Devices & Desires


David Owen Norris’s investigation of nineteenth-century pianoforte performance practice:
Lost meanings found, lost mechanisms restored.

The evidence for new interpretations of marks of expression will be presented in an app, Bending Time, currently under development, and embodied in performances and recordings. The emotional message of the music is markedly increased by these new interpretations, which accounts for the ‘Desires’ part of the title.

The other word, ‘Devices’, as well as completing the well-known phrase from the Book of Common Prayer, refers to forgotten devices found on early-nineteenth-century pianos – the true una corda, and the divided damper rail. The latter device is found on the London-built square pianos of the 1770s (featured in the Avie CD The World’s First Piano Concertos) and also on grands by Broadwood, Clementi, and a few other London builders, between about 1806 and 1830.The divided pedal is clearly shown in the Devices & Desires logo above. David Owen Norris’s Keyboard Collection has a number of instruments displaying the feature.
(for the Sherlock Holmes story The Cloven Pedal, click sherlock).

Concerts including The Jupiter Project.
The Jupiter Ensemble (Katy Bircher, flute; Caroline Balding, violin; Andrew Skidmore, cello; David Owen Norris, 1828 Broadwood Grand Pianoforte) presents a completely unknown repertoire, in collaboration with Professor Mark Everist. In the half-century from 1820, more than a hundred orchestral works were published in London for this quartet combination. Moscheles & Clementi arranged Beethoven and Haydn for it; the virtuoso pianist-composers Cramer & Hummel chose it for their deepest thoughts on Mozart, rewriting his concertos for the new generation of pianos, incorporating their own embellishments and bravura passages. The programmes will include Overtures by Beethoven & Rossini, Concertos by Mozart, Symphonies by Haydn & Beethoven, and the Mendelssohn Octet, all as they would have been heard by music-lovers throughout the nineteenth century. Concerts already booked include Christchurch, Frome on September 28th, Palace House, Beaulieu on October 4th, and the Swaledale Festival on May 21st 2018.

As well as the Mozart arrangements described above, to be recorded for Hyperion in October 2017, Devices & Desires recordings will include Mendelssohn’s Songs without Words, performed in the light of the remarkable insights of the edition of his friend, J.W. Davison, and a selection of Mendelssohn’s piano music that absolutely demands the divided sustaining pedal found on Broadwoods of the period – carefully composed effects, never heard before. Also the complete songs and chamber music of Mendelssohn’s friend and disciple, Sir William Sterndale Bennett, with songs by Sir Hubert Parry, his pupil. And a double CD of the songs of Sir Arthur Sullivan, also Bennett’s pupil, and the first holder of the Mendelssohn Scholarship in Leipzig. The Mendelssohn discs will include bonus tracks recorded at pianos belonging to Gustav Holst and to the surpassing piano virtuoso, Sigismund Thalberg, whose playing Mendelssohn preferred even to that of Liszt.

Special Events
These will include a Festival of Keyboard Temperaments, exploring the way pianos were tuned in the nineteenth century, and Songs without Words Days for amateur pianists to explore the new discoveries about expressive performance. More will be added as the project develops. This website will keep you up-to-date.

Visit the National Centre for Early Music.

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