Vaughan Williams’s Piano

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On Thursday March 3rd 2016 I spent the day at Leith Hill Place, the childhood home Ralph Vaughan Williams presented to the National Trust, playing the piano at which he composed all his music from 1905 onwards. I appeared live on national BBC television news and on Radio 3’s In Tune, and clips were featured in news programmes all through the day, including Radio 4’s PM. I made an interesting discovery about this charming little Broadwood upright – the Honeysuckle model! It is so very modest in tone that it focusses the player’s attention purely on the pitches – that’s to say, the chords you’re playing; all the more so because, unusually, it’s what we call straight-strung, so there’s no extra resonance from crossed strings, as in most pianos. After a day’s playing, it was easy to see that this characteristic of the piano would have encouraged RVW to trust his daring harmonic simplicities. In fact, at this piano, I found myself improvising new Vaughan Williams. Here, I’m playing his hymn tune ‘White Gates’, named after his house near Dorking, now demolished. And here’s a bit of the Tallis Fantasia.

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