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.

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.