Broadwood Pianos celebrates 200th anniversary of giving Beethoven the piano that inspired his late piano sonatas

A series of special events take place through April, May and June to mark a rather significant anniversary in the history of piano making and piano literature.

In the summer of the year 1817, London-based piano maker Thomas Broadwood visited Vienna, where he met the 47-year-old Beethoven, who was suffering from ill health and near total deafness. Broadwood was invited to the composer’s apartment and heard him play, but was shocked to discover that Beethoven was too poor to own his own piano and relied on loans from obliging local Viennese piano makers.

On his return to London, Broadwood decided to surprise Beethoven with the gift of a new grand piano. The instrument (serial number 7,632) was chosen by a group of leading professors of music and was delivered to London Docks in a wooden packing case. From there, on 27th December 1817, it was taken on a sailing boat into the Mediterranean, as far as Trieste in northern Italy. It had to wait there for some weeks, until the Alpine passes to Vienna were clear of snow and in early May 1818, it completed the final stage of its arduous journey by horse and cart along 360 miles of rough cart tracks until it reached Vienna.

Beethoven was thrilled with the gift. It inspired him to a fresh burst of musical creativity, leading to the composition of his late piano sonatas (opp.106, 109 and 110). The piano was noticeably louder and more powerful than the Viennese equivalents, which helped him as he struggled with his deafness.

Above the Broadwood label on the piano are the words ‘Hoc Instrumentum est Thomae Broadwood (Londrini) donum propter ingenium illustrissime Beethoven.’ (This instrument is Thomas Broadwood of London’s gift to you, most illustrious Beethoven, because of/on account of [your] genius). It is signed by Friedrich Kalkbrenner, Ferdinand Ries, Johann Baptist Cramer, Jacques-Godefroi Ferrari and Charles Knyvett. The piano was later owned by Liszt, who gave it to the Hungarian National Museum, where it will be on public display.

I shall look upon it as an altar upon which I shall place the most beautiful offerings of my spirit to the divine Apollo… As soon as I receive your excellent instrument, I shall immediately send you the fruits of the first moments of inspiration I spend on it, as a souvenir for you from me.

(Quote from a letter written by Beethoven to Thomas Broadwood in 1818)

To commemorate this significant event, the Broadwood company is sponsoring several events across Europe. UK concerts include recitals and lectures in venues including the Royal Academy of Music’s Keyboards Museum, Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, Clarke Clavier Collection and Finchcocks in Kent, which has recently reopened as a piano school. There will also be a series of concerts in Mödling, near Vienna, which was Beethoven’s summer residence and where the Broadwood was delivered. The piano itself will be on display in Hungary’s National Museum and there will be a display of related ephemera at Beethoven’s birthplace in Bonn, at the museum Beethoven House.

John Broadwood & Sons Ltd is the world’s oldest surviving piano firm, founded in 1728. The company has held a Warrant for supply and maintenance of pianos to the various Royal Households since the reign of George II and can name among its illustrious customers the composers Haydn, Chopin, Brahms, Liszt, Elgar, Holst and Vaughan Williams. The company continues to make, tune and repair pianos at its workshop in Lythe, near Whitby, north Yorkshire. The present-day directors of the company, which is an independent enterprise, include three members of the Laurence family, whose ancestors had worked for many generations in a technical capacity in John Broadwood & Sons’ Soho factory from 1787 until 1922.

Dr Alastair Laurence’s great-great-great grandfather, Alexander Finlayson, was active in the Broadwood workshops as a ‘grand action finisher’ during the time that Beethoven’s piano was being constructed there and is likely to have participated in the creation of Beethoven’s instrument.


Event listings

UK

Beethoven recitals at the Clarke Clavier Collection

Japanese fortepianist Mariko Koide performs on an 1812 Broadwood grand

3pm, 28th and 29th April, 2018

Clarke Clavier Collection,Oxborough, Norfolk, PE33 9PS

Tickets: 01366 328317

Lunchtime recitals at Royal Academy of Music

Yehuda Inbar and Amiran Zenaishvili performing on early Broadwood grand pianos

2.30pm, 2nd and 9th May, 2018

Royal Academy of Music Keyboards Museum, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

www.ram.ac.uk

Talk by Dr Alastair Laurence

‘A Most Remarkable Gift’: talk and demonstration by Dr Alastair Laurence, Chairman of John Broadwood & Sons Ltd

7pm, 8th May, 2018

Royal Academy of Music Keyboards Museum, Marylebone Road, London NW1 5HT

Concert at Finchcocks, Kent

International concert pianist Paul Roberts performs Beethoven and Debussy on a 1921 Broadwood steel barless grand

7.30pm, 27th May, 2018

Vaulted Concert Room, Finchcocks, Goudhurst, Kent TN17 1HH

Tickets: www.finchcocks.com

Concert at Richard Burnett Heritage Collection

First concert in the New Recital Room – young virtuoso Julian Trevelyan plays Beethoven on early Broadwood grands with commentaries from Dr Alastair Laurence

2.30pm and 6pm, 10th June, 2018

Richard Burnett Heritage Collection, Waterdown House, 51, Frant Road, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN2 5LE

Tickets: 01892 523203

Hungary – Budapest

Exhibition of Beethoven’s Broadwood Grand Piano

Hungarian National Museum, Budapest, Hungary

April–June 2018 www.mnm.hu/en

Austria – Mödling, Vienna

Commemorative concert and tours in Beethoven’s summer residence, where the piano arrived in 1818

5pm, 9th June

Georg Beckmann, piano

Hege Gustava Tjønn, soprano

Ismene Weiss, violin

Thönet Schlössl Museum

Josef Deutsch-Platz 2, A-2340

Mödling, near Vienna, Austria

Tickets: www.museum-moedling.at

Germany – Bonn

Exhibition in Beethoven’s birthplace

Ephemera surrounding the Broadwood gift will be exhibited, in association with

the display of an 1817 Broadwood grand, at Beethoven’s birthplace.

April–June 2018

Beethoven-Haus

Bonngasfe 24-26 53111, Bonn

www.beethoven.de

(source: press release)