Piano heaven at Finchcocks

Finchcocks is a fine Georgian manor house set in the tranquil Kent countryside near Goudhurst. Originally the home of Bathurst family, the house became a centre for historical keyboard instruments in 1971 when Katrina and Richard Burnett bought the house as a place for Richard’s growing collection of historic pianos, harpsichords, organs, clavichords and more. The house and collection first opened to the public in 1976 and since has become a hub for the keyboard-inclined and a place where students, conservators and scholars can gain valuable insights into the working practices of composers and how the instruments of their day influenced how they created their music. In addition to open days, where anyone can go along and play the instruments (some 40 are in playable condition), the house also hosts concerts, jazz nights and education events.

For a bunch of piano addicts what better way to spend an early April day than to be offered free range of the Finchcocks collection as part of a private visit. After an initial introduction to the collection by visiting tutor and Finchcocks regular Gary Branch, we were let loose on the collection, with Gary on hand to offer advice about the best instrument for our repertoire to be performed in an afternoon concert. The collection includes some fine harpsichords and clavichords, square pianos (including one which belonged to Queen Victoria, made by John Broadwood & Sons), fortepianos, and grand pianos by Clementi, Pleyel, Erard and Broadwood.

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When dealing with historic instruments, I think one has to be careful not to invest too much in the idea that these instruments somehow “channel” the great composers to us. We can never accurately recreate their soundworld, because there are other social and historical factors about which we can only surmise, but by playing Bach on a harpsichord or Schubert on an early nineteenth-century fortepiano, for example, we can gain valuable insights into aspects such as dynamics and articulation, and we can experience the same instrumental colours and timbres the composers themselves expected to hear. These instruments, which were handmade right down to the tiniest parts, have very distinct and individual characters, something that has been lost in modern piano production: today it is down to the pianist to create a unique and personal soundworld.

We had a fascinating day exploring these beautiful old instruments, with a concert to wrap up the afternoon which reflected our personal discoveries and musical passions. Hear excerpts from the performances here

For more information about Finchcocks, please visit

www.finchcocks.co.uk

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