Early Pianos

David Owen Norris owns a number of interesting antique pianos.

This 1828 Broadwood Grand Piano has the wide range and the divided pedal necessary for newly discovered virtuoso versions of Mozart Piano Concertos by Cramer & Hummel, with chamber accompaniment of violin, flute & cello. Mendelssohn & Sterndale Bennett also wrote for this type of piano – amazingly, many of their musical effects can at present be realized only on this one instrument, which we’ve been looking for for years!

John Broadwood was a brilliant publicist. He employed the fashionably tousled young super-star Humphrey Davy as his scientific consultant. (Davy’s lectures at the Royal Institution had a delirious following in London society, though he has found a soberer lasting fame as the inventor of the Miner’s Safety Lamp.) Broadwood’s greatest publicity coup still resounds today. He made an unsolicited present of a piano to Beethoven. Norris has access to a piano within a hundred serial numbers of Beethoven’s, the second-closest match in existence.

The 1781 Square Piano by Christopher Ganer is of the type created in London in the mid-1760s by Johannes Zumpe, with the dampers raised by hand-levers rather than a pedal. Norris’s researches have revealed that composers like JC Bach and James Hook wrote Piano Concertos and Sonatas specifically for this engaging little instrument, and that the World’s First Piano Concerto was written for it in London in 1769 by the Fattest Man in England. Norris has recorded highlights of this repertoire with Monica Huggett and Sonnerie.

1887 Pleyel Piano with Henry Moore

The 1887 Pleyel Grand Piano is exactly what you’d hope a piano made in Gay Paree in the run-up to the Naughty Nineties might be. Its straight-strung bass and beautifully-wound copper strings give a free, unforced sound that perfectly complements its staggering decorative marquetry. The piano lives in St. Matthew’s Church, Northampton.

Other interesting pianos are to be found in David Wilson-Johnson’s private concert hall in France: Roger Quilter’s Brinsmead Grand, ideal for song accompaniment, and a magnificent 1865 Grand by Blumel of Vienna, which Wilson-Johnson & Norris use to develop their performances of Brahms.


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