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, 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: