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.

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Handel House

The class attended a concert at the Handel House on 31 January 2008.   The house is located at 25 Brook Street in London and is where Handel lived from 1723-1759. (Jimi Hendrix lived at 23 Brook Street for a short time!)  French harpsichordist, Elizabeth Joye, performed a program of works by Jacques Duphly.

 A few photos from the concert!
 Dr. Birr and husband, Chuck Speed at the concert.

 The harpsichord in Handel's rehearsal/composing room.

              Mike and Greg at the Handel House concert.

"As for the music performed and written specifically for the harpsichord, I feel that Handel's historic practice room should be the only venue for it to be presented to gain the full effect of its beauty."

"I found my eyes straying away from the performer and looking around the room at the walls, paintings, and even the wooden plank floor boards, imagining what it would have been like to be there when Handel was. The harpsichord was beautiful and its sound filled the intimate room with its array of colors." 

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Pictures From The First Adventure

Here are some pictures from our visit to the Victoria & Albert Museum. Among the many instruments showcased were harpsichords, virginals, cabinet organs, guitars, and even a virginal played by Queen Elizabeth. Enjoy!

Claviorgan (1579) Made in London by Lodewyk Theewes

Queen Elizabeth's Virginal

"Queen Elizabeth's Virginal" is a fascinating instrument that is found in the Victoria and Albert Museum. Queen Elizabeth I was born in Greenwich on September 1533 and died in London on March 24, 1603.  She reigned as Queen from 1550-1603 and was known as the English patron of music.  The English people knew her as a musician, playing the Polyphant (like a lute but strung with wire), as well as the virginal.  It is said that music was heard at the beginning and end of Elizabeth's life. The 'Te Deum' was supposedly sung at her birth and Jacques Bonnet is his "Histoire de la musique et de son effet" (1715) cited the memoirs of the Abbe Victorio Siri (1677 - 9) to the effect that when Queen Elizabeth was dying she called for her musicians to play around her bed 'so that, she said, she might die as gaily as she had lived, and that the horrors of death might be as gaily as she had lived, and that the horrors of death might be lessened; she heard the music tranquilly until her last breath.'

Of the many instruments that the Queen is said to have owned, only the spinet in the Victoria and Albert Museum is to have a strong link to her.  The instrument was made by Giovanni Antonio and is a perfect example of 16th century Venetian craftsmanship.  It is believed to be decorated by an unknown artist due to its spectacular embellishments that could not be done by just an instrument maker.  With its ornamentation in red and blue glazes on gold, the elaborate laminated wood and parchment rosette set into the soundboard, the keys inlayed with various woods, ivory or bone and metal, as well as key fronts decorated with embossed and gilded paper, it is undeniably a work of art.

Information provided by Shawn

The Victoria and Albert Museum

The Victoria and Albert Museum in London is the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, containing 4.5 million objects. In this museum of invaluable and interesting objects, is a spectacular collection of harpsichords, a claviorgan, a cabinet organ, spinets, virginals, and pianos that range from 1521 to 1903. These fantastic instruments can show us how the keyboard has developed, as well as what the keyboard represented long ago.

Claviorgan (1579) Made in London by Lodewyk Theewes

A virginal owned by Queen Elizabeth

"Each instrument has its own aura and beauty, fully exposed when played for an audience. It's amazing that beyond being viewed as works of art, some keyboards had practical aspects. One that I found most amusing was a cabinet organ from 1610 that had 28 separate drawers organized above the keys."


"I loved the ornate artwork of the instruments! It really shows that these instruments were a form of artwork without even hearing them sound!"

-- Shawn

"Here we were able to see the virginal that is said to have been Queen Elizabeth's very own. Despite its moderate size it was covered in gold detail and had the royal emblem on it. The beauty of this virginal was being able to stand in front of it just as the Queen herself did. A Queen who had such a love for music..."