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Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments #2911050 11/12/19 06:37 AM
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The Hound Offline OP
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Had a fantastic trip on Saturday with my piano group to a period keyboard instrument museum in Kent (south east UK). It's run by a charity called Finchcocks and used to be situated in a huge manor house. It's downsized now and been renamed "the Richard Burnett Collection". They have a lovely collection of 14 instruments - mostly fortepianos (precursor to the modern pianoforte), but also a harpsichord and clavichord and some other bits and bobs. The 13 of us had the place to ourselves, and were well looked after by the staff with teas and lunch and stuff. We each went with a couple of pieces in mind to play, which we told them of beforehand so they could split us to allow us to play them on an instrument from the appropriate period. There were three tutors there, who told us all about the different instruments and advice on how to get a nice sound out of them, as well as general feedback on our pieces.

I played the second movement of Beethoven's "Pastoral" sonata (op 15) and Liszt's transcription of Schuman''s "Widmung". I played the former on a Clementi from 1822 and the latter on an Erard from 1866, the most modern instrument in the museum and easily the closest to a modern grand.

A lot of the instruments had smaller keys than modern pianos, which requires some readjustment. Generally they required a lighter touch in order to avoid a harsh sound. Some, like the Pleyel, had a strange resistance when pressing the keys down, which was really awkward, and also strange insofar as these were Chopin's favoured instrument, and that resistance makes it quite awkard to play his repertoire. It made a nice sound when you got used to it, but was definitely my least favourite to play. You also get that kind of resistance with a harpsichord, because of the mechanism (string being plucked instead of hit), but that made more sense and also was less of an impediment to the kind of repertoire you play on them, taking into account particularly the lack of a need to incorporate dynamics and articulation.

Some instruments had no pedals, one had instead a mechanism you operated with your knees (with the una corda and sustain on opposite sides to normal), and some had extra pedals which did other things, like create a basoon-like sound, or one which made a percussion noise.

Anyway, here are a few photos:

[Linked Image]
Cawton Aston spinet, circa 1700

[Linked Image]
Square piano - not sure which of the three they have this is

[Linked Image]
Jacob Kirckman harpsichord, 1756

Beautiful-sounding harpsichord this was. Heard 3 different Bach pieces on this and they sounded wonderful; Bach of course has that almost indestructible quality, sounding great at most tempos and with most timbres, but it's definitely at home on an instrument like this.

[Linked Image]
Michael Rosenberger Viennese fortepiano, circa 1795

This one had the knee mechanisms for sustain and una corda

[Linked Image]
Lindholm and Söderström Swedish clavichord 1806

This made the tiniest sound imaginable. You can see why they were mostly used for practicing and composing at home.

[Linked Image]
Johann Fritz Viennese fortepiano, 1815

The far right pedal made the percussion sound, a bit like a drum and cymbal together.

[Linked Image]
Clementi & Co grand piano, 1822

I played my Beethoven on this. Tiny keys and my knees wouldn't fit underneath the keyboard so I had to sit quite far back. Was nice to play on once you got used to it.

[Linked Image]
Conrad Graf Viennese fortepiano, 1826

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Erard grand piano, 1866

Nice warm sound with a punchy bass, this was easily the closest to a modern instrument, as the year of construction would suggest. I played my Schumann-Liszt on this.

All in all a fascinating trip and well worth the early start on a Saturday. Any UK goons should take a look as it's a great charity run by some really nice people who are passionate about these period instruments. There aren't a lot museums of this type - they get visitors from various foreign institutions, including music schools from places like Russia and Germany. I will definitely return at some point.

Last edited by The Hound; 11/12/19 06:38 AM.

Working on:

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 ("Pastoral")

Schumann/Liszt - Widmung
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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911063 11/12/19 07:37 AM
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What a fun experience!


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911100 11/12/19 09:37 AM
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Thank you so much for posting! What a wonderful experience. As a little kid, I always loved the look of white sharps and flats with black keys. It probably makes it harder to play because you can’t as easily see where one key ends and where the next one starts but, I always loved the look.


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: j&j] #2911125 11/12/19 10:51 AM
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Originally Posted by j&j
Thank you so much for posting! What a wonderful experience. As a little kid, I always loved the look of white sharps and flats with black keys. It probably makes it harder to play because you can’t as easily see where one key ends and where the next one starts but, I always loved the look.


