol. XXX/1 (Feb. 2002), pp. 4-25.