A pleasure! Thought it should be of interest to people on here. It does a little, with regard to the colours being the other way around, but what makes it even harder is the smaller key size that some of them have, as well as the vastly different touch, like with the Pleyel and its resistance, or just the need to play with a light touch on many of them to avoid a rather cacophonous sound.


Working on:

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 ("Pastoral")

Schumann/Liszt - Widmung
Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911128 11/12/19 11:06 AM
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Those instruments look like they were just built. Hope I get to your side of the pond again, I'll certainly check that out.


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: MarkL] #2911133 11/12/19 11:12 AM
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Originally Posted by MarkL
Those instruments look like they were just built. Hope I get to your side of the pond again, I'll certainly check that out.


They were generally in really nice condition given their age. Still, they don't tend to hold their tuning very well - I sensed that they are constantly being tuned - and they can be temperamental. For example, the one that could have a pedal-activated basoon sound started switching to that sound in the middle of me playing a piece, even though I wasn;t pressing the pedal.

But for the most part they worked flawlessly and clearly they are very lovingly maintained by the museum owners, who of whom was previously a concert pianist.


Working on:

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 ("Pastoral")

Schumann/Liszt - Widmung
Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911191 11/12/19 01:48 PM
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Thanks for the mini trip report! It sounds wonderful and I'll need to go on my next trip to the UK. Have you had the opportunity to go to see the Raymond Russel collection in Edinburgh? Though they rotate what you are able to play (and I don't think they rotate everything in, some are too precious or fragile) they had 5 you could play when I was there, and they have a glass walled workshop where you can watch the restoration work being done.


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911235 11/12/19 03:38 PM
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Most interesting; thanks for the account and the photographs. With respect to your comment about the resistance in the Pleyel; I wonder if it's an anomaly with this particular instrument. I believe I have read that, traditionally, they have had a very light, very responsive action.

Regards,


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911316 11/12/19 06:38 PM
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Thanks for the virtual tour.

For those members of the forum in the US, the Frederick Collection is located in Ashburnham MA, about 60 miles northwest of Boston. They have about 20 pianos from the late 1700's to the early 20th century, most from the first half of the 19th century. All are in playing condition and visitors can play them.

http://www.frederickcollection.org/collection.html

They offer concerts on these pianos also.

When we visited some 10 or 15 years ago, we were the only people there for most of our visit. We got to play several of the instruments. Very interesting.


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: BruceD] #2911322 11/12/19 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by Chrispy
Thanks for the mini trip report! It sounds wonderful and I'll need to go on my next trip to the UK. Have you had the opportunity to go to see the Raymond Russel collection in Edinburgh? Though they rotate what you are able to play (and I don't think they rotate everything in, some are too precious or fragile) they had 5 you could play when I was there, and they have a glass walled workshop where you can watch the restoration work being done.


No not been there. Sounds cool though. Will check it out next time I'm there, not that I'm in Edinburgh a lot!

Originally Posted by BruceD
Most interesting; thanks for the account and the photographs. With respect to your comment about the resistance in the Pleyel; I wonder if it's an anomaly with this particular instrument. I believe I have read that, traditionally, they have had a very light, very responsive action.

Regards,


You may be right. With some effort and a bit of coaching, one lady in my group did make it sound very nice though, with a Chopin nocturne.


Working on:

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 ("Pastoral")

Schumann/Liszt - Widmung
Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911365 11/12/19 10:07 PM
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Thank you for sharing your tour with us. That was fun!


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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911661 11/13/19 04:16 PM
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For those in continental Europe, this collection in Vienna is quite awesome as well:

http://www.hecherpiano.com/collection_hecher.html

All of these instruments are in mint condition and can be played.

Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2911700 11/13/19 06:18 PM
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TH, thanks so much for your report and pictures. I am glad the day was a success. It sounds like something I might enjoy doing sometime. I had heard that this event was happening, because the tuner Cesar Hernandez came straight on to me afterwards to assist with transport of a square piano.

I loved the old Finchcocks, and I love the slimmed-down collection in its new home. Katrina Burnett is the most extraordinary person. She is full of energy - she needs to be, to run the charity and the collection and all the events they put on - and she is now in her eighties. And she is always so welcoming.

I think, by the way, that the square piano in your picture is the Longman and Broderip of 1780. I heard the Rosenberger in a concert recently, it is absolutely lovely, and perfect for Mozart. The Graf is a superb instrument and perfect for Schubert.

I too felt that the Pleyel had a rather heavy touch - but it has been my impression that this was not unusual.

You can read here a thread I posted in 2012 which gives an idea of what the collection was like in its old home.

Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2912128 11/14/19 09:35 PM
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My wife and I were guest in the Finchcock collection in summer 2018 in the end of our summer holidays in Cornwall, on the road back home. We simply dropped in on Finchcock without preannouncement.... (it was by chance because we could not get into two London museums, there was utmost ugly traffic jam...)

We were treated extremely well, Mrs. and Mr. Burnett had some young people caring for them, partly musicians, and Mrs. Burnett then after the music served tea and some coockies. We had a very kind and nice talking which was hindered only a bit by the circumstance that both are a bit handicapped by hearing loss and some words had to be written on paper, but the old nice people are fine with this and have a lot of fun with younger people whom they like to have in their house and teach them how to handle old piano music on timely fitting instruments.

We also got a little concert on the Erard piano by Richard Burnett and one young female pianist, and I was allowed to play on the 1866 Erard, on the 1842 Pleyel in another room (which I was most eagerly looking for, as this type of piano is of same type as the Chopin-owned concert grands of the 1840ies...), and - an experience from another planet in time - on the 1810 Broadwood grand.

Related to the big auction sale of the former Finchcock pianos, Mrs Burnett smiled and replied the questions or estimations of some of their friends on the auction event:

":... and it looks like you kept the utmost best pianos ..."
<grin>

Without knowing the pianos sold on the auction some years before, I tend to agree. ...

But they don't do this for themselves alone. They are very well engaged in educating young people and pianists, and they friendly allow other people to play on the instruments - which AFAIK is very uncommon in southern England. We were in several other big houses with old pianos, and we were never allowed to play on one of the pianos. Finchcock was the one great exception. Will never forget this.

I will bear the memoration of two Chopin nocturnes on the 1842 Pleyel in Finchcock house forever in my heart. (There was IMHO no fault in the mechanism.)

Thank you so much for your kindness, Mrs and Mr Burnett!


Pls excuse any bad english.

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Nocturnes op. 9-1,3 15-1,2,3 27-2 32-1,2
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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2912219 11/15/19 05:04 AM
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David-G and BerndAB - thank you for your contributions and thoughts. Glad to hear you had a good time too. The old house looked like a great venue, but they've done a good job with the new place too.

Katrina Burnett was very friendly and a great host. I hope I am as sharp when in my 80s. Sadly Richard is now going deaf and suffering from dementure, so although he was around for some of the day there wasn't a lot of interaction with him.


Working on:

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 ("Pastoral")

Schumann/Liszt - Widmung
Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2912311 11/15/19 08:31 AM
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What a cool experience! Thanks for sharing smile

Originally Posted by The Hound
They were generally in really nice condition given their age. Still, they don't tend to hold their tuning very well - I sensed that they are constantly being tuned - and they can be temperamental. For example, the one that could have a pedal-activated basoon sound started switching to that sound in the middle of me playing a piece, even though I wasn;t pressing the pedal.


You sensed right about the tuning. That's the case even with newly built reproductions with respect to tuning stability. In other words, they didn't stay in tune as long as modern pianos when they were new either. Age certainly doesn't help of course wink . Compared to modern pianos the older instruments have much more flexible string frames (the earlier ones being made entirely of wood) and much less tension on the strings -- both of which translate to less tuning stability. Basically throughout the 1800s you can see a progression in instrument designs toward stiffer, heavier stringing frames and stronger wire that could support more tension. The main benefits were more power and better stability. Of course it also fundamentally changed the tone and balance of the instrument as you well know!

I should add that the 1866 Erard is definitely an exception -- I'm pretty sure that one has a full cast iron string frame ("harp"), and while the wire might be a little softer than modern stuff it's relatively comparable. If it's in totally original condition it probably does not hold tuning very well, but with a new pinblock (and any other structural problems addressed), it would.

I dream of a world where more places like this exist, and more people can experience playing on period instruments. It's truly wonderful stuff.

Last edited by Nathan M., RPT; 11/15/19 08:33 AM.

Nathan Monteleone
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Re: Trip to museum of historical keyboard instruments [Re: The Hound] #2912316 11/15/19 08:52 AM
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Thanks for your comments Nathan - that all makes perfect sense.

I read somewhere that modern grand pianos have somewhere between 20 and 30 tons of tension in the strings, depending on their size, scale design etc. I guess it would be a good bit lower on most of these instruments...


Working on:

Beethoven - Piano Sonata No.15 in D major, Op.28 ("Pastoral")

Schumann/Liszt - Widmung

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